Sensory Formations Series

Berg Publishers
Oxford and New York
Series Editor: David Howes

  • What is the world like to cultures that privilege touch or smell over sight or hearing?
  • Do men’s and women’s sensory experiences differ?
  • What lies beyond the aesthetic gaze?
  • How has the proliferation of ‘taste cultures’ resulted in new forms of social discrimination?
  • How is the sixth sense to be defined?
  • What is the future of the senses in cyberspace?

‘There is nothing in the intellect that was not first in the senses,’ wrote Aristotle. From the Ancient Greeks to medieval mystics, and from Karl Marx to Marshall McLuhan, the senses have been the subject of dramatic proclamations. The senses are sources of pleasure and pain, knowledge and power. Sites of intense personal experience, they are also fields of extensive cultural elaboration. Yet, surprisingly, it is only recently that scholars in the humanities and social sciences have turned their full attention to sensory experience and expression as an object of study.

This path-breaking series will show how the ‘sensual revolution’ has supplanted both the linguistic and the pictorial turns in the human sciences to generate a new field – sensual culture, where all manner of disciplines converge (e.g. history, sociology and anthropology, literary, cultural and communications studies, philosophy and psychiatry). The extraordinary richness and diversity of the social and material worlds as constituted through touch, taste, smell, hearing, sight and, provocatively, the sixth sense will be addressed in the following volumes:

The Auditory Culture Reader
Edited by Michael Bull & Les Back
[Publication date: November 2003]

This volume articulates a strategy of ‘deep listening’ – a powerful new methodology
for making sense of the social.


Empire of the Senses: The Sensual Culture Reader
Edited by David Howes
[Publication date: December 2004]

With groundbreaking contributions by Marshall McLuhan, Oliver Sacks, Susan Stewart and Alain Corbin, among others, Empire of the Senses overturns linguistic and textual models of interpretation and places sensory experience at the forefront of cultural analysis. The senses are gateways of knowledge, instruments of power, sources of pleasure and pain – and they are subject to dramatically different constructions in different societies and periods. Empire of the Senses charts the new terrains opened up by the sensual revolution in scholarship, as it takes the reader into the sensory worlds of the medieval witch and the postmodern mall, a Japanese tea ceremony and a Boston shelter for the homeless. This compelling revisioning of history and cultural studies sparkles with wit and insight and is destined to become a landmark in the field.


The Taste Culture Reader: Experiencing Food and Drink
Edited by Carolyn Korsmeyer
[Publication date: August 2005]

From Eve’s apple to Proust’s madeleine to today’s culinary tourism, food looms large in culture. Sociologists and anthropologists study cooking and eating practices across the globe. Debates about health and nutrition are common in news reports. Yet despite its fundamental relationship to food, taste is mysteriously absent from most of these discussions.
The flavors of foods permeate social relations, religious and other occasions. Charged with memory, emotion, desire and aversion, taste is arguably the most evocative of the senses. The Taste Culture Reader explores the sensuous dimensions of eating and drinking, from the physiology of the tongue to the embodiment of social identities and enactment of ceremonial meanings. A cornucopia of historical, cross-cultural and theoretical views is offered, drawing from anthropology, sociology, history, philosophy, science – and more. This book will interest anyone seeking to understand more fully the importance of food and flavor in human experience.


The Book of Touch
Edited by Constance Classen
[Publication date: September 2005]

This book puts a finger on the nerve of culture by delving into the social life of touch, our most elusive yet most vital sense.  From the tortures of the Inquisition to the corporeal comforts of modernity and from the tactile therapies of Asian medicine to the virtual tactility of cyberspace, The Book of Touch offers excursions into a sensory territory both foreign and familiar.  How are masculine and feminine identities shaped by touch?  What are the tactile experiences of the blind, or the autistic?  How is touch developed differently across cultures?  What are the boundaries of pain and pleasure?  Is there a politics of touch?  Bringing together classic writings and new work, this is an essential guide for anyone interested in the body, the senses and the experiential world.


The Smell Culture Reader
Edited by Jim Drobnick
[Publication date: February 2006]

The sense of smell is mired in paradox. There is general ambivalence regarding its potential for knowledge, yet it provides the foundation of a multi-billion dollar perfume and synthetic fragrance industry. Stigmatized as animalistic and vestigial, scents have nevertheless served as a long-standing component in spiritual and religious practices. Considered ephemeral and ethereal, smells still elicit intense, visceral, emotional affects. While lacking a well-defined or extensive vocabulary, aromas catalyze the evocation of memories, people and places. Dismissed as inconsequential in an era dominated by information technologies, olfaction harbors subtle but essential significance to sexuality, social status, personal identity and cultural affiliation. The Smell Cultures Reader explores all these themes in redolent detail.


Visual Sense: A Cultural Reader
Edited by Elizabeth Edwards and Kaushik Baumik
[Publication date: January 2008]

This volume interrogates the multiplicity of scopic regimes within and without the Western tradition.


The Sixth Sense Reader
Edited by David Howes
[Publication date: March 2009]

This volume asks: What lies beyond the bounds of sense?  Is the sixth sense ESP, electromagnetic sensitivity, intuition, revelation, gut instinct, or simply unfathomable?


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