Sensation machine: film, phenomenology and the training of the senses

Document Type


Publication details

Stephens, E 2012, 'Sensation machine: film, phenomenology and the training of the senses', Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, vol. 26, no. 4, pp. 529-539.

Published version available from:


Peer Reviewed



This paper aims to extend recent work in feminist phenomenological film theory by contextualizing its turn to the tactile within the longer history of the philosophy of the senses and their training. Following the work of Vivian Sobchack, a recent generation of feminist film theorists have drawn on phenomenological understandings of embodiment to argue that while film criticism has focused, almost exclusively, on the visible, intelligible qualities of cinema, our experience of cinema is shaped by our bodily sensations. As Sobchack (2004, 63) argues, ‘we do not see any movie only through our eyes’; rather, we ‘feel films with our whole bodily being’. This turn from the dominant sense of sight to that of touch represents a shift in critical perspective, too, as this paper will show. Whereas sight is examined for its privileged relation to knowledge, and thus understood as highly cultivated, touch is often celebrated for its potential as a site of resistance. Unlike sight, touch is often evoked as a spontaneous reaction that destabilizes assumptions about the way we make sense. This paper aims to contribute to this recent work in feminist film theory, by demonstrating that touch, too, is part of the long history of the training of the senses – in which cinema itself plays a substantial role. Rather than a critique of the relationship between sight and touch, I argue, this work represents the continuation and reconfiguration of a long history in which sight and touch have been privileged amongst the senses and conceptualized interdependently.

Find in your library