Comforting others: sociality and the ethical aesthetics of being-together

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    In recent years there has been considerable geographic thought committed to the task of understanding ‘the encounter’, with particular attention to the question of what makes an encounter meaningful (see Amin 2002, 2010, 2012, Laurier and Philo 2006, Thrift 2005, Valentine 2008, Wilson 2011, 2013a, 2013b). The times and spaces of increased ‘throwntogetherness’ (Massey 2005) that the contemporary city is currently witnessing means that the encounter has become a site of increased political potential and heightened negotiation, thus the attention to ‘meaningful encounter’ is both pertinent and understandable. However, while this investigation is important , specific attention to the connective energy between humans has yet to be brought into correspondence with this topic. If we are best to understand the critical role of the encounter in cotemporary life, I would suggest the connective energy that can emerge during encounters deserves attention. Further, I would argue that understanding the potential of this connective energy could extend our knowledge not just of ‘meaningful encounter’ but ideas of aesthetic form also. As well as the geographies of encounter this chapter also situates itself within contemporary geographical work on art and aesthetics. Notable here are geographical writings on art that have already engaged with aesthetic forms that, in varying ways, emphasise social and material encounters. This includes, for example, the critical engagement with ‘new genre public art’ which called for the importance of the materiality of public art to be acknowledged rather than just the social relations during production (Sharp 2007, also see more generally Lacy 1995); delineations of ‘relational urban interventions’ built from ‘critical spatial practice and relational artwork’ that stimulate ‘an aesthetic politics that begin from the conditions of possibility for liberated sensation’ (Dawkins and Loftus 2013: 11, see also Loftus 2009); and earlier work that critiqued essentialised concepts of community through community arts projects with marginalised groups (Rose 1997). This chapter aims to advance ideas around the geography-aesthetics relationship, offering a concept of aesthetic form constructed from a particular geography of encounter that exists outside of art practice.

    In this light this chapter will engage with the connective energy of the encounter through addressing the ‘sociality’ that occurs during an art event called First Thursdays. Drawing on the work of sociologist Michel Maffesoli it will argue that instances of sociality have an ethical aesthetic form. From this it will move on to investigate the role of space, tactility and the non-human in the emergence of sociality during First Thursdays, subsequently linking this to the discussion of the ethical aesthetic form of being-together. To finish it will suggest how this evidences a sense of comfort in being around others, and how this concept can speak to both current human geography research on encounter and ideas of relational aesthetics.

    This chapter features in the book 'Geographical Aesthetics: Imagining Space, Staging Encounters:' edited by Professor of GeoHumanities Harriet Hawkins and cultural geographer Dr Elizabeth Straughan.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationGeographical Aesthetics
    Subtitle of host publicationImagining Space, Staging Encounters
    EditorsHarriet Hawkins, Elizabeth Straughan
    ISBN (Electronic)9781315584355
    ISBN (Print)9781409448013
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


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