Surface visions

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27 Citations (Scopus)
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Many disciplines in the arts and social sciences are currently redirecting their attention to surfaces, and ways of treating them, as primary conditions for the generation of meaning. With regard to visual perception, this has entailed a switch from its optical to its haptic modality. How does this switch affect the way surfaces are understood? It is argued that with haptic vision, the emphasis is not on conformation but texture, as revealed in flows of material composition and in patterns of self-shadowing – or in a word, in complexion. This makes the surface, whether of face, skin or landscape, quite distinct from that of a body or an object. Drawing on the ideas of John Ruskin, the haptically perceived surface is compared to a veil that is worn in the double sense of adornment and erosion, of affective expression and weathering. The article concludes that it is in the relations between such surfaces that social life is lived.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-108
Number of pages10
JournalTheory, Culture and Society
Issue number7-8
Early online date10 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017


  • complexion
  • haptic perception
  • Ruskin
  • surfaces
  • texture
  • vision


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