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Doctoral dissertation project of Ragna Winniewski

Phenomenologies of the Senses: Synaesthesia as a Concept for a Multisensory Therapy Approach (working title)

In my research project I aim to analyse how synaesthetical (multisensory) concepts of sense perception are discussed in strands of phenomenology, medical anthropology and cognitive sciences and how these concepts are applied in multisensory therapy forms. According to Merleau-Ponty our perception is per se synaesthetical but we have unlearned this multiple yet synchronic way of sensing the world. On the other hand, in contemporary theories of embodied cognition sense perception is addressed as a highly complex and interactive process between the human body (subject) and the outer material world (object). It is rather a multisensory process involving a multitude of sense modalities. Synaesthesia, even though it ranges in a relatively disparate spectrum from an innate neurobiological process of sensory integration to being a pathological sensory dysfunction, is perhaps the epitome phenomenon of multisensory perception challenging traditional concepts of perception and cognition. However, a synaesthetic understanding of perception stands in opposition to traditional sensory gender binaries and hierarchies. That is why I aim to debate how certain ways to read and understand synaesthesia (e.g. as phenomenologies of perception) can break with these traditions and brings forward a paradigm shift (“sensory turn”) towards a more inclusive and integrated approach within both theory and practice of sense perception.

In a more practical approach and with regards to medical humanities I aim to look at multisensory therapy forms and how they affect the body-mind relation in dementia patients. I will address an urgent question of integrated healthcare programmes and the ethical and political dimension of selfhood in conjunction with sensorial impairments. As shown in clinical studies on multisensory therapy it is capable of enhancing dementia patients' well-being. My research will contribute to the field of medical humanities by enhancing the dialogue between disciplines and by reframing a simple body-mind or nature-culture divide.


Short Biography

Ragna Winniewski studied Applied Cultural Studies and Educational Sciences at Leuphana University (Germany) followed by an Erasmus Mundus M.A. degree in “Crossways in Cultural Narratives” which she obtained from three different European universities: Nova Lisboa in Lisbon (Portugal), University of Bergamo (Italy), and Sheffield University (UK). In her dissertation she debated a new sensory aesthetics contextualising and debating traditional and contemporary concepts of multisensory perception. During her studies Ragna has worked as language tutor at Sheffield University, free-lance interpreter, and as TEFL teacher in Bergamo.

Since April 2018, Ragna Winniewski is an MSCA fellow in the a.r.t.e.s. EUmanities programme. In her doctoral research project Ragna focuses on synaesthesia as a multisensory concept in theories of perception and therapy practice aiming to reframe a phenomenology of the bodily senses and their embeddedness claiming a sensory turn towards wellbeing. Her project is supervised by Prof. Dr. Thiemo Breyer (University of Cologne) and by Dr. Annamaria Carusi (University of Sheffield). From November 2018 to September 2019 she will be a visiting fellow at the Laboratory of Experimental Phenomenology (LabExp) at the University of Trento as well as at the Faculty of Philosophy at the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University in Milan. Her main research interests revolve around theories of perception and cognition as well as cultural and social practices within the medical humanities.

Contact: r.winniewski(at)uni-koeln.de



“A New Phenomenology of the Senses and the sensory turn toward wellbeing”, September 21, 2017, Cologne Summer School of Interdisciplinary Anthropology (CSIA) “The Phenomenality of Material Things: Praxis – Genesis – Cognition” at a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities Cologne, GER

“Phenomenology of the Senses – a multisensory approach toward wellbeing”, June 1, 2017, Symposium “Medicine and the Senses”, Leeds University, UK


Cover photo: Primary Cortical Neurons (Source: http://epilepsyresearch.de/SchochLab/home) // Portrait photo: Patric Fouad