Smells and odours can evoke memories and previous experiences. Contextual factors such as odours can be important in how we perceive other sensations and situations. However, researchers have typically given less attention to smell and taste than they have to sight and hearing, for example (Classen et al., 1994). Developing methods for studying smelly things in everyday life promises to be interesting in itself, but could also form an important part of research into other social phenomena.
Despite the predominance of the ‘five senses’, the human body has a much wider range of apparatuses to detect and perceive its external and internal environments, including sensitivities to temperature and movement. Moreover, whilst our sense of smell, taste and so forth might seem unique to each of us, the various senses are not separate from social experience. They can play roles in forming identity, place and moral order (Riach and Warren, 2015; Vannini et al., 2012), they are entangled with each other, with the social, cultural and political, and with the material and immaterial (Mason and Davies, 2009), making them a rich source of meaning in our everyday experience.
In order to better understand how the senses are implicated in social arrangements our study focused on people’s everyday practices with mint and menthol. Mint and menthol are widely used for a range of applications, including flavouring foodstuffs and scenting the body, and these allowed us to orientate our research to mundane meaning-making with and through the senses. We engaged with object-elicitation and visual methods which involved home visits (where people showed us around their home and discussed their use of mint and menthol), interviews, focus groups and ‘pop up’ stalls in public spaces where participants could sniff, taste and touch various consumer products. We invited our participants to give ‘somatic accounts’ (Vannini et al., 2012) in which they detailed their associations with different products and their reasons for using them. We use our data and our experiences from this study to inform our discussion, which details how we used sensory object-elicitation and explores some of the opportunities and challenges associated with deploying sensory methods.
Classen, C., Howes, D., Synnott, A., 1994. Aroma: the cultural history of smell. Routledge, London?; New York.
Mason, J., Davies, K., 2009. Coming to our senses? A critical approach to sensory methodology. Qual. Res. 9, 587–603.
Riach, K., Warren, S., 2015. Smell organization: Bodies and corporeal porosity in office work. Hum. Relat. 68, 789–809.
Vannini, P., Waskul, D.D., Gotschalk, S., 2012. The senses in self, society, and culture: a sociology of the senses, Contemporary sociological perspectives. Routledge, New York.
This seminar is presented by Dr Andrew Balmer, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Manchester, Dr Robert Meckin, Research Associate at the Alliance Manchester Business School, and Dr Camilla Lewis, Research Fellow in Sociology at the University of Manchester.
Booking is essential via https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/how-to-use-olfactory-methods-smell-and-taste-in-everyday-life-tickets-42626741732