Colloquium Series





Anthropology Colloquium 2021-2022

The senses are a conundrum.  Sensation is a process that is both biological and cultural, one that often evades analysis, while at the same time furnishing us with our objects of study.  What, then, might an anthropology of (and beyond) the “sensorium” look like? The 2021-2022 Penn Anthropology Colloquium proposes to consider “sense” as a “boundary object” (Star and Griesemer 1989; star 2010) within our four-field discipline, one that has been differentially reckoned with and reified by archaeological, biological, cultural, and linguistic anthropologists. Despite the different identities accrued by this object across anthropology, “sense” also invites conversations across these boundaries. Diverse anthropologists invoke a number of mediating “keywords” that relate to the study of sensuous or sensorial phenomena: affect and experience; body and mind; ecologies and environments; kinesthesia and multi-modality; materiality and mediation; information and infrastructure; among many others. ”Sense” thus serves as a productive point of departure for examining wider comparative issues, beyond an explicit focus on “the sensorium” per se.

Accordingly, the 2021-2022 Penn Anthropology Colloquium investigates “sense” in its widest possible sense. We are particularly interested in developing lines of inquiry that attend to and interrogate the following questions:

  • How can we understand sensation and perception as processes that are at once biological, experiential, and social?
  • How (and to what end) are sensory continua or gradients segmented into discrete dimensions of socio-semiotic life? What do such segmentations reveal about the relations between sensorial and discursive semiosis?
  • How can we engage critically with sense modalities beyond sight and hearing in fieldwork, analysis, and interpretation?  How has our near total reliance on vision and sound shaped anthropology?
  • From its origins in the Boasian critique of psychophysics in the late nineteenth century, to more recent decolonizing interventions, Americanist anthropology has long grappled with questions of sense and sensation. How might certain genealogies of sense and sensation illuminate new histories of anthropology as a discipline?


We invite you to probe these questions with us. The Penn anthropology colloquium is a scholarly forum that brings together around fifty to seventy-five students and scholars from the university and the greater Philadelphia area each week. 


Check out our speakers' talks on our YouTube page


Fall Schedule

Talks take place in person from 12:00 to 1:30 in room 345 in the Penn Museum, unless specified as a Zoom meeting. While there is a mask mandate in place, we will not be serving lunch. We appreciate your understanding and look forward to seeing you all again!


9/20- J. Lorand Matory (Duke University) September 20. “Slavery in the Heart of Freedom: Race, Religion, and Politics through the Lens of BDSM”

10/4- Robin Nelson (Arizona State University) October 4. “Sensing Kin in the Absence of Blood”

10/11- Benjamin Lee (The New School). October 11. “Time, Affect, and Capitalism: Moishe Postone, Michael Silverstein, and Lauren Berlant.”

10/18- Paja Faudree (Brown University). October 18. “The ‘Discovery’ of Salvia divinorum: Narrative hangovers and psychedelic fetishism (or, this is your mind on Pollan)”

10/25- Anastasia Amrhein (Bryn Mawr). October 25. “Reconstructing the Experience of the Divine in Ancient Mesopotamia: An Argument for Direct Perception, Decentralized Cognition, and Sensorial Plasticity.”

11/1- Lubna Omar (Binghamton). November 1. “The Animals Behind the Bones: How Animals Influenced Human Culture in the East Mediterranean”

11/8- Camee Maddox-Wingfield (UMBC). November 8. “Curators of Sacred Space: Toward an Anthropology of Ambience in the Study of Black Life”

11/22- Miyako Inoue (Stanford). November 22. “Who is Speaking? Stenography and the Cultural Technique of the Liberal Subject in Modern Japan”

11/29- Eva Garrett (Boston University). November 29. “Was there a sensory trade-off in primate evolution? Using extant genomics and the fossil record to better understand the evolution of primate olfaction”