Skip to content

Sight-dominance ∴ Literacy ∴ Abstraction

But man has not always been dominated by vision. In fact, a primordial dominance of hearing has only gradually been replaced by that of vision. Anthropological literature describes numerous cultures in which our private senses of smell, taste and touch continue to have collective importance in behaviour and communication. The roles of the senses in the utilisation of collective and personal space in various cultures was the subject matter of Edward Hall’s seminal book The Hidden Dimension, which, regrettably, seems to have been forgotten by architects.


Walter J Ong analyses the transition from oral to written culture and its impact on human consciousness and the sense of the collective in his book Orality and Literacy. He points out that ‘the shift from oral to written speech was essentially a shift from sound to visual space’, and that ‘print replaced the lingering hearing-dominance in the world of thought and expression with the sight-dominance which had its beginning in writing’. In Ong’s view, ‘[t]his is an insistent world of cold, non-human facts’. Ong analyses the changes that the shift from the primordial oral culture to the culture of the written (and eventually the printed) word has caused on human consciousness, memory and understanding of space. He argues that as hearing-dominance has yielded to sight-dominance, situational thinking has been replaced by abstract thinking.

—Juhani Pallasmaa, The Eyes of the Skin

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared.