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Ambiances & Atmospheres in Translation


A propos
After « Ambience and Urban Practices », and « Ambience and Criticism », this third meeting of Agence Nationale de la Recherche funded project « Sensory Enigmas of Contemporary Urban mobility », is organized within the framework of the International Ambiances Network.

Ambiances & Atmospheres in Translation


Many authors, from the second half of the nineteenth century onwards, have struggled to implement a sensitive approach to urban modernity. How to be attentive to changes in the urban world and the minute variations of the ordinary? From the aesthetic thought of Simmel to Goffman’s ecological approach, the philosophies of everydayness in anthropology, from Laplantine to Kracauer and White, to Wittgenstein, Bégout, and Rancière, work has described, translated and called into question the role of ambiance and atmosphere in the construction of urban life. Coalescing around notions of ambiance or atmosphere, notable research trajectories have interlaced disciplinary concerns within urban studies, cultural geography, sociology and architecture, especially in relation to interconnected concepts such as affect, place, aura, and ecology. Rarely, however, have these trajectories actually met or collided.

This seminar will develop a conversation between ambiance, atmosphere and translation. But how to translate? If translation is understood as a practice of “linguistic hospitality” (Ricoeur, 2004), as an experience of transition and mediation (Wismann, 2012), what form might translation take? How might, in other words, the transition occur between the ‘daily’ word and the word of the ‘expert’, between that of the ‘living’ and that of the ‘foreign’? How to make shareable experiences beyond the singularity expressed in different languages and cultures? What media or combi- nation of media could help us achieve this?
This proposed move is particularly important for more than the usual reasons. Because how can accounts sensitive to the urban emerge from attempts to translate ordinary sensory experience? Or formulated differently, how can the act of making clear and intelligible the experiences, feelings, sensations, of distinct research areas, help forward debates on urban atmospheres/ambiances? Finally, how might a work of translation put our convictions in crisis, to put to test our existing ways of thin- king, our relationship to the urban environment, and the plurality of modes of the city-dweller?
Amongst the many questions around translation, this seminar intends to address, notably practically, the issues of “installing”, “communicating”, “exhibiting”, “ex- pressing”… ambiances and sensitive/sensory experiences, thereby putting into ques- tion their controversial (i.e. capabilities of being put into public debate) “power”.



  • Kyran Joughin (University of the Arts, London)
  • Derek McCormack (Oxford University)
  • Jean-Paul Thibaud (Cresson, ENSAG, Grenoble).

Organizers of the seminar

  • Peter Adey (Royal Holloway, University of London)
  • Paul Simpson (Keele University)
  • Damien Masson (Université de Cergy-Pontoise, MRTE, Cresson)
  • Rachel Thomas (researcher at Cresson CNRS, Director of Cresson, ANR MUSE research coordinator)


Monday, Feb. 25th

Venue – University of London, Senate House

13.00-13.30 Welcome coffee
13.30-14.00 Introduction
  • Introduction of MUSE projectRachel Thomas, Damien Masson
  • Introduction of Ambiances & Atmospheres in Translation SeminarPeter Adey, Paul Simpson

14.00-16.00 Ambiances in translation into language

  • Ambiance versus AmbienteRozenn Canevet
  • Feminine agent for change: reading Cornelia Sorabi through the paradoxes of Kali and the ZenanaPaidma Maitland
  • A relevant City and the symbolic resources of art and poetryRobert Galeta
16.00-16.30 Break
16.30-18.00 Ambiances in translation into techniques
  • From the heritage of the stone to the sensitive heritageNadia Edhifi
  • The dynamic translation of sensorial and physical ambiences in architecture and urban spacesClaude MH Demers

18.00 Free evening

Tuesday, Feb. 26th

Venue – University of London, Senate House
9.15-9.45 Tea/Coffee
9.45-11.15 Ambiances in translation into performance
  • Dancing with the sounds of birds: affect and atmosphere in transcultural performanceMartin Welton
  • The affective atmospheres of nationalism: the case of London 2012 OlympicsAngharad Closs Stephens

11.15-11.30 Break

11.30-13.00 Ambiances in translation into notation
  • The installation projection as a translatorToumadher Ammar
  • A place-score: the temporal narratives of Fitzroy SquareFilipa Wunderlich

13.00-14.00 Lunch

14.00-16.00 St. Pancras experiment
  • MUSE Research Axis 3 ‘Surveillance(s) in public’ groupPeter Adey, Laure Brayer, Damien Masson, Paul Simpson, Nicolas Tixier

16.30- 18.00 Visit of Gerard Byrne

  • ‘A state of neutral pleasure’ exhibit – Whitechapel Gallery, 77-82 Whitechapel High Street

19.30 Dinner at Caravan King’s Cross, 1 Granary Square


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