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Ruminating on Capitalism and the Senses

When two trendy areas of scholarship collide, one hopes that fascinating discussions will ensue. That was exactly the case at the Capitalism and the Senses workshop, organized by Ai Hisano as part of the Business History Initiative at Harvard Business School—a gorgeous and sprawling 48-acre campus just across the river from Harvard’s main campus.

Taking place on June 29, 2017, the event explored the relationship between capitalism and the senses, considering how the market manipulates sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Such discussions involved nods to Marx and modes of production, but also to various, alternative, and overlapping capitalisms. Food emerged as a key commodity for thinking through these systems and their associated “sensoria.” Presenters also considered the look and feel of fibers and fabrics in fashion and interior design; sound and music in the independent recording industry; and both scents and the construction of expertise within the perfume industry.

Notably, as Ai Hisano mentioned in her presentation, business practices have been employing and exploiting the senses since at least the mid-nineteenth century. The workshop provided a history for today’s much discussed “sensory marketing” techniques.

The workshop program featured an enthralling and international set of speakers:

capsenses program.png

I live-tweeted throughout the event and have gathered them here as an attempt to summarize the fascinating presentations and discussion that took place throughout the day. My heartfelt thanks and congratulations to Ai Hisano for hosting such a thought-provoking event as she concludes her postdoc at Harvard Business School!

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