In 1984 a special number of the Revue des Sciences Humaines appeared under the title Visages du sommeil. Opening with a short preface in which Michel Covin bemoans the absence of any serious philosophical attention to sommeil lent -- that is, to non-REM sleep -- the volume contains eleven pieces that aim to address this curious gap in our intellectual culture. Visages du sommeil includes essays on sleep in literary fiction, sleep in Christian art, sleep on trains, the sleep of soldiers, and sleep in monastic communities; it also contains a number of striking black and white photographs of sleepers.
Anyone looking to get up to speed with recent developments in "critical sleep studies" could do a lot worse than read a new review essay by the scholar who coined the term, Emory University's Benjamin Reiss. In a piece that appears in the 15th February number of the Los Angeles Review of Books, Reiss traces a brief genealogy of sleep studies in the humanities and social sciences via Norbert Elias, E.P. Thompson, Henri Lefebvre and A. Roger Ekirch before offering a shrewdly appreciative (but not uncritical) comparative appraisal of three important recent works in the field: Matthew Wolf-Meyer's The Slumbering Masses; Jonathan Crary's 24/7: Terminal Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep; and Alan Derickson's Dangerously Sleepy. What is more, in the course of his review, Reiss formulates a series of questions that are absolutely central to sleep studies: "How to recover this nightly oblivion and bring it back into the course of human history? What’s mutable about sleep? How do societies organize themselves around the biological requirement that everyone shut down for at least a few hours a day? When do sleeping arrangements or patterns of sleep or inequities in the social distribution of sleep become notable and contested? When does sleep run afoul of social rules? Who gets to control sleep, and on what terms?"
New Sleep Order is a multi-disciplinary research project that investigates sleep as a cultural, economic, social and political phenomenon. Our research group carries theoretical and empirical research on sleep in the fields of tourism, consumption and marketing, and organization studies. The project is led by Professor Anu Valtonen, University of Lapland, and funded by the University of Lapland and Tekes.
The following statements summarize the key theoretical starting points of the cultural approach to sleep developed in the project.
1. Sleeping and waking are entangled and co-constitutive states of human beings.
2. Society and economy sleep in us.
3. Sleeping is a habit, technique and skill enacted by a biological and cultural body.
We explore, among other things, sleep and knowing in organizations (Prof. Susan Meriläinen and Senior lecturer Pikka-Maaria Laine, University of Lapland), napping in creative work (PhD Pälvi Rantala, University of Lapland), sleeping in nature-based tourism (PhD Outi Rantala, University of Lapland), the role of sleep in slow tourism, including sleep experience in the Arctic (PhD candidate Tarja Salmela, University of Lapland), and social and hedonic aspects of sleeping in consumer culture (Prof. Anu Valtonen, University of Lapland). The associated partner project, “Release!”, investigates the relation between sleep and leadership in a military organization (Prof. Aki-Mauri Huhtinen, Finnish National Defence University).
Has there been a 'turn' to sleep matters in the humanities and social sciences in recent years? This question opens a richly thought-provoking debate on the Somatosphere website between Professor Simon Williams (Warwick) and Professor Matthew Wolf-Meyer (California, Santa Cruz) on the state of play in sleep studies. 'Longing for Sleep: Assessing the Place of Sleep in the 21st Century' is accessible here: http://somatosphere.net/series/longing-for-sleep
New Sleep Order is a flagship interdisciplinary project on the sociology of sleep led by Professor Anu Valtonen of the University of Lapland, Finland. Running from 2011-2013, the project combines "business research, tourism studies, cultural history and artistic expertise". Its point of departure is "the idea that society sleeps within us". For further information, visit the New Sleep Order webpage.