Dr Trippy's Sensorium

Exploring the sensuous world of organisational behaviour







































































Feel free to browse this site whilst it is under construction, but please beware of loose connections



For good or ill, the social sciences have been heavily influenced by the philosophy of Plato. Indeed, A.N. Whitehead has suggested that the history of European philosophy is essentially a series of footnotes to Plato, and it is hard to disagree as far as the philosophy of the body is concerned.

Debates about mind-body dualism, and the superiority of the intellect over the sensual, can be traced back to the work of Plato in the fourth  century BC, and this offers a key insight into why the study of the so-called ‘animal’ or ‘chemical’ senses of taste, touch and smell is rare in management and organisation studies.


Two features of the philosophical movement toward dualistic thinking have been inimical to philosophical interest in the chemical senses. The first of these stems from the fact that such dualisms are dualisms of value. A dualistic pairing places the first of the pair on a higher normative ranking than the other. The first exists and has value only by excluding and marginalising the other. In his lecture On the Good, Plato argued that the nature of things is governed by two ground principles. One was the rational and formal principle which he called Logos; the other was the aesthetic/emotional principle which he called Eros. Aesthetics literally means knowledge given by our sense organs along with our emotional response to it. It refers to directly embodied, lived experience. Rationality, on the other hand, places credence on coherence between ideas and emphasises analytical mental reflection upon experience. Plato was quite insistent that logos and eros were not of equal value in the creation and development of knowledge. To be sure, we receive vital information about the world through our senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch, but this data has to put in formation – it requires additional cognitive work before it takes on a coherent form, and makes sense. This work is carried out by the reflexive, rational mind. Without mind there is non-sense. For Plato, the sensuality of aesthetics disrupts not only the social, but also the cosmic, order postulated by this rational calculation and is therefore a ‘bad thing’. Moreover, through a decidedly unreasonable twist, he decided that Eros (a masculine noun in the Greek language) was feminine and branded as evil. Needless to say, logos was male and ‘good’.


The second feature of dualistic thinking which favours the 'objective' or 'distant' sense of sight is the tendancy to ontologically separate the pairing, thereby emphasising their non-interaction. In addition, as Deane Curtin argues, “it also buttresses the idea that one of the pairs is the kind of thing that is autonomous and therefore fully real. (Things like self, culture, good, mind, and reason.) The other term in the dualistic pairing is understood as dependent and, therefore, neither fully real nor fully knowable”. Philosophical inquiry has thus come to be regarded as an activity carried out by subjects separated from the objects of their inquiry. As Lisa Heldke observes, in this subject/object model of inquiry, not only are subjects separated from objects, but they also exercise autonomy and control over them. In this view, objects have comparatively liitle autonomy or control over subjects.


Unsurprisingly, the 'objective' sense of vision has become the primary source for metaphors to describe inquiry. Seeing an object requires the mediation of light to create an image on the retina, and the object remains intact and unaltered. Conversely, the 'animal' sense of smelling requires the object to produce airborne particles which then become part of the nose and body of the subject. “The dissolvability, the lack of form and the difficulty in classifying odours gives olfaction an entirely different basis to the certitude of form, the separability of object from subject, and the distancing, of the objective senses [of sight and hearing]” (Fiona Borthwick).


Of course, dualistic thinking and ocularcentricism are not restricted to philosophical inquiry. The work of Lewis Mumford, Marshall McLuhan, and Walter Ong has shown how the rise of the printing press, the advent of instruments that empower the eye, and the development of visualist perspective contributed to the hegemony of the eye in modern-day western culture. Similarly, the work of Foucault has explored the development of sight – the ‘gaze’ - as a technique of social control in modernity. Whilst admiring these works, the historian Mark Smith suggests that they privilege the eye to the exclusion of other ways of perceiving the social world, and he is keen to rescue historical research from the Enlightenment conceit with visuality and the separation of subject and object which he claims are responsible for a misleading, partial and distorted understanding of culture and society. However, a number of social historians, inspired by pioneering researchers within the Annales School, have alerted us to the role that senses other than vision have played in human affairs. For example, research by Alain Corbin and Emily Thompson has emphasised the role of aurality in Western cultural history. Yet such research is far from the norm and social scientists have retained their preoccupation with analysing the role of the ‘gaze’ in Western culture and remain ignorant of the symbolic functions of the other senses. This website is here to help make the case for organisational researchers to explore the invisible world of organisational behaviour, and to take the senses of touch, smell, and taste seriously.


It would not be an exaggeration to claim that the history of management theory and practice is also a history of attempts to render invisible facets of organisational behaviour more visible. Although the development of management practice is subject to changing fads and fashions, such practices all share the same drive to visibility and the privileging of disengagement. As far as management theory is concerned, this same drive is evident, although the recent intrusion of post-modern theory has opened up the possibility of employing more engaging, non-dualistic lines of enquiry. Robert Chia argues that a post-modern understanding of management and organisation is "centrally concerned with giving voice and legitimacy to those tacit and often times unpresentable forms of knowledge that modern epistemologies inevitably depend on yet conveniently overlook or gloss over in the process of knowledge creation". This website is a contribution towards such a postmodern understanding of management and organisation and seeks to address the question posed by the social anthropologist Kathy Neustadt: "[i]f our epistemology is rigidly entrusted – as it seems to be – to sensory distance, ocular focus, objectification, and decontextualisation, how blind might we be being to a different kind of sensorium?"