Skip to main content

Sensory Transformations and Transgenerational Environmental Relationships in Europe, 1950–2020

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - SENSOTRA (Sensory Transformations and Transgenerational Environmental Relationships in Europe, 1950–2020)

Reporting period: 2019-08-01 to 2021-01-31

It can readily be observed simply by looking around or listening attentively in any large or middle-sized urban environment in Europe that people’s relationship to their immediate environment is different from ten years ago. In trains, at bus stops, in hotel lobbies, or in cafés it is hard to find anyone who is not fingering, looking at, or talking into their smartphones or other digital gadgets. The objective of SENSOTRA is to deal with this special moment in the sensory history of Europe.

The key aim of the project is to create a new understanding of the changes in people’s sensory environmental relationships in three European cities in the period 1950–2020. The research will offer a focused window on cultural transformations of the sensory through using grounded, transgenerational, ethnographic methodologies developed specifically for SENSOTRA.

Why now? Firstly, innovative, reliable, thoroughly researched information about sensory environmental relationships is currently in great demand for both scholarly and practical reasons. If the findings are successful, their challenge to several conventional dichotomies will produce important results impacting beyond the limits of the Principal Investigator's scholarly community in music, sound, and cultural studies, extending outwards to other research areas in particular fields of psychology, human geography, environmental aesthetics, and media history and theory. Secondly, the research is urgent, because at present we are still able to study people ethnographically who were born in the 1930s and 1940s and hence lived their early years without computers and other digital devices. In addition, the moment is also ideally suited for studying the sensory environmental relationships of generations born in the 1990s and early 2000s, that is, those who were born straight into the digital world. Thirdly, there is a pressing need to enable both young and older people to maintain a many-faceted relationship with their environments. It has been convincingly argued that attitudes, whether positive or negative, towards given environments will lead to crucial consequences in terms of cultural and ecological sustainability.

The project will answer the call of various scholarly communities for producing thoroughly and innovatively researched information about sensory environmental relationships. This is the first ethnographic project to undertake such a large-scale study of the topic in a changing Europe. The research team’s international contacts with researchers and institutions will transform into an active research network generating new, cooperative, international projects. The impact of the development of new methodologies, including ethnographic sensobiography, will extend far beyond the study of the past seven decades in three selected European cities (Ljubljana, Turku, Brighton) with genuine take away potential for interdisciplinary analysis of metropolitan and rural areas in Europe and in other parts of the world.

SENSOTRA will also have the potential to exert a major practical impact. The results achieved by SENSOTRA are likely to be extremely useful in creating possibilities for rich cultural, youth, elderly care, and tourism expertise related spin-off projects.
All of the research stages and events of the ERC AdG Grant 2015 SENSOTRA research have progressed according to the research plan. During the first period, we have (1) prepared, and (2) proceeded with the fieldwork, data gathering and encounters with participants in the first two of the researched cities: Ljubljana and Turku. The first months of the project, in line with the research plan, were spent preparing for the project: planning the personnel, fieldwork, publication politics, ethical procedures, and the online demonstrations pages. The SENSOTRA protocols workshop (10—12.5.2017 Joensuu); the Pre-seminar, four Key concepts workshops, and the joint Creole and SENSOTRA Summer School/Intensive Programme (3.7.2017—9.7.2017 Ljubljana and Piran); and the first Data-workshop (out of three) in Ljubljana in mid-October, were all organised according to the proposal. These productive meetings were attended by employed researchers and experts. Dissemination and communication events have been organised proactively, and there have been productive meetings of scholars, students, artists, stakeholders, media and interested public. Fieldwork in Ljubljana has been on-going since October. Fieldwork pilots have been prepared and carried out in Turku as well as in Brighton.

During the first period, the project team has been more productive than expected. Instead of five outputs, the team has produced eight scholarly peer-reviewed articles for respected qualitative research journals, handbooks, other books and scholarly journals. In addition, one-hour radio feature for YLE Finland was produced and sent one year earlier than planned (came out in October 2017).

Since the definite main focus in the empirical research of the first period has been, as planned, in Ljubljana, the following we will in the following part of the report mainly work performed in Slovenia. In May 2017 Sandi Abram, the doctoral student and project researcher placed in Ljubljana, and Blaž Bajič as the project researcher joined SENSOTRA's personnel. From May 2017 until July 2017 their tasks encompassed the organization and coordination of SENSOTRA pre-seminar and the joint Creole and SENSOTRA Summer School/Intensive Programme that took place in Ljubljana and Piran (Slovenia) from 3.7.2017 - 9.7.2017. The occasion represented a productive meeting of scholars, students, artist and other interested public, connecting an internationally based SENSOTRA team with CREOLE Joint-Master Degree in Social and Cultural Anthropology that is specializing in transnationalism, new identities, material culture and visual culture. For the purpose of a week-long pre-seminar and summer school several activities between May - July occurred and resulted in the following:

1) Public activities
1.1 Media: All main mass media were invited to SENSOTRA research pre-seminar via email (in sum 351 journalists). Specific journalist were invited personally, resulting in articles published online and in printed newspapers. All three Slovenian main newspapers (i.e. Delo , Dnevnik, Večer ) with the total circulation of approximately 84.000 copies reported about SENSOTRA and published interviews with the researcher team.
1.2 Stakeholders and gatekeepers: The pre-seminar represented an ideal opportunity to commence the networking with relevant potential local partners from the cultural, social, and non-governmental sector. Productive ties in terms of participant recruitment were built with individual artists, local community-based initiatives, cultural associations, and institutional gatekeepers (such as school representatives, retirement homes’ employees, artists, etc.).

2) Internal activities
2.1 Academic dissemination
With the attendance of students, professors, and researchers the pre-seminar and summer school brought together 12 universities (Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Autonomous University of Barcelona, Concordia University, Maynooth University, University Lyon II, University of Bern, University of Brighton, University of Eastern Finland, University of Helsinki, University of Ljubljana, University of Milano‐Bicocca, and University of Vienna).
A total of 14 professors and researchers contributed to the programme by presenting their papers and by giving impulse lectures. Both occasions have seen the special attendance of the keynote speaker David Howes, professor of Anthropology and Co-Director of the Centre for Sensory Studies at Concordia University, Montreal. The pre-seminar and summer school hosted representatives of the Finnish-based AKTE project Docent Taina Kinnunen, Dr Annu Haho and MA Mari Jolkkonen with whom an interview in Dnevnik newspaper was published focusing on the topic of touching in nursing institutions for elderly. Art director of the Ljubljana-based Sensorium Theatre Barbara Pia Jenič also attended the pre-seminar and spoke about SENSOTRA as well as sensory studies on the national television.

The pre-seminar and summer school was attended in sum by 26 master CREOLE students, each presenting their preliminary research and topics interrelated with sensory studies. As result a booklet of 39 pages containing abstracts and general introductory overview of the sensory studies was published and distributed among participants and interested public. With the purpose of cross-referencing and further research among the participants of the summer school an e-classroom was established.

2.4. Key concepts workshops
The papers and lectures were complemented by a hands-on approach. Namely, several workshops focusing on senses and sensory perception were organized and attended by all participants. Artist and anthropologist Radharani Pernarčič led a workshop centred on the question of how sensing and conceptualizations form our perception and acts, exploring the interpersonal body communication through the relations between touch, dynamics, and space (proprioception). Two workshops were conducted by the artist and anthropologist Laura Korčulanin. The workshops explored the importance of cross‐disciplinary collaboration and interdisciplinary approach between anthropology and design for applied and innovative results. Implementing different creative design methodologies, the workshop tackled upon ethnography research results as inspiration and sparkle to support the design exercise. Lastly, Laura Formenti, the expert from University of Milano-Bicocca led a workshop on the principles of biographical data analysis.
During the summer school in Piran a group of students and professors went to Sajeta Art and Music Festival in Tolmin to present SENSOTRA and to meet with prof. dr. Klaus Schönberger from the Klagenfurt based Institut for Kulturanalyse Alpen-Adria-Universität.

Starting in mid-July the Ljubljana based research team commenced with the fieldwork preparation. Throughout July materials that would facilitate the recruitment process were made, including postcards, sub-web pages, online sign-up forms, visit cards, contact lists, cover letters and invitations for various clusters of participants (elderly, young, guardians, artists) and gatekeepers (public schools, NGOs, libraries, etc.). Additionally, researchers shortlisted relevant public institutions, organizations, associations and similar to be later on approached in person in form of meetings and via online communication such as the network of daily centres for elderly activities (seven units scattered across the entire city of Ljubljana). In several cases public presentations were conducted such as in the case of primary schools (altogether four presentations for five classes of approximately 20 pupils) and the University of the Third Age (approx. 50 attendees). For the latter, the presentation was complemented with a sound walk in order to familiarize potential participants with the methodological approach and SENSOTRA research goals.

The invitation to participate in SENSOTRA was spread multiple times across social media, including Twitter and Facebook (in the latter case, the call for participation reached 2.000 people, 258 clicked the post leading directly to the online sign-up form and 150 shared or commented). All public primary and secondary schools located in the region of Ljubljana were contacted via email, in the total of 237 contacts. In some cases the research team meet up personally with teachers. A general email invitation to join the research was send to a number of potential participants (approximately 70 people). Relevant public institutions in Ljubljana were informed via email about the research with the appeal of collaboration (all 22 public libraries, 7 retirement homes, and 12 youth associations). Where possible, the online invitation was complemented by a personal visit of the researchers to establish a personal interaction as well as to leave on public display the postcard invitations for joining the research.


August – September 2017
From late July until the beginning of the fieldwork in Ljubljana in October 2017 an intense participants' recruitment was undergoing in form of meetings, email communications, material distribution and other forms of dissemination about SENSOTRA.
Simultaneously, the team of researchers in Ljubljana acquainted with research equipment to be used during the fieldwork (high resolution cameras, microphone, headphones, etc.). For this purpose three trial senso-biographic walks among the research team walks were conducted. Each researcher assumed the role of the participant while the other two were taking notes. This method made possible to critically evaluate the process of the recording of the sensobiographic walks and in identifying potential technical shortcomings and detecting fault usages of equipment. The trial sensobiographic walks resulted in considerable improvements including the optimization of equipment usage, amelioration of methodological approaches, recognition of potential issues during the walk, preparation of additional hand on materials (visit cards, extra filming equipment) and the necessity of field notes writing as well as keeping a general log of every walk. The results were briefed to the SENSOTRA research team in October during the Data Workshop. In order to give a clear illustration of the data collection process, pieces of such collected video material were made use of on occasions where SENSOTRA was being publicly presented. Moreover, these excerpts were published on SENSOTRA social media (for example, the post of the sensobiographic video with the spherical camera reached more than 600 people, with almost 70 people engaging). The trial walks made also possible for the researchers to put themselves in the role of participants which proved to be immensely useful in the subsequent process of presenting the research method. For example, the researchers’ personal experience in a sensobiographic walk facilitated the occasional participants’ scepticisms when it came to the question of their suitability to undertake a sensobiographic walk.

October 2017

Throughout October, the Ljubljana-based part of the SENSOTRA research team continued to communicate steadily with the targeted groups and individuals in order to attract potential research participants. Since the coordination with the potential participants took some time and since not everyone was free to participate in a sensobiographic walk in October, some of the walks were scheduled for the following months. Some walks were postponed due to trivial reasons, like unfavorable weather. Inconvenient weather, however, led the researchers to realize that changing weather and/or seasonal conditions, as a constituent part of one’s environment, significantly influence people’s sensory perceptions and memory work making it essential for senso-biographic walks to take place not only in the three months from October to December, as was originally planned, but throughout the entire year. Such a requirement is absolutely necessary to be fulfilled, if the senso-biographic research is conducted in places, where pronounced seasonal differences in weather, light, vegetation, animal life, habitual ways of dressing and moving in a city etc., can be observed.

The senso-biographic walks proved to take a bit more time than originally planned, since – and in this respect they undoubtedly proved to be a methodological success – they left enough room for participants to talk freely about their sensual perceptions and memories, but directed the research participants just enough to give them a sense of structure. In connection with the latter feature, interventions (questions, comments, sharing of their own impressions, simple “aha-s”, etc.) were paramount.
With the beginning of the month, ethnologist and cultural anthropologist professor Rajko Muršič (University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts, Dept. of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology) officially joined the SENSOTRA project as an expert on youth culture and urban anthropology. In mid-October (13. 10. 2017) the first data-workshop (out of three) took place in Ljubljana; with the exception of Lesley Murray (expert, University of Brighton) and Laura Formenti (expert, University of Milano-Bicocca; she participated in one of the public presentations of SENSOTRA [see below]), the whole SENSOTRA research team attended the workshop (Rajko Muršič, Blaž Bajič, Sandi Abram, Milla Tiainen, Sonja Pöllänen, Inkeri Aula, Juhana Venäläinen, Helmi Järviluoma). The work of the previous weeks was dedicated to intense preparations for the data-workshop and encompassed the preparation/formulation of the program, relevant materials need for analyses (transcriptions, translations etc.), presentations of observations made until that point in time, instructions for the pertinent web-based platforms and tools. The aim of the workshop was to discuss the following themes/issues:
● researchers’ experiences with different analysis methods they have used in the past and their expectations on analysis methods they think could be useful in the continuation of the project
● to individually and collectively analyze a data extracts from a recent sensobiographic walk, done in Turku, Finland, and two sensobiographic walks, done in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in order to determine key thematic issues and most relevant methodological questions (in terms of research and/or personal logs, diaries, transcription, notation, translation, etc.). It was determined that individual researchers or pairs of researchers formulate concise protocols for said tasks (e.g. transcription rules, file naming protocols, log guidelines).
● reflect and/or report on sensobiographic walks, done up until that point, by researchers who conducted the walks
● to discuss in detail how to use EUDAT data-base, how to structure meta-data and its contend in web-based platforms
● to discuss – during the working dinner – planned publications and public communication activities, as well and questions of intellectual property rights in contexts relevant to the SENSOTRA project
As mentioned in passing above, together with the data-workshop, public communications activities were also organized. In the Trubar Literature House in Ljubljana, the principal investigator Helmi Järviluoma (University of Eastern Finland), local expert Rajko Muršič (University of Ljubljana and University of Eastern Finland), expert Laura Formenti (University of Milano‐Bicocca), and the art director of the Ljubljana-based Sensorium Theater Barbara Pia Jenič, presented publicly the SENSOTRA project and, more generally, sensuous research done in humanities and social science, as well as in art. SENOSTRA researchers Blaž Bajič and Sandi Abram (both University of Eastern Finland) fronted the conversation. The round-table discussion was conducted both in Slovenian and in English, and was broadcast live via social media. Additionally, the round-table discussion generated
It is already clear that our methodology has proven to open new paths in several disciplines, when it comes to the study of current sensory and environmental transformations.

The articles have already greatly enhanced the theoretical and methodological approach of the project, for instance, in relation to transgenerational methodology (2 articles). New links between our sensobiographic approach, and the concepts of atmosphere (1 article), aural and sensory commons and political economy (2 articles), everyday reality, and technology (2 articles) and fresh debates on sensory anthropology (1 article), have been created.
SENSOTRA photoalbum page5
SENSOTRA photoalbum page4
SENSOTRA photoalbum page2
SENSOTRA photoalbum page1
SENSOTRA photoalbum page6
SENSOTRA photoalbum page3