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Seminar: Senses on the move – Unpacking migrant encounters in urban spaces

By Kelvin Low, National University of Singapore

Tue 30 Apr 2019
1:00 - 2:15 pm


Room 929, 9/F, The Jockey Club Tower, HKU

What happens when the sensory moves across borders and temporalities? How do we make sense of what Low and Kalekin-Fishman (2010) term as sensorial interfaces which broach the site of two or more dissimilar sociocultural contexts of sensory knowledge and use? Enacted through historical and contemporary flows and experiences of colonialism, migration, commerce, foodways and religion, the senses and their concomitant practices traverse borders and boundaries and in effect, acquire different textures of meanings. Sensory modalities and ways of knowing become reconfigured as a result of cross-cultural sensory encounters in different domains of everyday urban life.

Drawing from a range of ethnographic cases from colonial and contemporary encounters, we extend sociocultural analyses of the character of the sensory – in particular, sounds and smells – to consider its agentic potential to waft, permeate and traverse boundaries across different city spaces. This paper therefore sketches conceptual and comparative possibilities to deliberate upon the manner in which the senses as ephemeral, visceral and immaterial entities may be conceptualised as mobile actants that both act and are acted upon relationally in everyday socialities and relations. In doing so, we employ the sensory as a lens to broadly unravel alternative and comparative understandings of mobility and movement through time and space.

Kelvin Low is Associate Professor and Deputy Head of Sociology at the National University of Singapore. His research interests comprise sensory studies, heritage and historiography, migration and transnationalism, and food and foodways. He is author or co-editor of 4 books, with the most recent being Senses in Cities: Experiences of Urban Settings (Routledge 2017) and Remembering the Samsui Women: Migration and Social Memory in Singapore and China (UBC Press 2014; NUS Press 2015). His journal articles have been published in Pacific Affairs, Ethnic and Racial Studies, and Ethnography, among others.

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HKU Sociology

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