ANTH 277
Sensing Society Spring 2022
Division II
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Class Details

How does socialization shape sensory perception? Our linguistic upbringing calibrates our hearing: whether we can discern the difference between a dental and a retroflex ‘t,’ for instance. How else do our cultural contexts train us to engage the sensory world – to see in particular ways, to be attuned to particular sounds, to love some smells but be repelled by others, to have a ‘discriminating palate’? How are sensory stereotypes – that certain categories of person are less sensitive to pain than others, for example – mobilized in the defense of unequal social orders? What does it mean for an entire class of society to be defined – as is the ‘untouchable’ in caste society – by reference to a primary sense? This course explores the social life of the senses, investigating how our very perception of the world is socially conditioned and how ‘commonsense’ about the senses – that ‘seeing is believing’ while ‘hearing voices’ is a problem, for instance – are by no means universal, but are historically and culturally produced. Readings include historical, ethnographic and literary accounts of sensory cultures, in and (mostly) beyond North America. Toward critically examining how sensory socialization shapes us, students will maintain a sense-journal, conduct interviews with family members on sensory experience, and generate a sense-map of our Williamstown environment. This is a class plunged in the sounds, flavors and odors that give our social worlds life.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 15
Expected: 10
Class#: 3357
Grading: yes pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Weekly discussion posts, sensory journal, an 8-page interview-based paper, and a collective sense-mapping project.
Prerequisites: None
Enrollment Preferences: Everyone is most welcome. If overenrolled, anthropology and sociology majors would be given preference.
Distributions: Division II

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