Sentience and Place: Towards More-than-Human Cultures


Session Title:

  • Matters Mattering: (Public) Place Making

Presentation Title:

  • Sentience and Place: Towards More-than-Human Cultures



  • Expectations for the future can differ greatly. Some await a technical utopia that will support harmonious and easy lives. Others predict a global ecosystem collapse that will threaten the future of humans as species. Both camps make appeals to sentience in support of their stories. Addressing this discordance, this paper combines narratives in ecology and technology to ask what roles sentience might play in future places. In response, it hypothesizes that an understanding of sentience as an inclusive, relational and distributed phenomenon can promote more-than-human cultures and contribute to the wellbeing of heterogenous stakeholders on the Earth and beyond.

    To test this hypothesis, the paper outlines biological understandings of sentience (as applied especially to humans, animals and other lifeforms), contrasts them with the interpretations of sentience in artificial entities (including robots and smart buildings), gives an example of attempts at sentience in architectural design and discusses how sentience relates to place. The paper’s conclusion rejects the dualism of technophilic and biophilic positions. As an alternative, the paper outlines sentience as a foundation for richly local more-than-human cultures that have intrinsic value and can help in the search for preferable futures.