Reflections from the field – Brighton

”If, very broadly speaking, we think of anthropology as the discipline of explaining the behavior and thoughts of people bounded within a culture in terms that are intelligible to people outside that culture, then fieldwork is that part of the process which takes place when the anthropologist is in the field dwelling among the people she hopes to describe.” (Watson, C.W., 1999)

In September 2018, I packed my bags and moved to a different country to do Sensotra’s ethnographic fieldwork in Brighton, UK. This meant settling to a country with a culture that is foreign to me. I am still very much in the sphere of western culture and British culture has been present in my life in Finland through music, TV series and media, but even so, the British way of life, the mindset and the surroundings were still unfamiliar to me.

It is now been over four months since I moved here and I must say, it is compelling to get to know a place, a city, by listening to locals sharing their views of what this place is like and what makes Brighton the city that it is. On our sensobiographic walks, I have got to hear what Coldean and Falmer were like in the 60s, what it is like to be on a boat on a sea rescue mission under the Brighton Pier, what locals think about the thousands of tourists coming to Brighton and how it feels to walk around Preston Manor at night time (it is said to be the most haunted building in the UK). Just to name a few things our participants have been willing to share with us.

Listening to these experiences, it does not take very long to notice the things that make Brighton what it is – the things that almost everyone seems to mention and agree on, even though every participant is an individual with their own opinions and experiences. So far, we’ve done 14 walks around Brighton and I’m fairly confident to claim that the sea and the presence of the sea is a vital part of how it feels to live in urban Brighton. It is not difficult to understand why that is. I have stood there at the seashore many times mesmerized by the environment. Behind you, you have the city center with buses and taxis, Churchill Square bustling with people and North Laine’s streets filled with quirky boutiques. And in front of you, the sea. A light blue vast openness, completely contrary to the city life behind you.

What a treat that we have this”, one of our participants sighed looking at the sea. A treat for all senses, I would add. The sound of the cobble stones when you walk along the beach. The smell of salt. The pastel colors on the sky when the sun is setting. A murmuration of starlings dancing and sweeping in the sky doing an art work of nature – an installation that is gone in an hour and tomorrow, finds a new form. All this can have a remarkable impact on how it feels to live here. “It kind of makes you feel very free, being able to come to the sea”, described one 15-year-old participant.

When I have stopped in the middle of organizing fieldwork, scheduling interviews and writing emails, and reflected on what I am actually experiencing as a researcher, as an anthropologist in the field, I have realized how remarkable it is to get to know a place in a way like this – through stories and memories by the locals. I am not just standing there at the beach sensing it, but also seeing it from the locals perspective, which adds more layers to the experience. Moreover, as a researcher, I definitely would not be able to grasp the richness of these stories without being there – seeing, hearing, experiencing what the locals have to say.

Having said that, working here as a foreigner has not only made me go through the basic reflections of an anthropologist on the field, but it has also made me question my position. What justifies me, a researcher from Finland, to be the one who is dwelling among the locals here in the UK? Why not a native speaker, a British PhD student who would not have had to go through the same challenges of starting fieldwork in a foreign language or to travel here by plane doing his/her bit in climate change?

I could rationalize it by gaining international experience, but for me, that is not enough reason, because research is not about gaining personal merits. It is about producing new knowledge and a local researcher would have been able to do this fieldwork as equally as I am. So far, the ponderings on my position have given me only one answer. As a foreigner, who is new to this city and to this culture, I might be able to seize things on our walks differently than locals. In a way, it is more acceptable for me to ask questions that coming from a local, might sound naïve or strange. I can ask our participants to explain to me the simplest things that for them are very mundane, but I am not that familiar with. This might result in them expressing things on our walks that might be left unsaid if they walked with a researcher who shares their culture. It is not always easy to ask these “stupid” questions, but asking them might just pay off.

It is an ongoing  process to understand one’s own position and location in relation to what happens in the field. There is a popular quote from Margaret Mead that reminds of what it requires from the researcher: “Anthropology demands the open-mindedness with which one must look and listen, record in astonishment and wonder that which one would not have been able to guess.” Hopefully, my position here as a foreigner, enables me in staying more open-minded and in not taking things for granted.

On a sensobiographic walk at the seashore.

Watson, CW (ed.) 1999, Being There: Fieldwork in Anthropology, Pluto Press, London. Available from: ProQuest Ebook Central. [23 January 2019].

Text, picture and video: Eeva Pärjälä, Junior Researcher in Sensotra and PhD student at the University of Eastern Finland


SENSORY WALK in “Why the world needs anthropologists” – conference, Lisboa, Portugal

I arrived on Wednesday the 24th of October 2018 to Lisbon. The next day we met with my colleague and SENSOTRA’s Slovenian expert prof. Rajko Muršič and with some local people from the WWNA conference to plan our sensory walk here in Lisboa.

We decided to perform the walk near ISCTE where our workshop would take place on Saturday. It was a special place in many ways but especially due to a curiosity that there was an airplane flying over this place like every 20-40 min. You can hear it in the end of this video taken from our walk.

The workshop we were going to held was W7: Sensory walk.

What is a sensory walk?

The method of sensory walk as such is quite simple. It is a group version of Helmi Järviluoma’s method sensobiographic walk where a path meaningful to one person is chosen.  While walking, silently, we observed the path with all our senses. As an artistic practice, the sensory memory walk relates to site-specific art. The method has multiple roots. In its current form the method was developed in the course of the ethnographic work done for the Acoustic Environments in Change (AEC) research project, which charted local European soundscapes.

We had 9 participants which was quite good number of people to walk in the city as a silent group. I felt save with that number, because the more people we have the more risky it gets with for example cars and traffic.

When Saturday came we realized we will have a very strong wind which will surely affect the experience of our walk.

This walk was related to our project SENSOTRA on Sensory Transformations, which seeks to produce new understanding on how different generations relate to and experience their environment. Furthermore, the project is interested in knowing what roles technology and different technological devices play in people’s lives and how they affect their perceptions thereof.

Text by Sonja Pöllänen

Sonja is a project researcher in SENSOTRA and also a PhD student in cultural anthropology at the University of Eastern Finland.

Photo: Tuomas Partanen

Videos from the sensory walks: Andreja Bahar Muršič



by Inkeri Aula

São Gonçalo de Bação, Itabirito

In Brazil as elsewhere the pollution and disappearance of sweet waters and aquifers is a growing problem. In the surroundings on metropolitan Belo Horizonte I visited São Gonçalo de Bação, located in Itabirito. The village lays between mountains rich in iron and other minerals, eucalyptus plantations of the region providing wood for iron smelts. The village is rich in fountains and mineral sweet water sources, that are now severely threatened by advancing iron industry.

I conducted an open sensobiographic interview with a local geographer Icaro Brito, who introduced a plan for revitalization of antique water points, chafarizes, that have provided the population with fresh spring water since the beginning of the 20th century. Six of these are still functioning in São Gonçalo. As the habit is, we drove around by car, stopping once in a while to greet family, friends and neighbors through the window. The video shows bits of the interview and presents the sensobiographic method in Portuguese. (Publication permission granted by the participants.)


Urban cartographies in Belo Horizonte

How can a city be mapped sensorially? Professor Regina Helena Alves da Silva from the Centre for researching the convergence of new media (Centro de convergência de novas mídias) in UFMG has some answers for this question. We had the pleasure of hosting her in our fieldwork in Turku in June, where she got familiarized with our method, walking with local people in their city with us. Regina Helena has conducted urban sensory mapping workshops with different groupd of people around Brazil. Participants have learnt to map their urban surroundings by writing, filming, recording and sketching. The stories and perceptions produced bring out both imaginaries and a lived environment so often excluded from the master narratives that municipal planning is used to listening to. Besides discussing our common interests and the significance and impact of digital media technologies in contemporary lives, Regina Helena took me to sense the Central market of Belo Horizonte, a colourful fair of world famous artesanal cheese, local food, handicraft and spices: a kind of sensorium of Minas Gerais.


The voice of the slum hills: Radio Favela

Radio Autêntica Favela is a channel for the marginalized, predominantly black and poor population residing in favelas. The radio station is placed on top of the hill of Serra, a conjunction of different favela slums with tens of thousands of inhabitants. The founder Misael Avelino and his crew have kept the radio on the air already for 40 years, despite police persecution, especially during the military dictatorship, and financial difficulties. The radio brings out the voice of the local population and their problems that remains unspoken by other channels.

In the picture, a breezy winter night in Favela da Serra glows in moonlight. Amazing views over the city combine with precarious living conditions for most inhabitants in a neighborhood where main routes are marked by the constant presence of drug dealers.

Santa Luzia – sensobiographic walk with three generations

In the town of Santa Luzia in metropolitan Belo Horizonte, I conducted a sensobiographic walk with a family of friends of three generations. The walk was led by dona Izabel, 77, one of the first inhabitants of the newly built habitational area Cristina in 1981, with her family of six. She agreed to walk shortly around the nearby street, supported by myself, her older daughter, and one of the three grandchildren accompanying the walk, of whom the oldest, 17, was holding the camera. A striking feature of the walk for me was familiar from the many times during past decades of walking in the area with members of the family: the stories. Histories of local people, the often dramatic twists in their lives, or just the simple perceptions of who lived where and what had happened to them, their houses, their trees. A central sensorium of living becomes defined by the inhabitants and neighbor relations, adequate to a habitational area that had acquired intimate history during the decades of living.


Encounters from the coast to the mountains, July 2018

by Inkeri Aula

Anthropological encounters: sharing insights in IUAES, Florianópolis (Santa Catarina), 16/07 – 20/07/2018

The International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences IUAES organizes a big conference every five years. SENSOTRA participated on an intense conference week 2018 hosted by the Federal University of Santa Catarina, UFSC, in Florianópolis, Brazil.

18th IUAES World Congress “World (of) Encounters: The Past, Present and Future of Anthropological Knowledge”.

The conference counted with ca. 2000 participants from different continents taking part in 200 open panels, in addition to keynote lectures, plenaries, closed panels, book launches, workshops, exhibitions and excursions (”anthropological experiences”) to different destinations.

UFSC campus is a renown center of anthropological knowledge. In Brazil, anthropology is much involved in the difficult processes of recognizing the rights of indigenous minorities.

SENSOTRA was officially presented in two panels. In an open panel, “Circulation of body techniques and cultural and artistic performances in a context of human mobility”, I presented how I’ve developed my previous research about the Afro-Brazilian fight-game-art of capoeira with the theoretical elaborations of a nonrepresentational approach to the concept of mediation in SENSOTRA, under the title “Sensory mediation of ancestrality”. It was truly a privilege to join a panel of senior researchers who know the same field thoroughly.

Open panel no 156, ”Sensorial ethnography and digital worlds: music practices in real and virtual spaces” was convened by SENSOTRA. The panel had around 25 spectators who engaged in active discussion on, among other things, the situationality of sensory perception, embodiment of memories and multisensory methods. With the dictatorial powers of the only convenor present, I took the first presentation slot to myself for presenting the project, our theoretical approaches and the sensobiographic methodology. After questions from the audience, Dr. Ikbal Hamzaoui from the Institut Supérieur de Musique de Tunis, led us to a world of sound affinities shared by Mexican and Tunisian musicians: artists from continents apart expressed sensing an intense similarity (or as our researcher Sonja Pöllänen would call it, ’likeness’) with each others music. Last, Dr. Mihai Leaha presented his novel research at the University of São Paulo, with similar key approaches as those embraced by SENSOTRA, on how multisensory interactions situationally form embodied experiences of local participation. In this case, the context was a multisensory ethnography in both actual and virtual environments of a Do-it-Yourself music and club scene.

Some other panels also related to our themes, such as “Sensing Difference: urban ethnographies os familiarity and estrangement”. During all the week, encounters with different scholars of cultural research once again demonstrated the wide relevance of studying sensory transformations in the contemporary relationships with the environment. Many intriguing discussions on the human body and movement, sound of language, endangered sustainability of livelihoods, and urban histories.

Rural black quilombola communities date to times of resistance against slavery. Most of them suffer on land grabbing and severe discrimination – quilombolas are on world top of murdered environmental activists. In Quilombo do Fortunato (SC), visited by IUAES, the situation is peaceful and the community produces organic goods in a sustainable toxic-free manner.


After the official closing ceremony of the 18th IUAES congress, participants were called for circle dances, one to my amusement performed to a Finnish song “Suvetar” by Gjallarhorn.



Memory has a curious relationship with place. When you return to a place that has been significant to you years before, past moods and experiences, entangled with the environment, suddenly become active in the present moment. This is a key reason for Helmi Järviluoma’s method of sensobiographic walks, that brings interviewees to walk routes of their youth. I travelled to Belo Horizonte for cooperating with local researchers in the UFMG university and to introduce the sensobiographic walking method in Brazil, but it was also a journey to personal memories. I lived in Belo Horizonte as a student in 1995-96, and since have returned there twice. It is a city of 2,5 million inhabitants amidst the mountains full of minerals and gems, in the state named consequently Minas Gerais, ‘general mines’. The landscape I had not seen for eight years looked and felt powerfully like home, although it is as different as can be from the flat archipelago of Turku.

Received by the director of the department of Information Sciences, Terezinha Carvalho de Souza, I began to learn about Brazilian research in the federal university of UFMG. Otherwise the university staff was still on winter holiday, and the political situation continues very difficult for all social research following the coup d’etat by a non-elected government introducing severe cuts in all levels of education. The excursions that I had planned for introducing the sensobiographic walking ethnography in rural communities affected by mining industries around the city had be cancelled, as the receiving project in media studies had ran out of funds to do anything at all. In the beginning of August was given a new decision on cutting down completely the funding system for post-graduate studies in the country, threatening the very existence of the majority of ongoing research project and doctoral programs. This is very alarming in a country, where the most popular candidate for October’s presidential elections is in prison for contested charges, his main rivals praises military dictatorship, and already underfunded education has suffered severe cuts.

The transformations of lived environment affect local people’s memory everywhere. In 2015 the fifth major river of South America, the sweet Rio Doce was devastated by a mining dam collapse, killing people and all life in the river, and destroying livelihoods of a number of communities, including the indigenous Krenak people. I learned that the population of the destroyed village Bento Rodrigues have themselves initiated monthly “sensory memory walks” to the site. They ring the alarm that was not ringing when the poisonous flood came down on the town, and having lost all their material belongings, tell stories to each other to remember their past drowned by the worst environmental disaster in Brazilian history.

Places that guard their natural beauty also require attention. In the beautiful mountains full of rock crystals in the Serra do Cipó I got acquainted with not only local village life but also collective endeavours of reclaiming what was called “mystical cartographies”: the mapping of sacred walking paths between waterfalls and other marveillous sites in the national reserve.


In cooperation with a research network NEPPAMCS – Núcleo de Estudos Sobre Performance, Patrimônio e Mediações Culturais da UFMG I organized a Sensory walk workshop in a public park near to the state’s federal university. The Lagoa do Nado has a history as a private colonial estate that became a recreational area, defended by a local population’s movement against municipal plans of constructing condominiums. The movement was victorious and today the park is a breathing hole amidst busy roads, with 4 km of walking paths, a little lake, a cultural center and sports areas.

With a small group of students and researchers we walked a route I had previously chosen in the park. We met first in the second floor on a cultural center, functioning as an exhibition space, and returned there after the walk. The park was full of kids engaged in “holiday school” activities on a Friday afternoon. In the following compilation you can get a glimpse of the colorful atmosphere we encountered in the park. I was holding the camera in my hand and the fisheye effect distorts the image, but it also allows you to see better around. The instruction was not to talk or take photographs, but simply to concentrate on sensory perceptions of the environment.

After the walk the experience was discussed in a talking circle. The environment was so busy that many of us had a hard time in concentrating on the sensory observation. We discussed relationship with places, nature, urban green areas and sensory memories. Prof. Rubens Alves da Silva shared many insights on the diverse levels and interaction between observation, participation, relating with the locality and performing a group activity as an anthropologist. A student participant told us that she had never taken a step on the forest path before, as she had always been taught there’s dangerous. The workshop, thus, literally opened new paths of experience.