Sensual Relations: Engaging the Senses in Culture and Social by David Howes

By David Howes

With audacious dexterity, David Howes weaves jointly subject matters starting from love and wonder magic in Papua New Guinea to nasal repression in Freudian psychology and from the erasure and restoration of the senses in modern ethnography to the threat of the physique in Marx. via this eclectic and penetrating exploration of the connection among sensory event and cultural expression, Sensual relatives contests the normal exclusion of sensuality from highbrow inquiry and reclaims sensation as a basic area of social concept. David Howes is Professor of Anthropology, Concordia college, Montreal, Quebec.

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Extra info for Sensual Relations: Engaging the Senses in Culture and Social Theory

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For instance, rituals that center on the laceration of the penis may be seen as expressing male envy of female reproductive processes, such as menstruation (Bettelheim 1956). ” A little further on she states, “The rituals enact the form of social relations and in giving these relations visible expression they enable people to know their own society” (1966: 116, 128). Thus, according to Douglas, the body is a medium for the expression of the social; the social (including ritual) is not there simply to satisfy the impulses of the body.

1970: 540–41) Sensual Relations 18 While the wordplay in this scenario may have persuaded many of Ricoeur’s readers—including Geertz—its rhetorical structure could hardly enjoy universal appeal. One has only to ask whether Ricoeur’s play on words would make the same (or any) sense to one who is not of a literate culture to see the limitations of his argument. The following scenario from aboriginal Australia presents a case in point. , through or by means of which the impressions of the outer world are conveyed to the inner.

William McDougall, whose task was to study the muscular and tactile responses of the Islanders, determined that their “power of tactile discrimination is about double that of Englishmen” (cited in Richards 1998: 149). Charles Myers, who was in charge of testing olfactory capabilities, concluded that the evocative power that odors apparently held for the Islanders constituted “yet another expression of the high degree to which the sensory side of mental life is elaborated among primitive peoples” (1903: 184).

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