Understanding

Atmospheres

Culture, materiality and the texture of the in-between

The concept “atmosphere” and equivalents such as ambience and aura, have increasingly become objects of study in a range of disciplines from architecture and aesthetics to anthropology and archaeology. This turn is largely inspired by the work of German philosopher Gernot Böhme coupled with reference to the material and phenomenological focus in many fields of social science and humanities over the past two decades.

Located at the intersection of things and people, atmospheres may be defined as a potential, which has to emerge or to be made effective at the conceptual as well as the sensuous level. Someone has to experience an atmosphere for it to exist. An atmosphere is neither an object, nor a subject; neither passive nor neutral, but rather may act as silent interventions into behavioural and experiential practices and interpretations. It is a total phenomenon, largely non-representational and hence difficult to put into words. Nevertheless, atmospheres are manifested in human bodies and may be experienced as emotions, flushes, heartbeats, tears and smiles, which are all formal evidence of a relationship between subjects and their environment. The question, in turn, is thus how we can study atmospheres, both as experience and analytical tool.

This two-day conference explores the methodological and analytical dimensions of atmosphere for example in ethnographic or geographical fieldwork, in museological studies, or in the study of archaeological remains.

Keynote speakers

  • Professor Gernot Böhme, Technische Universität Darmstadt
  • Professor Chris Gosden, University of Oxford
  • Dr Ben Anderson, Durham University
  • Dr Inge Daniels, University of Oxford