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

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - SENSOTRA (Sensory Transformations and Transgenerational Environmental Relationships in Europe, 1950–2020)

Reporting period: 2021-02-01 to 2021-12-31

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.

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.
The first Research Strand / action has produced significant new knowledge concerning the transformative impact of digital technologies on everyday European life (Research Objective 1). Thanks to SENSOTRA’s research, we can now offer much deeper understanding than seven years ago about the the ways in which digital media technologies affect young, city-dwelling people’s sensory relations with their more-than-human environments, the urban green. A recurrent topic in the research material is the constant and generalised use of smartphones for listening to chosen audio content in mobile situations. The young research participants’ common choice for their sensobiographic walk was in a natural site of some kind. The capacities of the media to craft sensory experiences come about through constant and co-emergent interplay between media technological devices, individual but culturally-bound bodies–minds, and environments that are simultaneously physical and sociocultural.
Research Objective 2 (Strand 2) has scrutinized the ways in which the senses constructed understandings of the environment and place for people who were youngsters in three European cities in the 1950s and early 1960s. This has been compared with the situation half a century later, in the 2000s and 2010s. Important achievements were reached in studying the new sensory atmospheres in early socialist Yugoslavia. SENSOTRA’s ethnography demonstrates how the establishment of socialist spaces solidified socialist senses. The analyses also show the ways in which consequences of urban touristification not only reconfigured the historical quarter but also profoundly influenced the perception of public space in Ljubljana. The term sensoryfication of place attempts to denote this contemporary deployment of commodity-oriented hyper-aestheticization and spectacularization.
The same phenomenon was noticed in the city of Turku as well. The heavy designing of sensory atmosphere causes a growing sense of becoming excluded from central locations in their home cities, with increasingly fewer materialities to remember with.
When it comes to the third city studied, Brighton in the United Kingdom, for some people the city creates shared feelings of attachment. Sexual and gender minorities represent a relatively big part of the city’s population. Especially those identifying as part of the LGBTQ community, Brighton’s atmosphere creates a safe, welcoming environment, which fosters many elements of meaningful place bonds. But for others, the same materialities and social elements in the city space create experiences of exclusion or unsafety. Many older participants mentioned how the cityscape used to be dull and colourless in their youth; in contrast, the city space of today was described as full of colourful, artistic and artisan centre with a strong sense of freedom of expression. Touristification comes up in all three cities, Brighton included.
SENSOTRA has produced a fair amount of new understanding through the ways in which the sensory atmospheres and their remembering become relations. A feature of sensobiographic walks is the possibility to live unexpected contacts: in our society, people from different generations, classes, ethnic origins, tend to live apart.
Research Objective 3 (Strand 3) addressed the question of the sensory agencies involved in attempts to challenge and deconstruct the commonplace understanding of sensing as a discretely individual activity, elaborating and comparing sensory tonalities and the common sensescapes of the aging and young populations. Throughout SENSOTRA’s research, we have been able to scrutinize, how moving in the city relates to the notion of understanding the urban space as a commons. Analysis shows the co-sensed “shapes” of the cities that give their particular character. In all three cities studied there were value-laden conflicts on the “proper” uses of public space.
1. Fifty-nine peer-reviewed articles, books, and so far one "monumental" doctoral thesis represent a clear breakthrough, definitely creating a new understanding of the changes in people’s sensory environmental relationships in three European cities (Ljubljana, Brighton, Turku) in the period 1950–2020.

2. The extraordinary success of the new ethnographic research methodology: sensobiographic walking, which appeared to be very feasible, and which has now been disseminated and accepted worldwide.

3. One of the significant achievements of the project was the transfer of the method and ideas to the field of art, and other processes in which we have developed transdisciplinary concepts and methods across different cities in Europe and other parts of the world (USA, Latin America).
4. On important achievement of SENSOTRA project was to make its research materials public and accessible to all through an exciting new website. The Sensotra Tour includes 360-degree photos and videos, and a wide variety of sound clips since the 1960s from the European cities Turku, Ljubljana, and Brighton. Sensotra Tour can be joined at https://www.thinglink.com/scene/1364831714358067201.
SENSOTRA photoalbum page5
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SENSOTRA photoalbum page1
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