Enchantment & Wonder

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The Humanities & Arts Research Cluster (HARC) and the Society, Identity, Landscape & Knowledge (SILK) research cluster are now inviting expressions of interest from UHI colleagues working in disciplines across the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences to engage with the exciting new research theme for 2022: Enchantment and Wonder.

‘The modern story of disenchantment leaves out important things, and it neglects crucial sources of ethical generosity in doing so.  Without modes of enchantment, we might not have the energy and inspiration to enact ecological projects, or contest ugly and unjust modes of commercialisation, or to respond generously to humans and nonhumans that challenge our settled identities.  These enchantments are already in and around us’.

(Jane Bennett, The Enchantment of Modern Life, 2001)

The aesthetic of enchantment and wonder has been influential across a range of historical cultural movements: Renaissance drama, Enlightenment philosophy, Romantic literature; only to be eroded by Victorian scepticism and twentieth century postmodern cynicism. Over recent years enchantment and wonder have been rehabilitated as a theme of research in a range of disciplines. Particularly in anthropology and archaeology, the influences of Alfred Gell’s exploration of enchantment (and technology) are apparent although the nuance is divergent in studies ranging from art to monumentality. The work of Michael Scott in Anthropology links wonder and wonder discourses with ontologies and this too is receiving broader interest across the humanities and social sciences.

Indeed, enchantment and wonder mesh wonderfully with current perspectives on the material world which privilege affect and relational things and categories. Consequently, places, sites and modes of enchantment and wonder have now made a welcome appearance in research programmes in a broad range of disciplines including anthropology, art, archaeology, drama, heritage, history, literature and psychology.

As with our previous two research themes (Ruination & Decay 2019 and The Edge 2020-21) throughout 2022 we will host a range of activities including seminars, exhibitions, projects (e.g. posters and photographic competitions) - culminating in a conference - to explore and expand the parameters of enchantment and wonder and draw in a range of disciplines to reveal different sites and contexts of enchantment in the past and contemporary life - enchanting phenomena - that surprise, fascinate, disturb, disorientate and provoke awe and wonder. These sites could include (but are not limited to):

  • the natural world which continues to function as a reservoir of enchantment
  • the persistent belief in a super-sensible world of one kind or another
  • the uncanny (recognising something you can’t remember experiencing)
  • outbreaks of original thinking amid pressures towards conformity
  • the virtual world with its apparently magical ‘invocational power’ to realise the object of desire
  • the world of robots and Artificial Intelligence
  • the cultural world – film, music, art, sport, literature & theatre

The experience of enchantment and wonder is part of being human and, as Jane Bennett reminds us, in danger of erosion in today’s world. In this UHI research theme for 2022 we wish to celebrate and explore enchantment and wonder in all its manifestations.

If you would like to participate in Enchantment & Wonder 2022 please email joanna.rodgers@uhi.ac.uk with a short description of your proposed contribution, including whether you would like to offer your contribution as a seminar, blog article, conference paper (other proposed formats are also warmly welcomed). Postgraduate students and early career researchers are especially encouraged to submit proposals. Please note that proposals for seminars must be submitted by Monday 17th January 2022.