Welcome to Uncommon Senses III: Back to the Future of the Senses! We are delighted you could join us. The conference promises to be sensational, despite its online format. There is a tremendous richness and diversity of the abstracts you submitted.

This particular conference has a history which stretches back over two decades to the staging of the first Uncommon Senses conference in May of 2000. Various smaller conferences followed until things picked up again with Uncommon Senses II in 2018. A number of you will remember it. Uncommon Senses III will, however, involve double the number of participants at Uncommon Senses II.

Here are some program highlights:

There will be three plenary addresses: “Touchy Feely Manifesto: Design for the Senses” by Ellen Lupton (Thursday), “The Future of Touch” by Constance Classen (Friday), and “Weaving New Ways of Knowing: Decolonizing the Senses, Recovering Legacies” by Diane Roberts (Saturday).

Some of the more prominent themes include: sensory design (7 sessions), sensory ethnography (4 sessions), multimodal/intermedia art (3 sessions), sensory politics (3), eco-sensing (3), sensorial pedagogies (3), the anthropology of congenital synaesthesia (2), and the legacy of Paul Stoller’s “sensuous scholarship” (2). The life of the senses under lockdown is another recurring topic as is the intersection between sensory studies and critical disability studies.

The conference will have a strong and variegated aroma: the Odeuropa research team will be here, so will the contributors to a soon to be released book called “Olfactory Art and the Political in an Age of Resistance,” and the editors of Venti (the Journal of Air, Experience and Aesthetics) have also organized a panel.

There will be a Virtual Art Gallery (the artists will be “in” to respond to questions about their work at set times throughout the conference) and a Virtual Book Exhibition. The conference will also feature 12 Workshops dedicated to sensory experimentation led by Nina Eidsheim, Rosalyn Driscoll, Tomie Hahn, Anna Harris, and Caro Verbeek, among others. (Registration in the workshops is limited)

During our planning, it was resolved that Uncommon Senses III must have a theme song, a theme image, and some videos on theme.

For the theme image, we settled on the painting “Creation of the Birds” by the Spanish-Mexican Surrealist artist Remedios Varo.


Remedios Varo, “Creation of the Birds,” ca. 1957

Take a moment to reflect on what the androgynous, owl-like figure of the painter in this painting is doing with their senses – how they are crossing and blending them to generate not representations (like, say, J.B. Audubon) but actual creations, living creatures: the birds which fly up from the canvas.

There are a number of videos which aptly address the themes of the conference. One is a video entitled “Experience” by Monica Degen of Brunel University (which she turned with the assistance of her colleague, Michael Wayne, also of Brunel University, London).

A second is the video entitled “Self-Isolation Dinner” by Tereza Stehlikova of the Royal College of Art and University of Westminster, London. And a third is the video by Concordia’s own Geneviève Sicotte, entitled “Signs of Life/Signes de vie

Both Geneviève and Tereza will be presenting at the conference.

For the theme song we have chosen Lovers in a Dangerous Time by Canadian songster, Bruce Cockburn. We chose it especially for the lines which go

These fragile bodies of touch and taste

This vibrant skin, this hair like lace

Spirits open to the thrust of grace

Never a breath you can afford to waste

Cockburn’s lyrics take on added urgency in the current conjuncture. They resonate with the last words of George Floyd, who was brutally murdered while in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020. It is time for a sensory reckoning regarding race and racialization, and a number of interventions at the conference will address this issue.

Cockburn’s lyrics also take on added meaning against the backdrop of the pandemic: the novel coronavirus has stolen the breath and the life of so many people across the world. And it is insidious the way it obliterates our senses of taste and smell, and forces us to guard who and what we touch. We cannot let our guard up, not yet, for the pandemic is still far from over, but with Cockburn we can keep “kicking at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.”

In closing, I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to the members of the Organizing Committee, without whom none of this great sensory circus we are about to enjoy would have been possible.

Conference Coordinator: Pamela Tudge, Individualized (INDI) Ph.D. Program, Concordia

Technical Coordinator: Joe Thibodeau, INDI Ph.D. Program, Concordia

Communications Coordinator: Allison Peacock, Humanities (HUMA) Ph.D. Program, Concordia

Event Logistics Coordinator: Mariya Georgieva, Conference Services, Hospitality Concordia

Event Technician: Alexandre Page, IITS

Executive Committee: Jordan Le Bel, Marketing department and Co-Director of the Centre for sensory studies, Concordia; and, Mark Sussman, Theatre Department and Director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture (CISSC).

Have a good conference.

David Howes

Chair, Uncommon Senses III

Co-Director, Centre for Sensory Studies

Professor, Sociology and Anthropology

Concordia University, Montreal

Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Law

McGill University, Montreal