David Howes

Professor, Sociology and Anthropology

David Howes is a Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and a Co-Director of the Centre for Sensory Studies. He is also an Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Law at McGill University.

Beginning in 1990, David has conducted field research on the cultural life of the senses in Papua New Guinea, Northwestern Argentina, and the Southwestern United States. His research projects over the past 10 years have ranged from exploring the sensory life of things in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford to investigating historic and contemporary trends in multisensory marketing in the USA and Canada (in collaboration with Bianca Grohmann), and from examining judicial constructions of “culture” (in association with René Provost) to designing performative sensory environments (in concert with Chris Salter). He recently wrapped up a project on “Law and the Regulation of the Senses: Explorations in Sensori-Legal Studies” and is currently directing a project called “Explorations in Sensory Design.”

David has published 12 books, ranging from The Varieties of Sensory Experience (1991) to Senses and Sensation: Critical and Primary Sources (2018), and edited or co-edited 9 thematic issues of journals. He co-founded the journal The Senses and Society (with Michael Bull, Paul Gilroy and Doug Kahn) in 2006, and has otherwise served as the general editor of the Sensory Formations book series (2003–2009) and the new Sensory Studies book series from Routledge (2015– ).

He is currently working on a book called “The Sensory Studies Manifesto: Tracking the Sensorial Revolution in the Arts and Human Sciences” (due out from the University of Toronto Press in the first quarter of 2022).

In 2021, David was named Distinguished University Research Professor. He also won the University Research Award that year. Other distinctions include having been appointed to the Chaire Jacques Leclercq, Université Catholique Louvain, Louvain-La-Neuve, for the Winter term 2018.

Research Interests

Sensory Anthropology, Medical Anthropology, Legal Anthropology, Constitutional Studies, Popular Culture, Culture and Consumption, Aesthetics and Atmospheres, Art and Design

Teaching activities

Law and Society

Culture and Commerce

Art, Aesthetics and Anthropology

New Directions in Anthropological Research

Research activities

Select Recent and Ongoing Research Projects (2011-2021)

“Explorations in Sensory Design.” Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada [SSHRC] Insight grant. $297,000. Co-investigators: Constance Classen, Carmela Cucuzzela, Arseli Dokumaci, Bianca Grohmann, Aaron Johnson, Jordan LeBel. [2020-2025]

“Dynamic Light.” Fonds de Recherche du Québec–Société et Culture [FRQSC]. Principal Investigator: Chris Salter (Design Arts). Co-investigators: David Howes, Marcello Wanderley (Music, McGill), and others. [2018-2020]

“The Cultural Sensorium: An Indigenous Ethnography of the Senses.” Australian Research Council [ARC]. Principal Investigator: Jennifer Biddle (University of New South Wales). Co-investigators: David Howes, Chris Salter. [2016-2019]

“Law and the Regulation of the Senses: Explorations in Sensori-Legal Studies.” SSHRC Insight Grant. Principal Investigator: David Howes. Co-investigators: Marc Lafrance (SOAN), Charlene Elliott (Communications, Calgary), Sheryl Hamilton (Law, Carleton), Christiane Wilke (Law, Carleton). [2015-2019]
“Evaluating Methods of Aesthetic Enquiry Across Disciplines.” Leverhulme Trust International Network Grant. Principal Investigator: Dee Reynolds (Manchester). Concordia co-applicants: Constance Classen, Erin Manning. Other co-applicants: Eric Clarke (Oxford), Rupert Cox (Manchester), Helmut Leder (Vienna), Charles Spence (Oxford). [2015-2018]

“Sensory Entanglements: New Cross-Cultural and Cross-Disciplinary Directions in the Creation and Evaluation of Multi-Sensorial Environments,” SSHRC. Principal Investigator: Chris Salter. Co-investigators: David Howes, Marcelo Wanderley, Jennifer Biddle. [2014-2020]

“Haptic Fields.”  FRQSC recherche-création. Principal Investigator: Chris Salter. Co-investigators: David Howes, Marcelo Wanderley. [2014-2017]

“The Hands-On Museum: Transition Periods,” SSHRC. Principal Investigator: Constance Classen. Co-investigator: David Howes [2011-2014]

Médiations de sensation: Anthropologie sensorielle et création/évaluation d’environnements interactifs multimodaux, FRQSC). Principal Investigator: Chris Salter. Co-investigator: David Howes [2010-2013]

“Beyond Centaur Jurisprudence: Bringing Culture in the Domain of Law,” SSHRC. Principal Investigator: René Provost (Law, McGill). Co-investigators: David Howes, Kirsten Anker (McGill), Eric Reiter (Concordia). [2010-2014]



David Howes (ed.), Senses and Sensation: Critical and Primary Sources. 4 volumes. Abingdon: Routledge, 2018

David Howes (ed.), A Cultural History of the Senses in the Modern Age, 1920-2000, London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2014

David Howes & Constance Classen, Ways of Sensing: Understanding the Senses in Society, London and New York: Routledge, 2014

Davd Howes (ed.), The Sixth Sense Reader, Oxford and New York: Berg, 2009

David Howes (ed.), Empire of the Senses: The Sensual Culture Reader. Oxford and New York: Berg, 2004 

David Howes, Sensual Relations: Engaging the Senses in Culture and Social Theory, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2003

David Howes, ed., Cross-Cultural Consumption: Global Markets, Local Realities, London and New York: Routledge, 1996

Constance Classen, David Howes & Anthony Synnott, Aroma: The Cultural History of Smell, London and New York: Routledge, 1994.


Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar Editor, 1996 (Portuguese trans.)
Tokyo: Chikuma-Shobo, 1997 (Japanese trans.)
Seoul: Hyunsil Cultural Studies, 2002 (Korean trans.)
Athens: Plethron, 2006 (Greek trans.)

David Howes (ed.), The Varieties of Sensory Experience: A Sourcebook in the Anthropology of the Senses, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991.

Special issues

Veronique Dassié, Marie-Luce Gélard & David Howes, dirs., Habiter le monde: materialités, art, sensorialités. 44(1) Anthropologie et Sociétés, 2020

David Howes, ed. Troubling Law’s Sensorium: Explorations in Sensational Jurisprudence. 34(2) Canadian Journal of Law and Society, 2019

David Howes (ed.), Sensory Museology, 9(3) The Senses and Society, 2014

Devon Hinton, David Howes and Laurence Kirmayer  (eds.), Medical Anthropology of Sensations, 45(2) Transcultural Psychiatry, 2008

David Howes & Jean-Sébastien Marcoux (dirs.), La culture sensible, 30(3) Anthropologie et Sociétés, 2006

David Howes (ed.) Cross-Cultural Jurisprudence/La jurisprudence transculturelle, 20(1) The Canadian Journal of Law and Society, 2005

David Howes (ed.), Law and Popular Culture, 10(2) The Canadian Journal of Law and Society, 1995

David Howes (dir.), Frontières culturelles et marchandises, 18(3) Anthropologie et Sociétés, 1994

David Howes (dir.), Les cinq sens, 14(2) Anthropologie et Sociétés, 1990 

Select book chapters and journal articles (2011-2021)

Rethinking congenital synaesthesia, Tangible Territory 1(3), 2021

Charles Spence, Fabiana Carvalho and David Howes.
“Metallic: A Bivalent, Ambimodal Material Property” (2021) I-Perception 

The Sensory Revolution Comes of Age, Cambridge Journal of Anthropology 39(2) : 128-37  

« Quand la recherché qualitative rencontre l’ethnographie sensorielle » (2020) Recherches Qualitatives – Hors-série « Les Actes » – 25: 1-7. Sensorialité, émotion et esthétique en recherché qualitative (sous la direction de Linda Rouleau et Sylvie Grosjean) 

«Next-Generation Sensory Anthropology »  in Sisa Calapi, Helma Korzybyska, Marie Mazzella di Bosco, & Pierre Peraldi-Mittelette, eds.  Sensibles ethnographies. Decalages sensoriels et attentionnels dans la recherche anthropologique,  Éditions Petra, 2020

“Whole-Body Sensing: Encountering the Forest with Henry David Thoreau.” Sympoïétiques: Les Rencontres interdisciplinaires d'Hexagram, Édition 2020

Erin Lynch, David Howes and Martin French, “A Touch of Luck and a ‘Real Taste of Vegas’: A Sensory Ethnography of the Montreal Casino” (2020) The Senses and Society 15(2): 192-215

Veronique Dassié, Marie-Luce Gélard & David Howes, “Introduction: Habiter le monde.” (2020) Anthropologie et Sociétés 44(1): 1-16

« Sentir le monde: Analyse critique, esthétique et juridique de la construction matérielle du sensorium moderne. » (2020) Anthropologie et Sociétés 44(1)

“Digging Up the Sensorium: On the Sensory Revolution in Archaeology” in Robin Skeates and Jo Day, eds., The Routledge Handbook of Sensory Archaeology, 21-34. London: Routledge, 2020.

Marie-Josée Blanchard and David Howes, “Les sens assoupis : la vie sociale et sensorielle des artefacts dans l’espace muséal » (2019) Anthropologica 61(2) : 322-33

“Prologue: Introduction to Sensori-Legal Studies” (2019) The Canadian Journal of Law and Society 34(2): 173-90.

“Multisensory Anthropology.” (2019) Annual Review of Anthropology48: 17-28.

David Howes with the late Clifford Geertz and Roseline Lambert. “Boasian Soundings: An Interrupted History of the Senses (and Poetry) in Anthropology” (2018) Amerikastudien/American Studies 63(4): 473-488 (special issue: Boasian Vistas)

“Embodiment and the Senses” in Michael Bull, ed., The Routledge Companion to Sound Studies, 24-34. London and New York: Routledge, 2018

Afterword: The Skinscape - Reflections on the Dermalogical Turn
, Body and Society 24(1-2), 2018

Law’s Sensorium: On the Media of Law and the Evidence of the Senses in  Historical and Cross-Cultural Perspective. In Sheryl Hamilton et al (eds.)  Sensing Law. pp. 53-72. London and New York: Routledge, 2017

Preface: David Le Breton and the Sociality of Sensation. In David Le Breton, Sensing the World: An Anthropology of the Senses. pp. vii-xi. Abingdon: Routledge, 2017

Foreword: The Engagement of the Senses. In Nicholas Saunders and Paul Cornish, eds. Modern Conflict and the Senses. pp.xix-xxiii. London and New York: Routledge, 2017

Music to the Eyes: Intersensoriality, Culture and the Arts. In Barry Truax et al (eds.), Routledge Companion to Sounding Art. London and New York: Routledge, 2016

Sensing Cultures: Cinema, Ethnography and the Senses. In Rupert Cox, Andrew Irving and Christopher Wright, eds., Beyond Text? Sensory Anthropology and Critical Practice. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2016

Preface: Accounting for Taste. Pages vii-xiv in Luca Vercelloni. The Invention of Taste: A Cultural Account of Desire, Delight and Disgust in Fashion, Food and Art. Abingdon: Routledge, 2016

Mediations of Sensation: Designing Performative Sensory Environments. NMC Media-N 11(3) (with Chris Salter), 2015

The Science of Sensory Evaluation: An Ethnographic Critique. In Adam Drazin and Susanne Kuechler, eds., The Social Life of Materials. Abingdon: Routledge, 2015

Sensation. In S. Brent Plate, ed., Key Terms in Material Religion. Abingdon: Routledge, 2015

The Extended Sensorium: Introduction to the Sensory and Social Thought of François Laplantine. In François Laplantine, The Life of the Senses: Introduction to a Modal Anthropology, trans. Jamie Furniss. pp. vii-xiv. Abingdon: Routledge, 2014.

« Se sentir chez soi » au musée : tentatives de fusion des sensoriums dans les musées de société. Anthropologie et Sociétés 38(3) : 253-270 (with Marie-Josée Blanchard), 2014

Introduction: ‘Make It New’–Reforming the Sensory World. In David Howes (ed.), A Cultural History of the Senses in the Modern Age, 1920-2000, Abingdon: Routledge, 2014

Revisualizing Anthropology through the Lens of The Ethnographer’s Eye. Pages 628-47 in Ian Heywood and Barry Sandywell, eds., Handbook of Visual Culture. Oxford: Berg, 2012

Hearing Scents, Tasting Sights: Toward a Cross-Cultural Multimodal Theory of Aesthetics. Pages 161-82 in Francesca Bacci and David Mellon, eds., Art and the Senses. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011

Polysensoriality. Pages 435-50 in Fran Mascia-Lees, ed., Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Anthropology of the Body and Embodiment. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011

Vienna: Sensory Capital. In Madalina Diaconu et al (eds.), Senses and the City. An Interdisciplinary Approach to Urban Sensescapes, Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2011

Worlds of Sense and Sensing the World (with Tim Ingold), Social Anthropology 19(3):313-31, 2011


Select Conference Presentations & Invited Talks (2014-2021) 

“Follow your Nose: 30 Years of Researching Smell” (via zoom), Odeuropa, Amsterdam, 26 May 2021

“Decolonizing the Senses” roundtable (via zoom) Uncommon Senses III, Concordia University, Montreal, 8 May 2021

“An Archeology of Aesthetic Perception” (via zoom), Journée d’éudes Saviors sensibles, ENSAD Lab, Paris, 13 April 2021

“Sense Experience” (via zoom), On Experience, TECHNE Student Conference, Brunel University, London, 28 January 2021 

“Sensory Orders Conversations” roundtable (via zoom), Laznia Center for Contemporary Art, Gdansk, Poland, 10 December 2020

“The Barbican Totem: Lighting up the brain, zoning in on synapses, redistributing sensation.” ISEA 2020, 14 October 2020 (via zoom)

“Multisensory Anthropology.” Embodied Underground Spring Seminar series, University of California, Berkeley, 5 May 2020 (via zoom). 

“Power, Society and the Senses: A Workshop.” University of Arizona, Tempe, Arizona, 5-7 March 2020

“Sensory Anthropology and the Study of Atmospheres,” CRESSON/University of Grenoble, Grenoble, 29 January 2020

“Multisensory Anthropology: Prospects and Impediments,” Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology. Oxford University, 7 November 2019

“Sensing and Representing in Qualitative Research,” Consumer Culture Theory Conference, Concordia University, 18 July 2019

« L’enculturation des sens » (keynote). Association pour la recherche qualitative, Association canadienne-française pour l’avancement des sciences (Acfas). Gatineau/Outaouais. 27-28 May, 2019

“Technniques and Technologies of Perception.” Cognition, Learning and Technology across the Lifespan. University of Toronto Mississauga, 6-7 March 2019  

“Sensory Ethnography: Between Art and Anthropology,” University of Toronto, 19 October 2018

« La vie sociale des sens à travers des cultures » (five part lecture series), Chaire Jacques Leclercq, Université Catholique Louvain, Louvain-La-Neuve, 12-16 March 2018

“What Anthropology Teaches Us About the Brain and Human Perception,” John B. Pierce Laboratory Fall Seminar Series, Yale University, 23 October 2017

“Digging Up the Sensorium: Archeology Branching into Sensory Studies,” Institute of Philosophy/Centre for the Study of the Senses (CenSes), University of London, 8 September 2017

“Nerves and Narratives,” Creative Tastebuds conference, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark,4 September 2017

“Beyond the Senses: Bodies, Technology, Environment” (panel discussion), Limits of Knowing lecture series, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berliner Festspiele, Berlin, 27 July 2017

“How Capitalism Came to Its Senses – and Yours: The Invention of Sensory Marketing,” Harvard Business School, Boston, MA 29June 2017

“The Sensory Archive: How History Makes Sense.” Australian Anthropological Society Conference, University of Sydney, Australia. 13-15 December 2016

“Sensory Surrounds,” On Atmospheres: Embodiments of Space, Harvard Graduate Design School, Cambridge, MA. 4-5 February 2016

“Coming to Our Senses: A Report on the Sensory Turn in Curatorial and Media Art Practice,” Medical Museion, University of Copenhagen, 21 December 2015

“The Evidence of the Senses” (keynote), The Senses Lecture Series, 2015-2016 Altman Program, Humanities Center, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, 3 September 2015

“Cultural Exchange as Sensory Exchange: A Sensory Studies Approach to the Encounter of Chinese and Western Civilizations, ”The Senses in Sino-Western Cultural Exchanges in the Early Modern Period, Fudan University, Shanghai,.16-17 May 2015

“The Sensory Interior: Some Other Rooms You May Have Missed,” Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal, 26 February 2015

“Culture on Trial: Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act – An Anthropological Critique, “Canadian Law and Society Association Mid-Winter Meeting, Concordia University, 17 January 2015

“Le Vieux-Montréal: Une expérience sensorielle,” Culture Montréal/Centre PHI, Montreal, 12 November 2014

“Sensory Museology,” Embodied Knowledge: Sensory Studies in the 21st Century, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 3 October 2014

“The Sensory Turn,” Taking Turns: Material, Affective and Sensory Turns in the Academy, British Academy/University of Manchester, 3 July 2014

Research Sampler, 2000-2010

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