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Sensing Atmospheres

large empty room with columns, pendant lamps and criss-crossed string Photo credit: Hillary Kaell, Exhibit at Centro de las Artes de San Agustín Etla, Mexico.

The notion of atmosphere has been taken up across the humanities and social sciences in recent years, absorbing much of the attention formerly accorded to the concept of space and spatial analysis.

Spaces are easy to delimit, but atmospheres are vague, because they are felt, or sensed, rather than seen. In the words of the philosopher Gernot Böhme, “atmosphere is what relates objective factors and constellations of the environment with my bodily feeling in that environment.” Thus, atmospheres are quasi-objective in the sense that they are “out there”: you can enter an atmosphere. Butt they are only quasi-thing-like because “they are nothing without a subject feeling them.” They are more like moods.

The Sensing Atmospheres Working Group will explore this amorphous notion across a broad range of sites and events, from the weather, the built environment and natural environs to cultural productions such as the theatre and installation art. Our group brings together scholars and students from across Concordia University to create a multi- and interdisciplinary approach to bear on the ethical, aesthetic and political possibilities opened up by engaging with the nebulous notion of atmospheres.

Among other activities, the Working Group is co-sponsoring ATMOSPHERES, the CISSC Virtual Happening Lecture series for the fall term 2020-2021. This eight-part lecture series starts on September 10, 2020. See the CISSC homepage for details.


  • Hillary Kaell, Department of Anthropology, McGill University (formerly Religions and Cultures, Concordia University)
  • Matthew Unger, Department of Sociology and Anthropology


  • Colby Gaudet, Department of Religions and Cultures

Key Questions

  • How do atmospheres affect the unfolding of social life in different settings?
  • How are atmospheres best represented or communicated?
  • What methodologies and concepts help us, as scholars, to engage meaningfully with atmospheres in our research?
  • What does it mean to say of a place that it “lacks atmosphere”? How many different kinds of atmospheres are there?

Group Members

  • May Chew, Department of Art History and Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema
  • Carmela Cucuzzella, Department of Computation and Design  Arts / Concordia University Research Chair in Integrated Design, Ecology and Sustainability
  • David Howes, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Concordia University, and Faculty of Law, McGill University
  • Nicola Pezolet, Department of Art History
  • Anya Zilberstein, Department of History


  1. The Sensing Atmospheres Working Group is a co-sponsor of the CISSC Virtual Happening Lecture Series for the fall term 2020 on the theme of ATMOSPHERES.
  2. The working group will double as a reading group which meets on a monthly basis to discuss selected readings, beginning with The Aesthetics of Atmosphere by the German philosopher Gernot Böhme. An annotated bibliography will be compiled by the Coordinator, and other readings will be selected from this list.
  3. The meetings of the working group will also serve as a forum for discussing first drafts of the papers members are developing for presentation at the one-day workshop we plan to hold in February 2021.
  4. In February 2021, the working group will stage a one-day workshop which revolves around a keynote delivered by a visiting scholar. The visiting scholar will also be invited to comment on the papers presented by group members.
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