CFP [now closed] . Senses in Modern Health/Care Environments: International and Interdisciplinary Perspectives

Call for Papers

‘Senses in Modern Health/Care Environments: International and Interdisciplinary Perspectives’

The Watershed, Bristol

(we hope to have this as an in-person conference, but the Watershed offers us the opportunity to have a hybrid event with professional live-streaming if required)

8-9 September 2021 [rescheduled to April 2022: we may re-open the CFP depending on COVID-19 and venue capacity]


We are pleased to invite submissions for an interdisciplinary conference exploring the sensory aspects of environments of health and care, broadly conceived. 

While the humanities and social sciences have seen both a ‘material turn’ and a ‘sensory turn’ over recent years, we believe there is still much fruitful discussion to be had about the potential application of sensory studies to healthcare and social care specifically. Such an approach allows an exploration of the complex intertwining of spaces, materials, technologies, bodies and human behaviour, and spans architecture and design, arts and health, history and sociology, literature, medical education, and much more. Sensory practices differ across geography, culture and institutional structure, and shape in turn how we might understand each other’s experiences of health and care as individuals and as groups. The global COVID-19 pandemic has also demanded huge changes to the sensory experience of staff, patients and carers – potentially in ways we won’t be able to perceive fully for some time. 

To explore these themes, we invite traditional and non-traditional paper formats, creative contributions, and other proposals. Pre-formed panel proposals are welcome; please let us know if you envisage that your panel fits particularly well within one of the three key strands outlined below (though this is not mandatory).

We also have a small budget (up to £250 per practitioner) to support up to six artists or creative practitioners to deliver creative, immersive, or interactive presentations, workshops or activities at this conference. Please indicate if you would like to be considered for this kind of presentation and associated payment; preference will be given to those without a secure source of income.

Indicative topics and approaches 

Contributions might focus on, but are not limited to, the following areas:

  • Sensory histories or case studies of healthcare and social care environments, from hospitals and hospices to domestic sickrooms and community services
  • The place and effect of touch in healthcare and social care
  • The roles of the senses in arts and health initiatives
  • Institutional environments and structures
  • Taste and smell in experiences of healthcare and social care (including food, medication, medical procedures, and institutional chemicals)
  • The impact of socio-political, cultural and economic factors on the role and representation of sensory settings in healthcare and social care
  • Soundscapes or ‘sense-scapes’ in healthcare and social care environments
  • Sensory realities and their emotional impact in staff experiences of delivering healthcare and social care 
  • Senses and the non-human (including animal studies, science and technology studies, and the wider natural environment)
  • Comparisons of international examples of sensory settings or practices
  • Senses in literature, life-writing and media related to healthcare and social care
  • Sensory environments in relation to ‘place-making’ and wayfinding
  • The place of ‘home’ as a space of health, ill health and/or care within a pandemic
  • Medical education and training
  • Sensory practices in healthcare and social care (implicit and explicit; the role of the body; cultural practice)
  • Social justice in relation to sensory environments, sensory affect, or sensory conditions 
  • Explorations of how to think beyond five-sense models

In particular, we welcome papers addressing themes arising from three key strands:

  1. Mundane Materialities of Care: this panel examines the active role of mundane objects and materials in practices of care, and in shaping the sensory experience of health/care settings. In the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, ‘quiet’ materialities that are often unnoticed are being brought to the fore, in ways that are sometimes troubling, or can provide comfort or reassurance. We invite papers exploring the role of mundane materialities in care practices, for instance: dress, PPE, furniture, everyday objects, equipment, cleaning products. In particular, we welcome papers exploring complexities and tensions in the relations between mundane materials, care and touch, both within and beyond the context of COVID-19. This strand is led by Dr Chrissy Buse and Dr Daryl Martin, delivered in partnership with the Materialities of Care Network at the University of York.
  2. Senses and Emotions: Hospital environments comprise emotional, as well as sensory, interactions. They house complex and intense feelings, are inhabited by people providing care and performing affective labour, and make possible a peculiar kind of emotional regime. This strand seeks papers and panels that explore the varied intersections between senses, spaces, and emotions; and is interested in a range of feelings from the intensity of grief to the tedium of boredom and frustration. We welcome contributions on emotional labour, emotions about labour, and the feelings associated with visiting loved-ones, waiting for treatment, undergoing interventions, and recovering from ill-health. This strand is led by Dr Agnes Arnold-Forster.
  3. Form and Experience: Designing for Health and Care:  Modern hospital environments comprise a huge range of internal spaces and external landscapes, from highly technically designed operating rooms, to neutral but welcoming non-denomination chapels, to bland cleanable wards, to hospital courtyards and planted gardens ranging from the calming to the bleak. Each house a complex set of functions, meanings and experiences. How do the environments themselves, including their spaces, scales and functions, shape practices of care, medicine and therapy? How does the design of space create or limit use, and how does experience or meaning recreate it? This strand welcomes papers that examine the relationships between hospital environments, whether internal or external, and the caring practices and the experiences they witness. It is led by Dr Clare Hickman and Dr Emma Cheatle, partnering with the ‘Unlocking Landscapes: History, Culture and Sensory Diversity in Landscape Use and Decision Making’ AHRC Network.
(c) Victoria Bates

Submission and bursary details

To submit your proposal, please email an abstract (maximum 300 words), a brief biography (maximum 200 words), and, for creative submissions, any additional material (such as images or performance links) to by 31st January 2021. Please indicate whether you are applying for one of the above strands (and which one) or proposing a paper for a general panel.

For panels, as well as the material above for each speaker or performer, please include a 400-word overview of the thematic focus of the panel as a whole. Please also indicate in your submission if you are applying for a creative commission, an unwaged/ECR conference bursary, or an international travel bursary.

We are pleased to be able to offer 15 travel bursaries of £50 for UK delegates who are unwaged, early career, or postgraduate researchers, as well as support for international delegates (up to £200 for those based in Europe and up to £400 for those travelling from outside Europe). For international bursaries, please include an estimate of your travel costs in your submission (for example, a screenshot of flight prices). If we do not receive enough applications to allocate all funds, then we may be able to offer a higher amount per head to cover additional travel and accommodation costs.

We will aim to let you know of the outcome of your submission by early March 2021. The conference will be heavily subsidised (we anticipate a joining fee of approximately £25 per head per day, not including travel and accommodation). 

Depending on the response to this call for proposals, we may extend the programme to start with a creative workshop on the afternoon of Tuesday 7th September. Watch this space for more details!

About us

This conference is hosted by the Wellcome Trust-funded network ‘Senses and Modern Health/care Environments: Exploring interdisciplinary and international opportunities’ (2019-22). Led by Dr Victoria Bates at the University of Bristol (a UKRI Future Leaders Fellow for the project Sensing Spaces of Healthcare), alongside a team of core collaborators, the network seeks to explore opportunities for collaborative research and funding in the sensory history of healthcare environments.

Colleagues are warmly invited to join the network to receive updates, promote their own activities, and participate in future projects. For more information, including how to join, please see here

Contact details

Sensing Spaces of Healthcare team,, or 

Dr Victoria Bates, Department of History, University of Bristol,