No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

The Sociology of Sense Impression

Our perception of others, through various senses, shapes our sociological interactions. We notice people near us emotionally - through the mere presence and appearance of others - and cognitively - as a means to understand them. This dual nature is less pronounced with non-human objects, where emotional and cognitive responses are more distinct.

In modern urban life, the predominance of seeing over hearing, due to factors like public transportation, influences feelings of disorientation and isolation. Forming deep sociological connections in the metropolis, where fleeting visual impressions dominate, is challenging.
Direct eye-to-eye contact forms a unique and immediate bond between individuals. This bond is not formed through words or other senses and dissolves once the direct gaze is broken. Eye contact simultaneously allows for mutual expression and understanding; it makes the gaze a profound sociological connector. The face plays a crucial role in interpersonal recognition, revealing both stable traits and momentary emotions, making it a key factor in understanding and relating to others. The contrast between seeing and hearing is also significant: sight captures the enduring aspects of a person, while hearing conveys more transient characteristics. Blind individuals rely more on the sequential nature of auditory information, which might contribute to their generally calm disposition, while deaf individuals often face more confusion due to the lack of visual cues.
Visual interactions, such as those in a factory or an auditorium, create abstract, collective identities because individuals see each other without direct verbal communication. This visual cohesion supports broad, generalized social identities, such as the student, or the worker.

Other senses play a social role too. While hearing conveys individual emotions and thoughts vividly, supporting varied social bonds, smell has a profound but often underappreciated sociological impact. It tends to evoke strong, subjective reactions, influencing social interactions and relationships significantly. Smell is harder to describe and objectify, thereby leading to instinctive likes and dislikes that can affect social cohesion, such as racial and class aversions. The discomfort caused by unpleasant smells can prevent close social interactions between different social strata, impeding efforts to bridge social gaps. Modern civilization has heightened sensory sensitivity, especially at close ranges, increasing discomfort from smells and reinforcing social isolation. This heightened sensitivity has led to greater emphasis on hygiene and cleanliness, contributing to individual isolation as people become more particular about their sensory environments. Perfumes serve a dual purpose: enhancing personal attractiveness while creating a pleasant environment for others. They act like jewelry, adding an external element that enhances the individual's social presence.

Finally, the prohibition against marrying close relatives is a mechanism to maintain social order within households by preventing sexual promiscuity that could arise from close living quarters. Different societies enforce strict rules to avoid incestuous relationships, stressing the importance of spatial separation in maintaining family discipline.

Simmel, G. (1908), Exkurs über die Soziologie der Sinne, in: Soziologie - Untersuchungen über die Formen der Vergesellschaftung, p. 646—665, Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot.