Smell, Odor, and Somatic Work: Sense-Making and Sensory Management
Waskul, Dennis D.
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Sensation (noun) is emergent in joint acts of sensing (verb). To sense, in other words, is to make sense, and sense making entails what we call "somatic work." We investigate these dynamics in the context of olfaction, highlighting how olfaction intersects with social, cultural, and moral order—thus compelling reflexive forms of somatic work by which people manage smell (as an act) and odor (as a sign). Our data are drawn from a convenience sample of twenty-three participants who reflected on their olfactory experiences through the use of research journals. We focus on three central dynamics: participants' attribution of meaning to odors, the somatic rules that structure perception, and olfactory facework. The participants in this study attribute meaning to odor through odiferous indexes that intersect with an individual's somatic career; olfactory somatic rules entail disciplined somatic work in relation to the intensity of odor, its context, and moral/aesthetic character. Because odor conveys meaning, it is part of the ritualized facework of everyday life. Odor is a subtle but significant component of the culturally normative and aesthetic rituals of expressive and impressive everyday life.