David Howes

David Howes


David Howes is a Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Sociology & Anthropology at Concordia University, and an Adjunct Professor of Law in the McGill Law Faculty. He is also the Co-Director of the Concordia Centre for Sensory Studies, and a member of the McGill Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism.

David has a double formation: he holds three degrees in anthropology and two degrees in law. His main areas of research include: sensory anthropology, psychological anthropology, art and anthropology, culture and consumption, constitutional studies, law and society, and legal pluralism.

David is the general editor of the Sensory Formations series from Berg and the new Sensory Studies series from Bloomsbury, as well as a founding editor of the journal The Senses and Society.

He has published widely. His books include Sensual Relations: Engaging the Senses in Culture and Social Theory (Michigan, 2003) and Ways of Sensing: Understanding the Senses in Society (Routledge, 2013), co-written with Constance Classen, and edited collections ranging from The Varieties of Sensory Experience: A Sourcebook in the Anthropology of the Senses (Toronto, 1991) to A Cultural History of the Senses in the Modern Age, 1920-2000 (Bloomsbury, 2014), among other works.

Research Profile:

In addition to co-directing the Centre for Sensory Studies, David Howes is the Director of the Concordia Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture (CISSC). Crossing disciplines is at the heart of his academic practice.

David crossed the disciplines of law and history in a series of essays on the legal history of Quebec and Ontario. These essays focussed on the development of legal education, the evolution of tort and property law, and the judicial careers of prominent nineteenth century judges, such as Sir John Beverly Robinson and Sir Henri Elzear Tascherau, among other topics. See the Canadian Jurisprudence page of the Canadian Icon website.

He crossed cultural studies and constitutional studies in a series of chapters on the life and work of such iconic Canadian and American figures as the pianists Glenn Gould and Van Cliburn, the painters Alex Colville and Norman Rockwell, the novelists Lucy Maude Montgomery and Kate Douglas Wiggin, and the poets Margaret Atwood and Walt Whitman, among others. These pairings were deliberate. In each case, the most representative artist or writer was chosen, and their work analyzed from a constitutional perspective. The chapters show that there is a “system to the differences” between the Canadian and U.S. Constitutions and a corresponding “system to the differences” between the cultural expressions of the two societies, as manifest in the works of these iconic figures. The implication is that you can hear or see or read the constitution through the works of these artists. See the Culture and the Constitution page of the Canadian Icon website.

The “Law and the Regulation of the Senses” project represents another form of crossing, this time between sensory studies and socio-legal studies. David’s most comprehensive contribution to sensori-legal studies to date is the chapter called “The Feel of Justice: Law and the Regulation of Sensation” in Ways of Sensing: Understanding the Senses in Society (Routledge, 2013), co-written with Constance Classen. He also contributed a piece called “Law’s Sensorium: On the Media of Law and the Evidence of the Senses in Historical and Cross-Cultural Perspective” to Sensing Law (Routledge, 2017), edited by Sheryl Hamilton, Diana Majury, Dawn Moore, Neil Sargent and Christiane Wilke.

For the current project, David is doing ethnographic research on a range of topics. With the help of research assistants from McGill Law and Concordia Anthropology, he is exploring the sensory dimensions of interethnic and interfaith relations in the cosmopolitan city of Montreal. This research pays particular attention to how law regulates the display of symbols of religious belonging and the dietary practices of different communities. With the same group of student research assistants, he is investigating class differences in the citizen response to noise pollution resulting from the plethora of construction projects in “the city that never sleeps” (i.e. Montreal).

David and his students have otherwise been engaged in legal doctrinal research in specific areas of sensori-legal studies. A number of these studies have focussed on the law of evidence, such as Alexander Sculthorpe’s “A Courtroom with a View: When a Justice System Senses for Itself” and Olivia Khazam’s “Its Right Under your Nose! The Trial of the Senses and the ‘Plain Smell’ Doctrine.” In “How Capitalism Came to Its Senses – and Yours,” a paper presented at the workshop on “Capitalism and the Senses” at the Harvard Business School in the Spring of 2017, David subjects certain recent developments in the law of trademarks to critique from a sensori-legal perspective.

Department webpage

Canadian icon

Centre for Sensory Studies

The Senses and Society

Bloomsbury Sensory Studies series

Related Publications:

Books and special issues

 A Cultural History of the Senses in the Modern Age, 1920-2000, London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2014

Ways of Sensing: Understanding the Senses in Society, London and New York: Routledge, 2014 (with Constance Classen)

Cross-Cultural Jurisprudence/La jurisprudence transculturelle, 20(1) The Canadian Journal of Law and Society special issue, 2005

Law and Popular Culture, 10(2) The Canadian Journal of Law and Society special issue, 1995

Book chapters

“The Engagement of the Senses” in Nicholas Saunders and Paul Cornish, eds. Modern Conflict and the Senses. pp.xix-xxiii. London and New York: Routledge, 2017

“Law’s Sensorium: On the Media of Law and the Evidence of the Senses in Historical and Cross-Cultural Perspective” in Sheryl Hamilton et al (eds.) Sensing Law. pp. 53-72. London and New York: Routledge. 2016

“Preface: Accounting for Taste” in Luca Vercelloni. The Invention of Taste: A Cultural Account of Desire, Delight and Disgust in Fashion, Food and Art.  pp. vii-xiv.London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2016.

“Senses, Anthropology of the,” International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2nd edition, vol. 21: 615-20, 2015

“Introduction: ‘Make It New’ – Reforming the Sensory World” in David Howes (ed.), A Cultural History of the Senses in the Modern Age, 1920-2000, London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2014

“Constituting Canadian Anthropology.” Pages 200-211 in Julia Harrison and Regna Darnell (eds.), Historicizing Canadian Anthropology. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2006.

Constance Classen & David Howes, “The Sensescape of the Museum: Western Sensibilities and Indigenous Artifacts.” Pages 199-222 in Elizabeth Edwards, Chris Gosden and Ruth Phillips (eds.). Sensible Objects: Colonialism, Museums and Material Culture. Oxford: Berg Publishers, 2006

“Hyperaesthesia, or The Sensual Logic of Late Capitalism.” Pages 281-303 in David Howes (ed.), Empire of the Senses, Oxford: Berg, 2004.

«Identités contrefaçonnées: Grey owl, appropriation culturelle et droit privé.» Pages 27-49 in Nicholas Kasirer (ed.) Le faux en droit privé. Montreal: Editions Thémis, 2000.

“Cultural Appropriation and Resistance in the American Southwest: Decommodifying `Indianness.'” Pages 138-60 in David Howes (ed.), Cross-Cultural Consumption.

“Aboriginal Rights in Canada.” Pages 171-75 in R. Blanpain (ed.), International Encyclopaedia of Laws, Constitutional Law – Supplement 13: Canada. The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 1996.

Anthony Synnott & David Howes, “Canada’s Visible Minorities: Identity and Representation.” Pages 137-60 in Vered Amit-Talai and Caroline Knowles (eds.), Resituating Identities: The Politics of Race, Ethnicity and Culture. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 1996.

«La constitution de Glenn Gould: Le contrepoint et l’Etat canadien.» Pages  in Jean-Guy Belley (dir.), Le droit soluble: contributions québécoises à l’étude de l’internormativité. Paris: Librairie Générale de Droit et de Jurisprudence, 1996.

“What is Good for Anthropology in Canada?” Pages 155-69 in William K. Carroll, Linda Christiansen-Ruffman, Raymond Currie, Deborah Harrison (eds.), Fragile Truths: 25 Years of Sociology and Anthropology in Canada. Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1992.

“Nomadic Jurisprudence: Changing Conceptions of the `Sources of Law’ in Quebec from Codification to the Present.” Pages 1-21 in H.P. Glenn (ed.), Contemporary Law: Canadian Reports to the 1990 International Congress of Comparative Law. Montreal: Yvon Blais, 1992

“Dialogical Jurisprudence.” Pages 71-90 in Wesley Pue and Barry Wright (eds.), Canadian Perspectives on Law and Society: Issues in Legal History. Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1988.

Journal Articles

Marie-Josée Blanchard and David Howes,  « ‘Se sentir chez soi’ au musée : tentatives de fusion des sensoriums dans les musées de société » (2014)  Anthropologie et Sociétés 38(3) : 253-270

Tim Ingold and David Howes, “Worlds of Sense and Sensing the World: A Reply to Sarah Pink and David Howes” (2011) Social Anthropology 19(3): 313-31

Michael Bull, Paul Gilroy, David Howes, Douglas Kahn, “Introducing Sensory Studies” (2006) The Senses & Society 1(1): 5-7

“Introduction: Culture in the Domain of Law” (2005) The Canadian Journal of Law and Society 20(1): 9-29

Maladroit or Not? Learning to Be of Two Minds in the New Bijural Law Curricula” (2002) Journal of Legal Education 52(1/2): 55-60

“e-Legislation: Law-making in the Digital Age” (2001) McGill Law Journal 47(1): 39-57

«De l’oralité et de la lettre de la loi» (1996) Droit et Société 32: 27-49

“Introduction: Law as Source of Popular Culture and Popular Culture as Source of Law” (1995) The Canadian Journal of Law and Society 10(2): 1-4

“Combatting Cultural Appropriation in the American Southwest: Lessons from the Hopi Experience Concerning the Uses of Law” (1995) The Canadian Journal of Law and Society 10(2): 129-54.

“Inverted Precedents: Legal Reasoning as `Mytho-logic'” (1993) Journal of Legal Pluralism 33: 213-29

“Picturing the Constitution” (1991) The American Review of Canadian Studies 21(4): 383-408

David Howes & Marc Lalonde, “The History of Sensibilities: Of the Standard of Taste in Mid-Eighteenth Century England and the Circulation of Smells in Post-Revolutionary France” (1991) Dialectical Anthropology 16: 125-135

“Faultless Reasoning: Reconstructing the Foundations of Civil Responsibility in Quebec Since Codification” (1991) Dalhousie Law Journal 14(1): 90-111

“In the Balance: The Art of Norman Rockwell and Alex Colville as Discourses on the Constitutions of the United States and Canada” (1991) Alberta Law Review 29(2): 475-497

We Are the World and Its Counterparts: Popular Song as Constitutional Discourse” (1990) International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society 3(3): 315-339

“The Origin and Demise of Legal Education in Quebec (or Hercules Bound)” (1989) University of New Brunswick Law Journal 38: 127-49

«La domestication de la pensée juridique québecoise» (1989) Anthropologie et Sociétés 13(1): 103-126

From Polyjurality to Monojurality: The Transformation of Quebec Law, 1875-1929” (1987) McGill Law Journal 32(3): 523-558

Property, God and Nature in the Thought of Sir John Beverley Robinson” (1985) 30 McGill Law Journal 30: 365-414