Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A little Anthropological love for the Olfactory section

I think I mentioned earlier about my 'Places, Things, Stories' Anthropology class. Well, we had our first project last month - creatively explore a space/place in any way you would like, then write about your findings. One of the goals throughout the class is to make the familiar strange and/or noticeable (if you're into this, check out The Mezzanine by Nicholas Baker, it's at the EPL). Incredibly experimental, this was a daunting assignment - no formal paper, no theory required, be creative - this goes against all the methods of my previous classes. Anyhow, I chose to explore Kerstin's using scent.

The senses (particularly those that have traditionally been the "lower senses" - taste, smell and touch) are becoming a huge area of study within anthropology, but right now, as my prof. said yesterday, 'it's cutting edge stuff!' Although I've spent lots of time throughout my degree reading of our mutton chopped forefathers, the nice thing about my senior classes is the opportunity to explore emerging areas in sociocultural anthropology, whether I'm going on to do my masters or not.

My first assignment - an olfactory map - went well, although it was difficult to move beyond the dominant smell in the Shop - chocolate - and I got caught up in the 'hegemony of smell'. Despite this, I still discovered some important things about scent that I never really noticed or paid attention to previously:
  • Smell is often trapped in specific areas. 
  • Smell is fleeting and is best when new - for instance, if you have been away from home for a lengthy period, you'll be able to smell those things you were formally habituated to. 
  • Something completely obvious but that is worthwhile mentioning, is that smell works best or is enhanced when utilizing other senses. 
  • We have very few words to describe the things we smell, so communicating smells becomes difficult, and is often dominated by those familiar perfume and food smells (however, this gives me the opportunity to make up words, which my prof. seems fine with and I'm particularly excited about). 
  • Related to the last point, it's frustrating when you recognize a smell but can't place it.
  • Smell, like taste, is connected to our memories in ways we rarely recognize. The list goes on.
For my final essay, I'm continuing with the olfactory area. I found this amazing book - The Smell Culture Reader - tucked away on Rutherford fourth, all on its own dealing with smell compared to the books around it dealing with multiple senses at once. It's a compilation of thoughts on smell from anthropologists, sociologists, etc. on things like Odorphobia, 'Smellscape' or scent and place, perfume, scent, memory and nostalgia, and smell in ritual.

I thought I'd post this since our sense of smell is so closely related to taste, and also because I fail to go anywhere now without paying extra attention to the smell of things. Looking back on The Marc post and our visit just after I handed in my first project, I was certainly giving a bit more attention to the smells of things, particularly with Charles' beef cheek and lamb dishes.

Next semester I'm taking a class devoted entirely to Anthropology of the Senses, which I'm really excited for. So hopefully much more regarding the senses to come this winter.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing Marianne. Always great to read about food insights.

A Canadian Foodie said...

Very interesting post, Marianne!!!

Marianne said...

Thanks! Glad you enjoyed!