Recent research in human geography has shown sensitivity towards the sensory experience of space. In particular, and in concert with developments around affect, new materialisms, and non-representational theories, attention has been drawn towards the ephemeral and transient atmospheres and ambiances that press upon, and give consistency to, the unfolding of social life. Such ambiances and atmospheres find expression in the talking place of social life itself - from the actions and interactions of bodies, technologies, images, objects, architectures, discourses, and so on - and in turn play a part in the ordering of this taking place. This has been theorized in terms of attunement, captivation, elevation, manipulation, the circumstantial, mood, air, weather, amongst others. Individual and collective moods have been shown to be the target of political intervention (Anderson 2014); technological interfaces have been shown to envelop, captivate, and so retain the attentions of their users (Ash 2012); the functioning of the economy has been shown to be inherently tied to perturbations in collective feelings (McCormack 2013); and felt atmospheres and ambiances have been shown to provide conditions, or a lack there of, for the unfolding of vibrant (or stultified) forms of sociality and public life (Edensor 2014; Adey et al 2013).
While such work is often associated with a particular form of UK-based cultural geography, such geographic delimitations belie a more complex international and interdisciplinary picture of research interested in our emersion in such sensory environments. Anglophone cultural geography has not been along in exploring such collective affectivities and sensibilities. Rather, the sensory in this sense has been explored in Francophone urban and architectural studies and, notably, sensory phenomena, studied in close relationship to social interaction and spatial context, have been researched in pursuit of various theories of 'ambiance(s)' (Augoyard 1995, Thibaud, 2002). Such theories have helped in the construction of transdisciplinary methodologies for the sensory understanding of lived spaces, thinking the lived experience of space beyond its visuality and beyond synchrony. Thinking in terms of ambiance, this work has offered insights into to how we perceive and act in lived space and, based on this, how we could improve these space's qualities by focusing on their sensory, atmospheric dimensions.
Despite the aforementioned developments, a range of issues relating to the sensory geographies of ambiances and atmospheres require further exploration. In particular, issues of how to research and represent ambiances and atmospheres stand out here. This session, organized under the aegis of the International Ambiances Network (ambiances.net), will explore some of the conceptual starting points for such issues and suggest means of proceeding from them.