Panel – Asian Sensescapes and Imaginaries

The panel Asian Sensecapes and Imaginaries consists of three talks: Senses and the Social in Asia: Some Theoretical Propositions, Imagining in Oppressive Contexts, Or, What’s Wrong with Blacking Up? and Violence as Spectacle: Exploring the Trans-Sensoriality of Pain, Sorrow and Anger

Senses and the Social in Asia: Some Theoretical Propositions

Sociocultural meanings of the senses in society have in recent years received academic attention in disciplines suchas sociology, anthropology, and history. However, extantworks have mainly focused on Euro-American contexts, or on non-industrial societies, with some exceptions. Generally, there is a lack of both primary and secondary sensory research on non-Western contexts (Smith 2006, 2007). This paper aims to document and analyse how the senses in everyday life manifest in historical contexts within Asian communities and cultures. It deliberates upon how social actors and institutions employ and accord meaningsto the senses which can be located in the fabric of everyday life experiences,spanning different social arrangements and interactions in such domains as religious life, foodways, linguistics, and colonial encounters. I propose three theoretical directions – sensory models and modalities, moral economies and socialstructures, and sensory interfaces – in engaging with Asian sensescapes across a plurality of sociocultural settings that also cross-cut different dimensions of social life. Broadly, the paper aims to locate the ideographic meaningfulness of sensory experiences by bridging selves, community, social institutions, and varied cultural forms.

DR. KELVIN E.Y. LOW is Associate Professor and Deputy Head of the Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore. He also serves as the President of the thematic group, TG07 Senses and Society with the International Sociological Association. His research interests include sensory studies, migration and transnationalism, social memory, and food and foodways. He is author or editor of four books, with the most recent being Senses in Cities: Experiences of Urban Settings (Routledge; forthcoming). He is presently working on a monograph about Nepalese Gurkha families and their migratory lifeworlds in the context of Singapore, Nepal, Hong Kong, and the UK.


Imagining in Oppressive Contexts, Or, What’s Wrong with Blacking Up?

Imagining is a perfectly everyday activity, and absolutely central to aesthetics. Many everyday imaginings, however,contain unethical content. When we tell off-colour jokes,watch films, contemplate taking revenge on fellow motorists, entertain sexual fantasies, attend fancy dress parties, listen to country murder ballads, appreciate news cartoons, or invite others to do the same, we frequently engage in imaginative activities that trade in unethical attitudes or representations. Is there anything intrinsically wrong with such imaginings, if not acted upon? While many defend the affirmative, Brandon Cooke argues that only those imaginative acts prescribing participants to“export” unethical attitudes out of the imagined world and into the actual world exhibit intrinsical ethically flaws. This paper carves out a middle ground, using speech act theory to characterise some ethical flaws as arising in the act constituted by the imagining itself.What is being done with an imagining depends on the context in which it is performed: sometimes, imagining is oppressive when it prescribes unethical attitudes towards oppressed groups, even without export.

DR. ROBIN ZHENG is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Yale-NUS College. Prior to coming to Singapore, she was a Visiting Junior Research Fellow from 2015-16 at Newnham College, University of Cambridge. She received her PhD in Philosophy from the University of Michigan, where she wrote her dissertation on moral responsibility for implicit bias. Her research interests include ethics, moralpsychology, feminist and socialphilosophy, philosophy of race, and philosophy of sex and love.



Violence as Spectacle: Exploring the Trans-Sensoriality of Pain, Sorrow and Anger

Sacrifice is an integral element of ritual events worldwide. Spilling of sacrificial blood as a sign of the paradoxical relationship between death, fertility and regeneration, as well as being the substitute of a life for a life, are part of the important ideological underpinnings of these events. Though often celebrated with animal substitution, sometimes a direct form of “human sacrifice” is involved, including some kind of ritualised violence. In the western part of Flores in eastern Indonesia, among the Manggaraian ethnic group, ritualised violence is atraditionally important part of pre-harvest and pre-planting rituals. One such ritual, the playing of caci, has become an important symbol of Manggaraian identity and a popular activity to perform at all local and national celebrations, as well as tourist cultural displays. This ritual performance entails male competition to hit each other with whips. In this paper I explore the interaction between 3 “agents” involved in the promotion and display of caci in the contemporary era – the government, the players and the audience-, to examine how senses and emotions are understood across different cultural landscapes. Most particularly I explore the expression of pain, sorrow and anger, as it is displayed by the players, and the relationship of these senses and masculinity,as it is understood by different cultural audiences, and promoted by the government and others interested in presenting this game as a symbol of cultural identity.

DR. MARIBETH ERB is an Associate Professor in the Departmentof Sociology at the National University of Singapore, and has been teaching there since 1989.She has been doing research outin eastern Indonesia, on the islandof Flores, since the early 80’s. Her research has grown from an initial look at kinship, ritual and myth, to examining the effects of tourism development, political change andmining activities, on the people and environment in this increasingly less remote part of Indonesia. She has published on all of these topics in awide range of journals and books.