Skin and the street: Interrelations

Text: Bill Psarras © 2014

French philosopher Michel Serres (1985: 3) describes the skin as the ‘variety of our mingled senses‘. Yet for him touch is quite significant as the linking sense with the world around us. Indeed, touch and the haptic experience (hands, feet) connects the subject with the surroundings, making apparent the very personal “I” from the exterior environment. Somewhere between philosophy and poetic approach, Serres claims that the location of the soul is not a specific one in the human body but ‘it flares whenever and wherever’ the body through hands, feet or other touch the world. The very essence of human resides on the dynamic intensities of senses – a constant dialogue between the skin and the world. Thus, the skin is the mutable terrain – the meeting point of a “becoming” soul.

I could argue that asphalt and the street is the “urban skin”; the meeting point of the flourishing everyday inter-sensory relations. Street and the asphalt become the public daguerrotype that accepts everything to be inscribed upon – a terrain for the hectic choreography of humans to be articulated. It is thus that the very beat of the city – a glimpse of the urban soul – resides on every touch with the city. Myriads of millions of touchings through walking activate every second the city. Rodaway (1994: 44) reminds us that the sense of touch is the very first one that human embryo develops. It is a thought that triggers an interconnection with the very first steps in an empty, mundane or crowded street. In other words, as with the birth – there is a “spatio-temporal birth” to be given by the walker.

Still from 'Urban Halo' (2013) - Bill Psarras ©

Still from ‘Urban Halo’ (2013) – Bill Psarras ©


  • Rodaway, P. (1994). Sensuous Geographies: Body, Sense, and Place. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Serres, M. (1985) [2008]. The Five Senses: A Philosophy of Mingled Bodies, trans. Sankey, M. and Cowley, P., London; New York: Continuum International Publishing Group.
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