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Park in Ljubljana.

Extensive project addressing changes in people’s sensory environments is now completed

Sensotra is an extensive and international research project, which explored different generations’ experiences of their environment over a period of six years. The project examined, e.g., how digital devices and technological changes have shaped people’s lives in different parts of Europe.

Completed in the field of cultural research, the project is now completed, and its findings are published in a new book, Sensory Transformations: Environments, Technologies, Sensobiographies (edited by Helmi Järviluoma & Lesley Murray, Routledge). The book will be launched on the Joensuu Campus on Monday, 8 May 2023.

Gentrification and mass tourism are shaping sensory environments

The Sensotra project focused on changes in people’s experienced sensory environments in three medium-sized European cities – Turku, Brighton and Ljubljana – in 1950–2021. Professor Emerita of Cultural Research Helmi Järviluoma, the leader of the Sensotra project, received a 1.9-million-euro European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant for the years 2016–2021.

“Sensobiographic walks conducted together with interviewees of different ages and researchers proved to be an excellent way of gathering information, and we conducted around 180 of such walks. The ways in which residents of European cities ‘use’ their city have changed over the decades – and also as a result of technological development,” Järviluoma says.

Digital technologies are intertwined with residents’ experienced sensory environments in complex ways. One of the most important findings of the project was that even the smallest natural areas within cities provide young and more elderly residents alike with unexpectedly important experiences that promote their well-being – with and without digital devices. 

“Young people often seek relief from vulnerable life situations or from the busy city life by choosing their routes so that they go through the city’s own natural areas, waterfronts, forests and parks,” Postdoctoral Researcher Inkeri Aula says.

In all of the cities studied, gentrification and construction for tourists reduced both undeveloped land that feeds the senses and environments that foster communal creativity. For example, some urban residents felt alienated by smells they regarded as too sterile. 

In Ljubljana, for example, the rapid industrialisation, modernisation and urbanisation taking place in the era of socialism created new spaces that strengthened “socialist senses”. Later, mass tourism not only shaped Ljubljana’s historical parts of the city, but also had a profound impact on the perception of public space.

The project’s interactive Sensotra Tour website showcasing various materials can be found at Aimed at the public, the website features sensobiographic walks in three cities, utilising both 360 images and 360 videos as well as audio recordings of sensory environments and interviews. To ensure the anonymity of the study participants, the interviews have been produced with the help of voice actors.

For further information, please contact:
Professor Emerita Helmi Järviluoma, helmi.jarviluoma(at), tel. +358 44 3413092
Postdoctoral Researcher Inkeri Aula, inkeri.aula(at), +358 40 5642721