Sense and Sensibility – Københavns Universitet

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Engerom > Forskning > Satsningsområder > Sense and Sensibility

Descartes, vision

Sense and Sensibility

Coordinator: Boris Wiseman

This platform is concerned with questions often relegated to the shadows of logocentric traditions of thought: the emotions, sensory perception, aesthesis in a broad sense and the history of subjectivity (including gendered).  More specifically, our interests lie in the cultural, historical and social determinants that shape these often undervalued aspects of life, as well as their literary and artistic expression.


Platform members are currently working on:

  • Emotional geographies, the relationship between space, place and the emotions
  • The relationship between gender, and the history of emotions, including sex and sexuality
  • Psychoanalysis and the history of the emotions
  • The relationship between new developments in science and endeavors to describe the movements of the artistic mind
  • The relation between romantic notions of the mind’s movement and contemporaneous medical beliefs and practices
  • The history of the visual capture of movement (19th century to today)
  • Vision and visuality in their relation to technological changes
  • Metamorphoses of the image
  • Post-aesthetic thought
  • Mapping the senses

Research projects currently being hosted by the platform:

A) Comparing the Emotional Economies of early Protestant missions to Indigenous peoples in Greenland and Australia

This research project explores the ways in which encounters between eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Protestant missionaries, and Indigenous peoples in Australia and Greenland, affected the emotional cultures of both groups. Emotions constitute an important subject for investigation in the colonial mission context for two reasons: their perceived function in colonial settings as markers of race, class and civilization and their consequent incorporation into regimes of colonial rule; and their centrality, as both cause and effect, to the Protestant evangelical missionary tradition. Not only were missionaries’ motivations and their means often emotional, but the success of evangelization was at least to some extent measured in terms of its emotional (and therefore spiritual) effect on those being proselytized. In this sense, Christian missions functioned as ‘emotional economies’ – sites of emotional regulation, circulation and exchange – in which certain emotions were privileged over others, and the relationship between emotional supply and demand could fluctuate dramatically depending upon the political, economic and interpersonal situation at any given time. By comparing two contexts with significantly different colonial histories this study will explore the extent to which different types of colonialism affected Protestant missionaries’ emotional approaches to evangelization and Indigenous emotional responses to them. In doing so, the study will yield insights not only into the emotional economies which have structured interactions between the two groups historically, but also the extent to which ideas about emotional control, culture and civilization still continue to influence relationships between Indigenous Australians and Greenlanders, and their former (or in the Australian case, continuing) colonial rulers.

Contact: Claire Mclisky:

B) Ekphrasis and the Transnational American Imagination, 1830-1880.

This project argues that the popular representation of the visual arts in American literature during the mid-nineteenth century was intimately shaped by a push to define a national literature through and against European models. Because much American ekphrasis—the literary representation of the visual arts— took its models in Italian Renaissance artwork, this literary mode highlights the way that contemporary and historical ideas of Italy were used to shape developing ideas of an American canon.

Contact: Christa Vogelius: 

C) Visualizing Movement

This project aims to contribute to a cultural history of the visualization of movement. It will examine, in particular, how the development of different kinds of image-making technologies - from early forms of photography and film to modern day computationally mediated vision - have altered the ways in which movement is visually reconstructed and hence understood.  The project will ask how cultural understandings of time and space have been shaped by the very different images of moving figures or things provided by, for example, chrono-photography, the freeze-frame  or navigational image software. The project will aim to verify three core hypotheses about such images, namely that: i) they emerge in part as responses to urban space and in turn construct our relations to urban space, ii) they shape phenomenal perception and experience and iii) they generate new forms of movement, mobility or modes of interacting.

We will focus on two key moments of technological transformation, that which accompanied the industrial revolution (the era of the mechanical reproduction of images) and that which accompanied the digital revolution (the era of computer mediated vision). Said differently: the advent of modernity and that of post-modernity. Our aim isn’t so much to try and reconstruct a chronological story about technological changes, but rather to try and see each moment through the other.

The research context of this project are the recent debates about the status of images and their place in society brought into focus by the so-called iconic or pictorial turn (Mitchell 2005; Boehm 2007; Edwards & Hart 2004). Our own way of getting beyond a conception of the image as representation or visual construct (Alberti’s ‘window’) and address issues of agency, is to consider the interface between image and movement.

Involved researchers

Troels Hughes Hansen, Celia Hughes, Claire McLisky, Daniel Midena, Andrew Miller, Robert Rix, Christa Vogelius, Nils Voisin, Boris Wiseman, Lene Østermark.

Dee Reynolds (Manchester University)