Olfactory control, aroma power and organizational smellscapes

Samantha Warren, Kathleen Riach

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review


In this chapter, we reflect on the practice of aroma management in spaces where people interact, such as workplaces and other institutional settings, considering how issues of control and power may arise – inadvertently or deliberately – within smell practices. The ‘smellscape’ is an increasingly important part of organizations’ physical and cultural design, underpinned by debates in architectural design (Pallasmaa, 2005), marketing and sensory branding (Brumfield & Gouldney, 2008) and the natural sciences (Barker et al., 2003). Through reflecting on a range of recent smell practices predominantly apparent in retail spaces and service sector environments, we argue that the biologically deterministic assumptions upon which these developments are premised – namely, that smell subliminally and predictably ‘short-circuits’ the brain to influence behavior – silences considerations of power and ethics surrounding hierarchy, control and individual sovereignty. We highlight the role these issues play in the interpretation of organizational olfactory experiences. Our intention is therefore to sensitize designers to the lived experience of smell through an alternative reading of a socio-cultural phenomenon. As such, smell cannot be taken as independent of either professional or occupational norms or the employee bodies that experience, negotiate and themselves contribute to organizational smellscapes.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDesigning with Smell
Subtitle of host publicationPractices, Techniques and Challenges
EditorsVictoria Henshaw, Kate McLean, Dominic Medway, Chris Perkins, Gary Warnaby
Place of PublicationNew York NY USA
Number of pages8
ISBN (Electronic)9781315666273
ISBN (Print)9781138955530, 9781138955547
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2018

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