Mark Paterson

Architectures of the Oculomotor: Body motility, ocular processes, and the perception of the built environment

When it comes to perceiving the built environment, a static model of vision has been the principal organizing modality. In this paper I return to some prior historical articulations of the significance of motility in perception across art history, architectural theory, and the history of physiology. Experimental discoveries by Mach, Breuer and others in the 1870s for example connected sensory subsystems dealing with balance and orientation to eye movements, offering an alternative to the ‘retinal’ or static model of vision. In addition, by means of a hypothetical ‘walkthrough' of an archaeological site, a Roman palaestra, I offer parallels between spatial motifs of the interior spaces of the body – labyrinths, vestibules, chambers – and those within the built environment, underlining the heightened physicality of oculomotor perception.


Left: The photograph of the Bárány chair is captioned "Blood pressure being taken on patient after an equilibrium test using the Bárány chair" and is from the National Library of Medicine; Right: The cybernetic eye-brain image is from a book by Alain Berthoz, The Brain's Sense of Movement (Harvard UP, 2002). 

Mark Paterson

University of Pittsburgh

Mark Paterson is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Pittsburgh. He has conducted funded research on the use of haptic technologies within museums, and on the mixed spaces of human-robotic interaction (HRI). He is the author of Seeing with the Hands: Blindness, Vision and Touch After Descartes (2016) and The Senses of Touch: Haptics, Affects and Technologies (2007), and co-editor of Touching Place, Spacing Touch (with Martin Dodge, 2012). His current book project is How We Became Sensory-Motor: Mapping Movement and Modernity. His research blog is at www.sensory-motor.com