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  • 00:00

    [MUSIC PLAYING]Sarah Pink, thank you very much for talking to us today.What I wanted to ask you is what is sensory ethnography?

  • 00:25

    Sensory ethnography is, what I think,the rethinking of ethnography in terms of senses.So that doesn't mean the ethnographic studyof the senses, although that couldform part of a sensory ethnography project.But sensory ethnography is a methodology.It's an approach to doing ethnographythat takes account of sensory experience, sensory perception,and sensory categories that we usewhen we talk about our experiencesand our everyday life.

  • 00:55

    OK.OK, and how would I go about designing or conductinga sensory study?Sensories study, you might actuallyuse the same kind of methods that you would alreadybe using in any other kind of ethnographic study.I think the key thing is that you would actuallybe thinking about them in a slightly different way.

  • 01:15

    So this sensory ethnography book,I've structured this in terms of thinkingabout how we rethink positive observationthrough a sensory methodology.And the following chapter I talked about how do we actuallyrethink interviewing through a sensory approach.And then the following chapter washow we might rethink using visual methodsusing the sensory approach.

  • 01:38

    In some ways it's about using innovative methods whichenable us, maybe, to attend to the sensesmuch more in their research.But in other senses it's positivelythinking of ethnography that tendsto happen every few years.So if you look back 10 years, youmight remember that we rethought ethnographythrough being reflexive, then the ethnology became gender.

  • 02:01

    We saw tools to account for gender, gender identity,the gender of the ethnographer, and the participants whodid ethnography.Then we started to account for the body,and see ethnography as being embodied.And then you might also pick ethnography with visual.So as the sensory ethnography is something that actually builds.And all the finished [INAUDIBLE] rethinkings and revisionsof ethnography to account for new theoretical perspectives,and allow us to do ethnography in a way that might be fuller,and richer, and account for people'saccessories [INAUDIBLE] ways.

  • 02:31

    And create new roots to know about other people's worldsand lives.So you're talking about innovative methodologies.What might they be then, in terms of the methodsthat we might use?The question of innovative methodology is quite complex.In this context, one example I wouldgive as being the real increase and development walkingand mobile methodologies recently.

  • 03:00

    Actually, anthropological filmmakershave used walking with video methodsor walking with film cameras for many, many years.But much more recently, people havestarted to use walking methods using video as partof social research method.Now, it's hard putting those methodsin terms of sensory methodology.

  • 03:22

    It's very interesting because we canstart thinking of walking as a multi-sensory experiencein which we're feeling the ground under our feet.We're walking through an environment,we can feel the sun, or the wind on our skin.We're constantly viewing, and watching, and looking,and seeing, we can hear what's going on around us.And also, we're walking along with another person,and breathing with them, and sharing.

  • 03:46

    So there's something in their experience of the environment,as we film, as we walk with them.So that was a way of thinking that methodinto a sensory ethnography methodologyand understanding it in that way.So what do I feel in those?What will I be making a note of?Will I be making a note of the feelingof the ground beneath my feet, and the feeling of the windas I walk up a hill?

  • 04:10

    What's it likely to look like when I'm making my notes?And, in particular, to know that your noteswould be your video recording.And when you review a video recordingyou would be able to rethink yourself back into the placethat you were when you recorded itand remember what it felt like [INAUDIBLE].But using other methods, as I said before,sensory ethnography is not enormouslydifferent from ordinary ethnography.

  • 04:38

    It's how we think about it that actually changes.So of notes, it might be written notes,it might be video recordings, it might be photographs.We can't record smells, we can't record textures,but maybe we can take with us somethingthat is textured in such a way that enables us to rememberand understand the textures that form part of the placewhere we were doing ethnography.

  • 05:05

    I guess that then leads to that question about how we select.What is relevant, what is important.And all researchers are selecting material,and by implication not selecting other materials they thinkmaybe aren't as significant.What would be different for a sensory ethnographerin that process of selection?

  • 05:29

    I think that's quite a difficult questionto respond to in a general way, because Ithink the idea of sensory ethnographyis always project specific.So it depends very much on the research question.I know that's the typical answer.But it depends very much on the research questionthat you were asking.Some of the writing I've done about laundry,I've written about how people havespoken about the textures and the smells of laundry.

  • 05:59

    So in that kind of situation, thenI will be using interview transcripts,video recordings are my memory to refer to a situationto try to record those aspects of their experience.And what do you get from that that one would nothave got from a non-sensory ethnographic approach?

  • 06:25

    How is this, I don't want to use the word digression,because that suggests some kind of, you know.Yeah.But what do you get from this kind of workthat you don't get from ordinary ethnography [INAUDIBLE]?There's a whole range of different sort of the thingsyou might draw from it.One very interesting thing is that you actuallylearn about people's ways of knowingabout their environment, and their everyday practices,the things they do.

  • 06:50

    How does somebody actually know that something is clean,for example?They might find it rather difficultactually to articulate that in words,but if you think about how they would actuallygo about doing that in practice, itwould be by using a whole different range of activities.They might smell it, they might look at it,they might touch it, feel the texture of it in some way.

  • 07:12

    So there are these kind of-- I mean, going backto embodied gender, --embodied in sensory ways of knowingthat we don't necessarily express in words.And in a research context, it enables research participantsto express to us, and for us to actuallybe attentive to the way they're expressing their knowledgein forms that are absolutely not verbal.

  • 07:35

    Now that, then, represents a problem.How do we record that kind of information?Because our traditional recordingmethods tend to be written.So video is an obvious method.But how, then, do we actually communicatethat kind of knowledge as researchers,when we're trying to reach academic or public audiences?

  • 07:56

    That presents a whole lot of new challenges for researchers.Now, again, one of the obvious rootsto communicating that kind of knowledge,and the way that people express that kind of knowledge,and communicate about it to a researcher,would be using video representationsof them communicating that way.The research context of taking research contextright into representation.

  • 08:17

    But some ethical rules have been experimentingwith other methods, working with artists, for example.And actually in the sensory ethnography book,much of the work that I wrote about in the final chapter,which was about representing and communicatingabout sensory research really drew [INAUDIBLE]practice a lot more from what the ethnographers had alreadybeen doing.

  • 08:38

    And I think that is one of the very exciting and interestingchallenges for people who are startingto do sensory ethnography now.And it's one of the big contributionsthat people can start making to this field,by building up a resource in which they write about,or document, the way that they've actually, successfully,or experimented, using new methods, and new embodiedand sensory methods to communicate research findingsto different audiences.

  • 09:04

    I think especially now, when social science has becomemuch more interested in communicating our researchto public audiences, so their methodscould be much, much more effective than the kindof academic writing, and report-type writing thathas been the traditional method of communication.So there's so many exciting possibilitiesin terms of the presentation and dissemination of the work.

  • 09:28

    And you envisage that the researcherswill one day be filmmakers rather than thesis writers?I don't know that researchers will become filmmakers ratherthan thesis writers, but I think there is increasing developmentin that area.One of the things I foresee is increasing [INAUDIBLE]collaboration with artists.I think there are exciting possibilitiesfor work with participatory or developing participatory artprojects that help us to communicate social scienceresearch findings outside academia.

  • 10:01

    But sensory ethnography finding in particular,because I think some very interesting possibilitiescould develop there.And do you see any dangers in that route?In moving away from traditional forms of dissemination?No, because I don't think it's so much that they move away.I see it as being something else that's going to be happening,because I don't think that social scientists shouldstop writing books, or writing articles.

  • 10:25

    That's our traditional, conventional wayof writing, communicating about our work.It's where we do our theory building,and when we write about our methodology.And it's something that has developed over so many yearsinto a very sophisticated and finely-honed form,and I don't think we should ever give up on that.But I think there are many exciting possibilities for usto think about how we might reach new audiences,but also represent our work to existing audiences in ways thatachieve that closer appreciation of the human experienceand sensory experiences, as I said before,ways of knowing that cannot necessarily be expressedin known forms.

  • 11:04


Video Info

Publisher: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Publication Year: 2011

Video Type:Interview

Methods: Ethnography, Participant observation, Field notes, Video research

Keywords: audiences; collaboration; communications; context communication; embodiment; everyday life; innovation; practices, strategies, and tools; relevance (education); Sensory processes; social science; video recording; walking ... Show More

Segment Info

Segment Num.: 1

Persons Discussed:

Events Discussed:



Professor Sarah Pink describes ethnography as an approach to ethnography that incorporates the full range of senses. She explains how this approach incorporates embodied knowledge, and how it is entwined with new research dissemination methods.

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What is sensory ethnography?

Professor Sarah Pink describes ethnography as an approach to ethnography that incorporates the full range of senses. She explains how this approach incorporates embodied knowledge, and how it is entwined with new research dissemination methods.

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