The call for submissions for the WAU Congress 2024 in Johannesburg is now closed, and we thank all participants; paper evaluations will be ready on June 14.




( pn14 )

Retracing the Invisible and the Silent: Condensed Histories, Affective Atmospheres, and the Palpability of Obliterated Emplacement


    Anthony Howarth

    Nationality: United Kingdom

    Residence: UK

    University of Oxford

    Presence:Face to Face/ On Site

    Jaco Hoffman

    Nationality: South Africa

    Residence: South Africa

    North-West University

    Presence:Face to Face/ On Site

IUAES Affiliation: Nomadic Peoples

IUAES Affiliation: Study of Difference, Discrimination and Marginalization


Memory, Imagination, Place, Invisible, Silence, Obliteration


This panel explores perceptions, memories, imaginaries, and emotive affects that, although they cannot quite be seen, heard, touched, felt, and smelled, remain profoundly palpable to those experiencing them and, as such, are important factors in making their social and cultural worlds. These might be significant past events, such as remembering loved ones, or less noteworthy everyday experiences concerning personal histories, that are evoked by sensory engagements with particular places and/or built environments. These places (including memory, spirit or imagination scapes) may remain intact or they might now be obliterated by powerful forces such as re-development, extractive industries, or state-ordained modernisation projects. Because of this panel’s emphasis on obliteration, it particularly welcomes papers focusing on the marginalised; nomadic and mobile groups, indigenous people, and minority populations. However, it also encourages papers that focus on other groups with limited control over the built environments in which they live, and/or whose emplacement is precarious, for example, older adults, those with disabilities, and subaltern classes and castes. Although we could approach these spaces of memory and imagination as merely personal reminiscences and/or some kind of intangible cultural heritage, the panel encourages presenters to extend these categories. One starting point might be to draw upon phenomenological-influenced ideas and approach the invisible, silent, and intangible as condensed histories shaped by lived experience and/or the temporal unfolding of the multiplicitous stories that make up the worlds of inhabitation (Ingold 2000; Massey 2005). Another fruitful avenue for exploration may be to approach these places and built environments as generative spaces of involvement where obliterated material landscapes, the perception of these environments, and experiences of recollection and imagination are interwoven. The panel welcomes papers from the anthropology of sensing and perception, studies of intangible cultural heritage and social/cultural memory, and affect and phenomenological theory. Panellists are invited to reflect on questions that may address (but are not limited to) the following topics: How can emotive recollections and imaginaries of places, people and events be said to be palpable even though they are evoked by things no longer extant? What kinds of affective experiences are evoked and transmitted when people return to places of previous inhabitation? What, if any, relationship exists between remembering and imagining and how do these acts shape human perceptions of their social and cultural worlds? Can the obliterated places of the marginalised be considered intangible cultural heritage, or are they merely recollections and imaginaries of past experience constructed in spaces of memory and imagination? What new concepts, vocabularies and analytics are necessary to capture the invisible, the silent, and the intangible while also being cognisant of their potential political effects? And finally, how do we as ethnographers describe the invisible and silent in order to describe, and thereby trace, our participants’ intangible experiences?