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Olfactory Belonging: Contested Scents in Urban Publics

Rose-scented fragrances for sale in Turkey

Rose-scented fragrances for sale in Turkey
Image Credit: Claudia Liebelt

Head of project Staff

This anthropological project investigates the role of scents and fragrances for social power dynamics and the negotiation of belonging in two urban contexts. In Istanbul, rose water – fraught with meaning in Islam – is often used for the odorisation of religious, but also public spaces. On the background of societal polarisation it has become a contested scent. In Berlin, diverging scent practices are investigated in relation to feelings of belonging in an urban setting characterised by a long history of migration. Processes of olfactory belonging and othering are studied in relation to experiences of racism by different generations of migrants. The project asks: What kind of scents and fragrances are contested and laden with meaning, and for whom? 

Based on ethnographic fieldwork, the project contributes to a neglected sensual and embodied aspect of Affective Societies. In contrast to existing studies on the affective power of smell and scents that focused on bodily reactions to sensorial stimuli, it focuses a perspective on olfactory relations.