This yearlong seminar will explore how scholars in the social sciences and humanities study the unseen. Seeking to join more familiar attention to material culture with an innovative focus on immaterial culture, we pose the following questions: How should we describe the similarities and differences between that which is invisible and that which is as yet unvisualized, that which is unrepresented and that which is, perhaps, unrepresentable?

The seminar is organized around six species of the unseen: The Elusive, The Unaccounted, The Occult, The Invisible, The Evanescent, and The Obscure. Four are keyed to canonical sensory modes: listening, feeling, tasting, and seeing. The other two are joined to questions of how the unseen is measured and managed, at scales from the sub-visible to the geopolitical.

Sensing the Unseen: Introduction
September 17   Speakers: Constance Classen and David Howes

The Elusive: Listening
October 22   Speakers: Steven Feld and Hillel Schwartz

While sound can access or augment the out-of-sight, it can also — through echoes, fade-outs and subaudible vibrations — generate uncertainties or new possibilities for individuals or collectivities.

The Unaccounted: Measuring
November 12   Speakers: Kim Fortun and Sarah Igo

Whether at the nanoscale, the atomic scale, the molecular scale, or even the scale of global accounting practices, measurement is one way to bring unseen phenomena into discourse.

The Occult: Governing (Schedule Update)
December 3   Speakers: Adam Ashforth and Bruce Grant

If governance depends upon making social relations legible, what of realms of sociality — uncanny, ghostly, ensorcelled, marginalized, subaltern — out of view of state, national, and international institutions?

The Invisible: Feeling
February 11   Speakers: Thomas Csordas and Kathryn Geurts

Feeling exemplifies many epistemological problems connected to the unseen, with respect both to unseen actions (inside the body) and to their meaning for the experiencer.

The Evanescent: Tasting
March 11   Speakers: Amy Trubek and Brad Weiss

Taste is at once a subjective aesthetic experience and also subject to normative judgment.

The Obscure: Photographing
April 15   Speakers: Karen Strassler and Marianne Hirsch

From spirit photography to microcinematography to strobed high-speed snapshots to heat cameras, photography and film have been enlisted to bring into visibility — or to create — phenomena not apprehensible by the so-called naked eye.

The Transitory: Filming (New session)
May 6

A round-robin of screenings and discussion of works-in-progress by Cambridge-based, ethnographically minded filmmakers, including Chris Boebel and Christine Walley, Emily Zeamer, Hanna Rose Shell, and Ernst Karel.

All seminar meetings are free and open to the public — no registration is required.

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Original background image / CC BY 2.0 / Remixed.