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Boholano Olfaction: Odor Terms, Categories, and Discourses



This article explores the domain of odors and olfaction on the island of Bohol, The Philippines. It recounts how my research interests were drawn to this domain by local preoccupations with smell as an aspect of everyday sociality, expressed in speech, modes of interaction and evaluation, and the discursive construction of ethnicities and other social kinds. Bohol's long and complex history and its place in the contemporary world entail a complex, differentiated sociocultural present, which is also reflected in the domain of odors and Boholanos' experiences thereof. Accordingly, the article makes a case for an approach to this domain that flexibly deploys basic ethnographic procedures and more formal techniques, specifically, domain and cultural consensus analysis. This dual methodology, it is argued, is sensitive to the differences between differentially positioned agents, but also demonstrates the degree of sharedness – of experience, categorical schemes, and historicity – that jointly characterize this domain. I use a partial set of results, pertaining to human body odors, to exemplify the approach and to depict a key dimension of Boholano social experience; one that speaks to the place of individuals in the local setting and to the position of the population generally in the commodified world of cosmetics.
The Senses & Society VOLUME 9, ISSUE 2
PP 151–173
The Senses & Society DOI: 10.2752/174589314X13953118734788151
Boholano Olfaction
Odor Terms, Categories,
and Discourses
Bettina Beer
ABSTRACT This article explores the
domain of odors and olfaction on the
island of Bohol, The Philippines. It recounts
how my research interests were drawn to
this domain by local preoccupations with
smell as an aspect of everyday sociality,
expressed in speech, modes of interaction
and evaluation, and the discursive
construction of ethnicities and other social
kinds. Bohol’s long and complex history and
its place in the contemporary world entail a
complex, differentiated sociocultural present,
which is also reflected in the domain of
odors and Boholanos’ experiences thereof.
Accordingly, the article makes a case for
an approach to this domain that flexibly
deploys basic ethnographic procedures and
more formal techniques, specifically, domain
and cultural consensus analysis. This dual
methodology, it is argued, is sensitive to the
differences between differentially positioned
agents, but also demonstrates the degree of
Bettina Beer is a
professor of social and
cultural anthropology
at the University of
Lucerne. She has
done fieldwork in
the Philippines and
Papua New Guinea
on perception
(smell, taste, and
touch) in different
sociocultural contexts.
The Senses & Society152
Bettina Beer
sharedness – of experience, categorical schemes,
and historicity – that jointly characterize this domain.
I use a partial set of results, pertaining to human
body odors, to exemplify the approach and to depict
a key dimension of Boholano social experience;
one that speaks to the place of individuals in the
local setting and to the position of the population
generally in the commodified world of cosmetics.
KEYWORDS: Bohol, Philippines, olfaction, categories, cultural
domain analysis
Discourse on smells is omnipresent in everyday life on
the Philippine island of Bohol where I have been doing
fieldwork since 1993. My PhD research focused on
German-Philippine marriages in Hamburg and included longer stays
with relatives of Philippine migrants in the Visayas and in Bohol.
This was followed1 by research on interethnic relations between
Boholanos (or Bol-anons), the majority population, and people who
call themselves Ati (also referred to as “Negrito”). These Ati have
been given the status of an “Indigenous Philippine Community” and
ethnic minority by the Philippine Government in the post-Marcos era.
While I was doing fieldwork in the context of these projects partici-
pant observation made it clear how much Boholanos and Ati were
preoccupied with smells. As an ethnographer I started to take notice
and learn about smell terms and the practices and reactions in which
they were used: interactions between folks (including, for Boholanos,
between them and their ancestors and similar non-corporeal beings)
involve olfaction in ways that affect one’s social identity and social
This led me to writings on the anthropology of the senses gener-
ally, and of olfaction in particular. But it also got me interested in
methods on domain and cultural consensus analysis. I found them
to be congenial to an ethnography of the senses: they integrate quite
naturally with participant observation, the collection of stories and
accounts of experiences that involve smells, but also with tests using
standardized sample and other cognitive methods. While investigat-
ing smell in the everyday life of Boholanos I also tried to link it with
discussions in the anthropology of the senses about smell as part of
a “sensorium” and the hierarchies of the senses, which turned out to
be more problematic than the empirical research.
The Hierarchy of the Senses, Olfaction, and Odor
as a Sociocultural Domain
Since the early 1990s, interest in the formation, use, and mean-
ings of the senses (as well as relations among them) has grown
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Boholano Olfaction
in anthropology. One could perhaps call it a “sensory revolution”
(Howes 2005: 1), which has initiated empirical work and theoreti-
cal discussions. Many researchers have reflected on and investi-
gated variations in the sense hierarchies of different societies, which
has a long tradition in European philosophy and Euro-American
intellectual history. As olfaction ranks low in many of the proposed
dominant sense hierarchies, some anthropological and linguistic
work was directed to rehabilitate it and show complexities and
importance in different languages and cultures (Majid and Levinson
2011). Hierarchies are sometimes assumed to depend on dominant
ideologies (Classen 1993; Press and Minta 2000) and as proof of
importance of a sense documented with classical philosophical or
religious texts. Other researchers used communication accuracy as
a measurement for importance of a cultural domain or a sense that
clearly varies for olfaction between different languages (Keifenheim
2000; van Beek 1992; Wnuk and Majid 2012).
To place comparable test results in broader perspective ethnog-
raphy is very useful. Based on ethnographic experience I suggest
that it is less helpful to describe the sense of smell within an overall
hierarchy of senses (no matter where olfaction ranks in it), than to ex-
plore specific sociocultural spheres, in which odors and olfaction are
in combination with the other senses of importance (see also Jenner
2000; Low 2005). In which contexts olfaction is of importance might
be dissimilar or distinct in different societies and environments or in
which areas of everyday life experiences are particularly relevant.
Building on the notion of a sensorium, an “operational complex”
(Howes 1991), understood as a set of senses inflected by and used
within contexts defined by specific cultural meanings, olfaction could
be investigated with its unique qualities in interplay with other senses
and sensations.
Furthermore, sensorial experiences and meanings of senses
are neither static nor stable across individuals, or for a given indi-
vidual across situations and sociocultural contexts. They are often
transformed by context and synesthesia, context dependent, and
heterogeneous. It is problematic to speak of a single sensorium
or sensory model, as age, gender, and particular situations are
connected to the way senses are developed and used in different
situations and contexts. As David Howes (2005: 11) clarifies, several
“sensory models” can operate and interact at a time.
Approaches of cognitive anthropology within cultural consensus
analysis do not take the salience of a cultural domain or the shared-
ness of knowledge within certain spheres of “culture” for granted. In
combination with other ethnographic methods they facilitate insights
into even “difficult” domains like the world of odors. They pose ques-
tions on how salient and wide-spread knowledge is, to what degree
it is shared, and how to measure similarities and differences across
individuals. Familiarity with the vocabulary of a domain is a good
indicator of its salience (Gatewood 1984), and there are some simple
The Senses & Society154
Bettina Beer
ways to approach questions about familiarity with, importance of,
and individual interest in cultural domains. Despite its limitations,
which are balanced by contextualization with mixed fieldwork meth-
ods, it not only enriched Boholano ethnography by pointing out
individual and cultural differences and commonalities but also the
anthropology of the senses by showing that several overlapping and
contextually defined “sensoria” might exist, as cultural models and
practices are not usually fully shared in a group.
Ethnography and Olfaction
Although I had not planned to do research on olfaction and smells,
because of the importance in practices, discourses, and language
in Bohol it became one of my research interests. In the context of
interethnic marriages, in concepts of race, bodily differences and
ethnic categories (Beer 2000, 2002) smells play an important role. In
Bohol odors are central in many sociocultural spheres such as the
perception of the environment (mud, stagnant water and garbage,
rotting dead animals, fragrances of flower and fruits), preparing
and sharing food, medicine and healing, elaborate funeral practices
(preparing the dead body), church masses (burning incense), Easter
celebrations (perfuming Jesus feet), and communication with the
spirits of the ancestors or other supernatural beings (Beer 2007; see
also Burenhult and Majid 2011; Pandya 1993; Parkin 2007). Social
interactions and relations are one of the most important areas, where
Boholanos constantly worry about odors and self-presentation. Not
only ethnicity and gender but also status, income, and class are
marked by kinds of odors, intensity, absences, or presence of certain
smells. In 1999 I began to do systematic research on olfaction, the
domain of smell and odor categories.2
Olfaction is often said to be a neglected sense and odors an
especially “difficult” sociocultural domain. Odors have some unique
qualities: they are difficult to describe, capacities to recall or imagine
odors are limited, perception and reaction to them are quick, emo-
tionally colored and rather immediately positive or negative, often
unavoidable, and at first nonverbal. Long-term memory of odors is
good and short-term forgetting frequent. However, as Boholanos
(including the Ati) enjoyed talking about smells, attaching great im-
portance to them, and showing great interest in the topic, research
on olfaction and odor terms was no more difficult than research on
other topics.
The possibility to combine several different methods in anthro-
pological fieldwork was helpful and facilitated a more holistic under-
standing of odors, their classification, evaluation, and of olfaction in
specific sociocultural contexts. Participant observation in daily activi-
ties (social interactions, working, shopping, cooking, eating, hygiene,
etc.) of the family with whom I lived was central for understanding the
cultural context and social situations of discourses about odors.
Furthermore, I collected stories of experiences, narratives, and jokes
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Boholano Olfaction
about odors, used a test with bottles containing sources of odors
as well as with standardized “sniffing sticks,” collected sources of
interesting smells, conducted interviews, and took part in everyday
conversations. I used methods from cognitive anthropology as well.
The combination was helpful in learning about different aspects of
olfaction, of odors, their meaning, and classification. This article will
focus mainly on results inspired by cognitive methods of domain
analysis (Borgatti 1999). A meaningful cultural domain has a cover
term (e.g. “odors”), which includes a set of terms connected by an
underlying semantic relation. A domain analysis starts with data on
participants grouping terms under a certain noun. To explore if that
covers a meaningful domain one asks “Are there different kinds of e.g.
odors?” and “Why/in what respect is xy an odor?” The next aim is to
elicit all included terms by freelisting of items forming the analyzed
domain, followed by sorting tasks to search for internal structures.
Internal consistency but also individual or group deviations become
visible. Domain analysis takes empirical results seriously, that intra-
cultural variation coexists and overlaps with shared cultural models
or schemata (Gatewood 2011). I will interpret freelists, analyze the
categorization of the used odor terms, and then concentrate on the
category of body odors, which is central in Bohol.
Freelists and Odor Terms
Boholano, one of the Central Visayan dialects of Cebuano (also
called Visaya), is a Western Malayo-Polynesian language of the
Austronesian family. In Boholano, similar to Aslian-languages
(Burenhult and Majid 2011), the lexical elaboration of odor is more
differentiated than in European languages. Like other Austronesian
languages, Boholano has several abstract descriptive odor terms,
which are used in everyday discourses. During my research, ideas
were expressed in Boholano but also in English and Spanish. English
and Spanish smell terms are integral aspects of the practices, ob-
jects, and ideas introduced during colonial times or through current
forms of mass media.
The olfactory environment of Bohol is rich and varied. It is a tropi-
cal island, with a warm humid climate, and an abundance of flowers,
trees, and herbs. Fishing and farming are important livelihoods. I did
fieldwork in a municipal town with a busy farmer’s market in a rural
area at the coast. Many families have built houses with the help of
migrants who work abroad and – despite out-migration – the town
is growing constantly. In the absence of reliable municipal services,
Boholanos tend to burn their garbage, including plastics, and dried
leaves around the houses; the air is often filled with smells of plants,
burned leaves, or fumes of the many buses, motorbikes, and cars
using the coastal and inland highway. It is against this background
olfactory environment that the perception and evaluation of odors
occurs, and the terms and categories discussed here derive their
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Bettina Beer
During fieldwork, I used the usual anthropological methods in
conjunction with more standardized tasks and experiments, such
as freelisting and pile sorting. Thus, at the beginning of my research
I asked individuals the open general question: “Which smells (baho)
do you know?” and wrote down all words offered, to produce the
‘freelists’ (Borgatti 1999; Weller and Romney 1988). I used baho
the cover term of the smell domain – which includes stenches and
fragrances (bahô and humut). The answers provide a first inventory
of a cultural domain and show its boundaries. Freelists are the
basis for sorting tasks, which can be used as a second step. I used
unrestricted pile sorts, which I describe in more detail later.
I set no time limit, although the list of possible smells could
be nearly endless. Some people asked me if they should also list
stenches (mga bahô); when I replied “yes,” they added “also the
very, very bad ones?” in a slightly embarrassed tone (ulaw, to feel
shy/to be embarrassed). The embarrassment seemed to be a result
of the feeling that something taboo and negatively evaluated should
not be said, but also out of concern that I might find even the thought
of a very bad odor disgusting and aggravating. So it is not surprising
that (at least at the beginning of the task) fewer bad smells than
scents were enumerated, and only when people “warmed up” were
more negative smells mentioned.
Forty-eight people (fifteen men, sixteen women, and seventeen
children aged 3 to 11 years old) were asked. This produced a total
of 801 individual items with 259 distinct odor terms. “Perfume”/pa-
humot (26 nominations) followed by bulak/“flower” (22), baho sa ilok
(21; armpit smell) and taí (20; feces) are at the top of the list. Perfume
is used very generally for all commercial fragrances used to give the
human body a more pleasant scent. These four kinds of smell have
a high cultural salience: most people are familiar with them and they
are prototypical for the categories of pleasant and unpleasant smells.
The frequency and position of items on the individual freelists are
The smell of death/decay (patay) is also very important, as was
revealed by later pile sorts. On the freelists it occurs with a low
frequency because it constitutes a higher-level category (similar to
“fruits” or “flowers”) that is represented by more specific evocations
(listed in order of frequency):
patay nga mananap (dead animals, 8);
patay nga iro (dead dogs, 5), patay nga ilaga (dead rats, 5), patay
(dead, 5);
patay nga iring (dead cats, 4);
patay nga manok (dead chickens, 3), patay nga tawo (dead
people, 3);
patay nga baki (dead toads, 2);
decaying leaves (“patay nga leaves”), dead bird, crab, shark, and
pig are each mentioned once.
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The general category does not rank very highly because freelists
elicit people’s personal experiences of the stenches of particular in-
stances of rotting bodies. Dead dogs are common along main roads,
and the smell of a dead rat somewhere around or under the house
can drive inhabitants crazy until the source is found. Therefore, the
smell of dead animals ranks high on individual lists. Although on the
overall list the frequency of two positive odors (perfume, flowers)
rank before the negative ones, on individual lists (see Table 1) two of
the most prominent unpleasant odors are mentioned among the first
four. Out of forty-eight lists twenty-five had unpleasant odors in the
first place and twenty-three had pleasant ones.
Table 1 Examples of three individual freelists, unpleasant and pleasant odors are marked – / +,
respectively; bold = respondent’s favorite and capitals = most unpleasant odors.
Female housewife, 43 Male dentist, 33 Female schoolgirl, 9
baho sa ilok (smell of
perspiration, only from axillary
glands) –
NANGKA (JACKFRUIT) + taí (feces) –
taí (feces) – taí sa iro (dog shit) – PERFUME +
baho sa baba (bad breath) – durian +sabon (soap) +
PERFUME + adobo (marinated, fried pork or chicken) + polbos (baby or body
powder) +
niluto (cooked food) + utot (fart) – utot (fart) –
sud-an (food served with the
rice) +
babae, “chicks” + lapok (mud) –
ihi (urine) – baho sa ilok (smell of perspiration) – bungog (pus secretion of
ears) –
lapok (mud) – patay nga ilaga (dead rat or mouse) – baba (mouth, bad breath) –
shampoo + ginamos, paste made from fermented fish
or small shrimp (which tastes salty) +
angso (urine smell) –
sabon (soap) + aso sa trak (truck fumes) –
baho sa iro (smell of dog) – taí (feces) –
bulak (flower) + taí sa baboy (pig shit) –
gasolina (fuel, gasoline) – mangga (mango) +
aso sa trak (truck fumes) – bulak (flower) +
cigarillo iro (dog) –
polbos (baby or body powder) + perfume +
panakot (spices)+ tiil ni Tata (stench of his sister’s feet) –
baho sa tiil (stench of feet) –
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The consolidated odor list begins with a comparatively low con-
sensus of 56 percent of respondents agreeing on the first item
“perfume” (compared, for example, to a list of kin terms, in which
95 percent would give “mother” first); it also includes a considerable
number of single items, some of which are idiosyncratic like “my
wife” and/or very specific like “newly bought clothes.” That means a
cultural consensus on included items exists, but it is not very great;
compared to others (for example, a list of common pets, fruits, or
varieties of rice) the domain is also not very standardized. Odors
representing general, positive aspects of the natural environment,
like “forest” or “the sea,” for example, were mentioned only once.
However, the shape of the list, its relatively low consensus at the
beginning and long tail of single items suggests that the standardiza-
tion of the (theoretically endless) domain of odors is not very high
compared to freelists of other items/domains, and it is a big domain.
Odors connected to earlier experiences can be very individual and
part of one’s personal biographic memory. However, as I will show
later, categories and discourses are standardized despite individual
differences in naming single odors, and Boholano cultural consensus
is high in the evaluation of odors in specific sociocultural spheres.
Gender differences in size of odor vocabularies, the length, and
content of individual lists became clear through freelisting tasks.
The maximal individual list by a woman included forty-seven items,
the longest by a man thirty-six items, and the shortest list by an
unusually shy young woman only four items. Fifteen women listed
in total 352 items (161 different odors), fifteen men 242 (134 dif-
ferent odors). This result might reflect general gendered language
capacities, different smell vocabularies due to familiarity with certain
domains where smells are important, expectations that olfaction
and odors are more relevant for women, but it might also reflect the
awkwardness in interviews between the female anthropologist and
male Filipinos. With all informants, I went through their lists a second
time for clarification and additional questions, for example the evalu-
ation of smells. Everybody decided very quickly, which is a pleasant,
an unpleasant, or ambivalent smell, depending often on its strength,
and some mentioned the context dependency of specific odors. I
asked everybody to mark their favorite and the most disgusting odor.
A comparison of the freelists by men, women, and children (see
Table 2) shows that men do not mention soap, lotion, and powder
among the first twenty frequently listed odors. They are found on
their freelists but further down and less frequently. Children men-
tion these smells early on their lists. Filipinas are the “scented sex”
and body odors and odorants are a female category, which will be
discussed in more detail later.
Children (aged 3 to 11) were surprisingly eager to list odors and
did not think long about their answers. Even children of 3–5 years
could name some odors. Seventeen children listed a total of 203
items and 107 different odors. The odors they mentioned are part
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Boholano Olfaction
Table 2 Twenty highest ranked odors sorted by frequency on overall freelists of women, men, and children.
(N = 16)
(N = 15)
(N = 17)
baho sa ilok (smell of perspiration, only from axillary glands) 12 bulak (flower) 8 perfume 7
perfume 12 tubig-nga langog (foul-smelling water) 8 taí (feces) 6
bulak 10 perfume 7 rose 6
baho sa tiil (stench of feet) 9 nangka (jackfruit) 6 iti sa manok (poultry manure) 6
taí (feces) 8 mangga (mango) 6 shampoo 5
nangka (jackfruit) 8 baho sa ilok (smell of perspiration) 6 nangka (jackfruit) 5
mangga (mango) 8 taí (feces) 6 Safeguard (brand of soap) 5
sabon (soap) 8 aso sa truck (truck fumes) 6 taí sa baboy (pig shit) 5
shampoo 7 basura (rubbish) 5 taí sa iro (dog shit) 4
baho sa baba (bad breath) 7 taí sa baboy (pig shit) 4 saging (banana) 4
aso sa truck (truck fumes) 7 iro (dog) 4 polbos (baby or body powder) 4
iro (dog) 5 taí sa iro (dog shit) 4 isdâ (fish) 4
rose 5 patay nga mananap (dead animal) 4 baho sa tiil (stench of feet) 4
bungog (pus secretion of ears) 5 durian 4 bulak (flower) 4
cigarillo 5 iti sa manok (poultry manure) 4 lubi (coconut) 4
gasolina (gasoline, fuel) 5 baho sa tiil (stench of feet) 4 taí sa iring (cat shit) 3
gas (gas for lightning, kerosene) 4 adobo (marinated, fried pork or chicken) 4 lotion 3
lapok (mud) 4 isdâ (fish) 3 orchids 3
kasilyas (toilet) 4 saging (banana) 3 sampaguita (a jasmine flower) 3
polbos (baby or body powder) 4 patay nga ilaga (dead mouse/rat) 3 baho sa ilok (smell of perspiration) 3
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of their everyday experiences; they listed, for example, dead frogs,
puppies, worms, smelly ants, aspects of the environment (mud), or
food and sweets (chocolate, Sunkist). But their lists also showed
limits of understanding and mistakes: One girl listed, for example,
sugar and I assume that she was thinking of taste instead of smell.
Gender differences are not pronounced among children in the small
number of cases. Some gender differences begin to show already:
the number of listed items is slightly higher for the eight girls (72) than
for the nine boys (65). However, in contrast to men, boys also list
soap, Safeguard, shampoo, and powder as women do.
Quinlan (2005: 2) wrote, “Experience leads me to conclude in-
dividuals’ freelists are largely personal or egocentric.” Responses
to general requests, like “list all odors you know,” are personal.
Therefore, they show besides gender and age further important in-
dividual differences. Capabilities, competence, and personality play
an important role and become clear through freelisting, such as the
shyness of a young female informant, great interest, and knowledge
of some, or the negative attitude of an old man who declined an
interview on olfaction, which he thought of as a “silly” topic. Still
freelisting shows a common core of knowledge on odors and shared
categories people have and use. It also gives information relevant to
further ethnographic tasks, for example, how close answers of an
informant are to average replies, who is an expert in the domain, or
who is not interested and should be excluded from later tasks.
Another freelisting result is that some odors have not been listed.
Incense (incenso) for example has not been mentioned even once.
Incense is used at church rituals but also in Boholano healing prac-
tices. The use of incense at church and in other rituals evokes emo-
tions and memories of earlier occasions of these rituals, although the
smell of incense might not be perceived consciously. The capacity of
odors to influence behavior and mood even below the threshold of
consciousness is used in different contexts, as in the use of pleasant
smells in shopping malls to stimulate consumption. People often
“perceive” odors without paying attention to them or without them
reaching the threshold of consciousness: “Awareness of odors is the
exception rather than the rule … But even when olfactory stimuli can
no longer be consciously perceived or are no longer attended to, they
continue to exert influences on behavior and mood” (Köster 2002:
31). This might be one explanation for the importance of incense in
healing and religious ceremonies but its absence from freelists.
However, palina (smoke from burned herbal medicines and in-
cense) has not been listed either, and tambal, a general label for
medicine, was mentioned by only two people. Burning incense
together with other herbal medicines is integral to still practiced
Boholano traditional methods of curing. This smoking (palináan)
drives harmful spirits out, responsible for many sicknesses. Against
certain diseases (e.g. cough, fever), particularly of infants, incense
or native resins and dried herbs are burned in half a coconut shell.
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Palina is also used to purify people after a visit to the cemetery.
Herbs and dried leaves are burnt and the person has to step over the
fire’s smoke to ensure a safe return from the spirit world. This might
indicate that smoke belongs to a different domain than odors. This
goes together with the observation that in other tasks the smell of
ammonia has been described as painful and not as an odor sensa-
tion and not with terms from the odor lexicon. On the other hand, the
unpleasant odor aso sa truck (fumes of buses) plays an important
role, listed by fifteen people, burnt plastic listed by three, smoke and
smoke of dried leafs each by one. That neither tambal nor specific
kinds of fragrant herbal medicines are mentioned contrasts for ex-
ample with Maniq smell vocabularies where medicines are central
(Wnuk and Majid 2012).
Odor is a broad domain, and a first inventory of the domain by
freelisting was useful, although omissions had to be expected due to
the size. Quinlan (2005: 5) reports that in cases of a broad domain,
“Interviewees commonly forget to list items in a domain or (for expe-
diency) intentionally omit items they know (Brewer 2002). Omissions
are, in my experience, most likely if the freelist prompt is broad.”
So some omissions might be explained by the broadness of the
prompt for the freelist and the domain. Given that in a large sample
random factors would cancel out, forgetting, in the case of smoke
from incense used at church and from palina used for purification
for healing or prevention of supernaturally caused diseases, might
indicate they belong in a different domain.
Large domains can also lead to “clustering”: the “unpacking” of
categories during the listing task as shown above for the category
of baho sa patay (the smell of dead people or animals). That means
one element, or a subcategory, is mentioned and triggers the nam-
ing of several closely related elements. (For example, clustering of
items might reduce precision of measures of salience that depend
on their rank on a list.) On the other hand, clustering on freelists
has advantages as it can show already some recurring categories
within the domain. Boholanos clustered most often bodily wastes,
body odors, or fruits (a child mentioned for example: apple, fruits,
Sunkist, papaya, banana, jackfruit), flowers, dead bodies4 of different
creatures, chemical odors (e.g. Lysol, floor wax, Clorox), and artificial
positive odors (perfume, soap, powder, shampoo, fabric softener).
Sometimes associations are obvious as in the following list, which
begins with unpleasant chemical smells, continues with products of
the process of burning followed by stimulants:
Rugby (brand name of an addictive glue)
gisunog nga plastik (burned plastic)
plastik tires (I assume she also thought of burnt rubber when a
car brakes hard)
aso (fumes)
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Bettina Beer
cigarillo (cigarette)
fumes of dried leaves (a usual practice as part of cleaning the
surrounding of a house to burn old leaves. This creates a fire,
which gives off very thick smoke for a long time. At times also
used for the purpose of smoking a mango tree, for example, or to
stop insects especially mosquitoes from coming around towards
Tanduay (brand of Philippine rum)
In two cases abstract odor terms were clustered. With both women
I had discussed olfaction a lot during my stay, and they were clearly
more aware than other Boholanos of different labels and ways to talk
about odors because of personal interest in olfaction and responses
to smells. The categories shown in clusters on freelists were also re-
sults of later sorting tasks. Many odors were also mentioned in pairs
as soap and shampoo, armpit sweat and smelly feet, and gas and
gasoline – all odors which were often sorted into the same category.
Some other problems became clear by freelisting: (1) many nomi-
nated items are the sources of smells and not specific odor terms
or qualities of odors. “Smell of urine,” for example, is mentioned with
the term for a source (urine/ihi), with different specific kinds of urine
(cat, horse, and rat) but also named angso, which is a specific odor
term for urine-like smells (a term sometimes also applied to the smell
of goats and flying foxes). Items on the list correlate with different
possibilities to communicate about odors and refer to different ways
to describe elements of the domain: to their possible sources, to
certain qualities of smells and to specific odor terms like langog,
which refers to many different foul/rotting smells; (2) items are not
only named in Boholano but also in English (moth balls, air freshener,
apple, orange, lotion, soap, fertilizer, insecticides and pesticides),
with brand names (Colgate, Safeguard, Dauni, Rugby, White Musk,
Cool Water), some are mixed Boholano and English like aso sa truck
(truck fumes), some are named by some informants in Boholano/
Cebuano and by others in English (pahumot/perfume). Many words
are Spanish loan words which were integrated into Philippine culture
together with the things they refer to (sabon/soap, pan/bread, kape/
coffee, gatas/milk). The language mix reflects Philippine history, so-
ciocultural change, commoditization of odors in television advertise-
ment (e.g. Johnson’s Baby Cologne and powder), as well as social
differences in everyday life: only very few informants have access to
perfume brands, for example.
Familiarity with a domain is a strong predictor for vocabulary
size, though vocabulary size cannot be taken as a straightforward
measurement of practical or “cultural importance” (Gatewood 1984).
Apart from this, the connection between language, culture(s), and
significance is even more complicated. Bohol, as many other places
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where anthropologists work, has been exposed to different cultural
influences. Spanish and American colonialism, migration, and inte-
gration into a capitalist world market transform vocabularies, culture,
and social relations. The lexical elaboration of the domain of smell
clearly reflects Philippine history and different contemporary influ-
ences. Not only the vocabulary but also the practices and the world
of smells have been transformed.
The Category of Body Odors and Commodification
of Fragrance
After evaluating the freelists, I chose sixty-six odor terms that at
least three people had mentioned as a basis for further pile sorting
tasks. Culturally important and socially shared categories emerged
from the results of the pile sorts, the use and significance of these
categories was observed and analyzed in discourses and everyday
practices as well. A cultural domain, like the domain of odor (baho),
is understood as a group of systematically connected categories,
which share a cover term and a semantic relationship (Borgatti 1999;
Spradley 1979). The sociocultural domain baho contains several
relevant categories and subcategories. The Boholano taxonomy of
smells divides the domain into the broad categories of fragrances
(humot) and stenches (bahô), each containing several subcatego-
ries. People evaluate subcategories and their elements according to
their notion of general positive or negative appraisal, they do mention
ambivalences, and ethnography shows that different contexts can
lead to different evaluations. Among the subcategories body odors
and cosmetic fragrances play an important role. In this article I focus
on the category of body odors (baho sa lawas, sometimes also
referred to as baho sa tao, “smell of people”), its intersections with
other odor categories (mainly bodily wastes), a “mental model” of
cleanliness, and on the consumption of (de)odorants and cosmetic
scents (pahumot) among Boholanos.
Body odors play an important role for social identities (Classen
1992; van Beek 1992), in particular for racial and ethnic identities
(Beer 2000, 2002). For Southeast Asia, connections between smells
and ideas about race and/or ethnicity (Cohen 1988; König 2013)
have been described in detail. Connections between smell and
ethnic identity struck me in the Philippines first when I did research
on sex tourists and marriage migration and later on interethnic rela-
tions between Ati and Boholanos. Discussions about good and
bad odors are very frequent in everyday situations and comments
on body odors are in the Philippines as prominent as in other Asian
and Southeast Asian countries (Cohen 1988; Dikötter 1992; Siddle
1997). Anika König’s description could equally apply to Bohol:
It is, for example, very common to comment in public on
someone’s body odour or other smells associated with their
body, even if that person is present. This includes commenting
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on the smell of sweat and refusing to come close to that
person, declining to sit beside a person who is eating or has
just eaten the jarikng fruit, or collectively racing out of a room
while screaming and shouting comments as a reaction to
someone’s flatulence. On the other hand, it is also common to
make positive comments about a person’s perceived pleasant
smell: to be ascribed a nice body odour is a highly regarded
compliment. (König 2013: 126, 127)
In Bohol, children play a game where they (pretend to) “catch farts”
and force other children to smell them, or they tease each other
about their smelly shoes they had to wear all day in school. People
frequently made jokes and comments about odors and discussed
specific odors. In settings such as markets or public transport,
Ati would often use their language to refer to Filipinos or tourists
as “maboro” (he/she stinks), pronouncing the verb like the brand
name “Marlboro” (many people dislike the smell of cigarette smoke).
Strangers whom they were talking about could have had the im-
pression they meant cigarettes. To be able to say about strangers,
that they are smelly in public, really pleased the Ati – a minority
themselves often enough accused of being unclean and/or smelly.
These discussions of personal smells often have a moral undertone
and the stenches can be conceptualized as contaminating (Bubandt
1998; Tuzin 2006).
On the freelists, items in the category of body odors were referred
to in different ways:
1. Abstract and general references to body odors and cleanliness:
a way of referring to body odors was in mentioning the smell of
people in general, tawo (people) and tawong nakaligo (washed/
bathed people) were listed each twice, tawo way ligo (unwashed
people) once. Four people mentioned (baho sa) lawas (body)
and marked it as a highly ambivalent odor also depending on
the cleanliness of the person. Body odors are cross-cutting the
main divide between bahô and humut. “Unwashed children”
were listed both by a woman and a man. In my observations,
children who had been playing outside all afternoon and came
home were often greeted with a critical “mabahô!” (you smell/
stink!) or “singót!” (sweat! short for: you smell of sweat!). Anghit
is an abstract odor term for baho sa ilok, the smell of goats, or
unpleasant body odors in general, but it was not mentioned in the
freelist task. When I discussed odor terms, it was explained to me
as one of the general and important labels.
2. Abstract but gendered references: Three men gave the noun
“woman” (babae) or “chicks” and one man said “my wife” (ang
akong asawa). The “smell of men” was not mentioned once. This
suggests that normative expectations about odors and olfaction
are asymmetrical with respect to gender.
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Boholano Olfaction
3. References to specific single sources of body odors: singót, for
example, is a general term for sweat, but most often refers to
sweat all over the skin, which when old is slightly sour smelling; it
does not refer to the pungent armpit smell (baho sa ilok), which is
the most frequently named bad odor on the overall freelist.
Small children are often cuddled or held in the arms and people
comment on the body odor, playfully sniffing their skin or hair
exclaiming “baho sa ulo!” (scalpy smell!) in a joking way but
sometimes also with a serious expression and critically. When I
carried small children, or held them, people often asked me seri-
ously: “Does (s)he smell? Is (s)he clean?” Most people wash their
hair frequently and are constantly worried about body odors or
dirty shirts. In Bohol I often hear comments about the untidiness
und uncleanliness of tourists, no matter if they are young ruck-
sack tourists or older sex tourists. Boholanos are very surprised
why foreigners from rich countries, who could afford to dress and
wash better, wear old, torn, and/or stained T-shirts (sometimes
only vests) and shorts, old or no shoes; why women do not wear
a bra and why many of them have unwashed and/or uncombed
hair, and often strong body odors. I explained that some of them
might dress formally and wash at home when they have to work
and that they are in a kind of “holiday mode.” I also tried to make
clear that not all are rich in their home countries and use up old
clothes during holidays. This was still met with astonishment by
Boholanos because they felt that it is even more important to
show cleanliness if you are poor.
Baho sa baba (smell of bad breath) and baho sa tiil (smelly feet,
jokingly referred to by children as tear gas) are also specific source
names for body odors. People go barefoot most of the time, or
wear thongs (sinilas), for they only rarely have to wear shoes for
work or for a special occasion. School children, though, have to
wear them every day. Wearing shoes is a problematic practice
for poor people in the tropics. Shoes are often of a cheap plastic
material, and socks are not much better. Contemporary wealth
inequalities, consequent to colonial history, make themselves
apparent when the poor are forced to wear bad shoes in tropical
climate (mentioned by 35 percent of the respondents on their
freelists). Despite all the talk about it I never smelled sweaty feet,
but that might simply be an indication of how careful people are.
4. Abstract terms for particular body odors: Angso (sometimes
also angsod) is an odor term referring to urine-like smells (also
to the smell of goats or flying foxes). It is an abstract term as it
neither names the source urine (ihi) nor is it etymologically related
to it. Different from feces, angso was sometimes included in
the category of body odors. People explained that old people
sometimes smell of urine because they cannot wash and change
frequently or have problems controlling their bladders.5 Anghit as
an abstract term for the smell of underarm sweat (baho sa ilok)
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has already been mentioned, but it could be used to cover the
whole category of body odors.
5. Terms for odors and categories of odors that are related to the
body, but not included in the category of baho sa lawas: Bakag
is an abstract local Boholano term for a category of stenches.6 It
refers to bungog (pus secretion of ear due to infection), but also
to other strong putrid smells like rotting bodies of animals or the
smell of feces. Bungog was mentioned by seven people as an
exceptionally bad smell that makes one want to vomit (luod nga
baho). Children are said to have often ear infections and many
people are familiar with bungog.
Bad smells of the toilet, feces and flatulence are commented
on but systematic analysis shows that they also belong to a dif-
ferent category, the category of bodily waste (baho sa taí, smell of
feces). Blood was mentioned only twice and menstruation blood
not at all, which might have to do with connected taboos. Any
smells related to sexuality (sperm, vaginal fluid) were not men-
tioned on freelists, probably due to taboos on speaking about it in
general and/or to strangers. However, when I discussed abstract
smell terms, langto was explained to be a smell of dirt, a stench
meaning also smell of meat or blood. Langsí or langsa are special
terms for fishy smells, and were said to cover not only fish but
also menstrual blood.
Body odors are talked about and people accuse other people of
uncleanliness or comment on fragrances they use and their visual
and olfactory beauty, the olfactory being sometimes more powerful.
A well-dressed, handsome appearance of a person would neverthe-
less be negatively evaluated because of an unpleasant body odor.
Even raising questions about a smell or the source of the smell can
subtly undermine someone’s attempts to create a good impression
through their appearance by suggesting that the person is unknow-
ingly producing an odor offensive to others with more sensitive
noses. This makes the category of body odors a powerful weapon
in interpersonal politics:
Olfactory categories are thus a very powerful means for the
creation, maintenance, and reinvention of ethnic identity and
the demarcation of ethnic groups … However, it seems to be
of minor importance whether or not everyone is indeed able to
perceive the odour; what seems to be more prominent here is
the idea of smell and its symbolic meaning. (König 2013: 126)
This applies not only to ethnic identities but also to social boundaries
in general: gender, age, status, and income as class markers.
The connection of uncleanliness and body odors is related to the
broader “cultural model” of hinlo – being clean and cleaning. Axel
Borchgrevink (2002) describes values and practices of cleaning the
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Boholano Olfaction
environment and evaluations of gardens and fields by Boholanos. He
shows how these constitute an important model of and for behavior,
for evaluations and communication:
The concept of hinlo is widely used in other contexts as
well. It refers to cleanliness, neatness and tidiness with re-
spect to personal hygiene and appearance, with respect to
housekeeping and dishwashing, and to the maintenance of
gardens and public areas. The people of Ginopolan put an
impressive amount of work into keeping their surroundings
clean and neat. Houses and gardens are swept at least once
a day, often more, and dead leaves and other garden refuse
is burnt daily. The areas around houses are not only kept
free of leaves, refuse and weeds, they are also adorned with
flowers, hedges, and painted stones. The resulting well-kept
appearance of these communities is striking not only to for-
eigners – also visitors from other parts of the Philippines have
commented on the neatness of Boholano villages. It is also
a frequent topic in the self-presentations of the community.
When entering the town of Valencia, the visitor is met by a
plethora of signs with slogans such as: “Enjoy Valencia’s clean
and healthy environment”, “Help keep our barangay clean and
green”, “Valencianhons: support the clean and green cam-
paign”, and “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”. (Borchgrevink
2002: 229)
To “clean” fields, artificial insecticides and pesticides could be used,
but they are categorized as unclean and were rejected by many
Valencianhons. This connects with the differentiation of the dimen-
sions natural/artificial within the category of pleasant and unpleas-
ant odors. The odors of insecticides and pesticides are grouped
together with Rugby, a kind of glue, which is addictive, with Clorox,
Lysol, cigarette smoke, and truck fumes. They form a subcategory
that does not overlap with other subcategories of unpleasant smells,
as bodily wastes and death. Political campaigns by the state and its
agents to “clean up” a village, town, or city, or to launch “beautifica-
tion projects” or “cleanliness competitions” have been frequent since
Marcos’ times in the Philippines, just as popular opinion is sensitive
to “smelly” political maneuvers; both draw on the moral connotations
of stench and fragrance.
Pleasant natural fragrances are separated from industrially pro-
duced ones as well. Fruits and flowers form important subcategories
and are differentiated with few exceptions from pleasant but artificial
smells. Knowing about the preoccupation with body odors but
also about the power of smells as markers of social status and
distinction, it is not surprising that artificial odorants range high
on freelists: perfume (26), shampoo (14), soap (13), polbos (body
powder used mainly for babies, but sometimes also by adults; 10),
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Colgate (3), Dauni (perfumed fabric softener; 3), rubbing alcohol,
deodorant (2), Sunsilk (shampoo, 2), Black and White (soap), Cutex/
nail polish (listed as pleasant), White Musk, Poison, Cool Water (all
perfumes), cologne (a particular, Johnson’s Baby Cologne popular
in the Philippines), and Rexona (deodorant). Most people to whom
I talked, except two families, do not have enough money to buy
everyday shampoo, and they buy it in tiny sachets at small family-
owned retail shops (sari sari). They buy soap to wash clothes in cold
water, and everybody is very eager to maintain a high standard of
cleanliness. But I have never seen anybody using Dauni. People are
only familiar with it because of the regular and frequent advertising
on television (a flower breeze coming out of the Dauni bottle) which
shows that its presence – also its positive dimension – is not always
required to use symbolic power of an odor.
This article is not meant to be a comprehensive report of my find-
ings, but a more general discussion of the advantages of combining
ethnography with cognitive methods. Freelisting. pile sorting and
aspects of cultural consensus analyses enables the ethnographer
to chart the role of smell categories in general, while showing the
sensitivity of perception to context; it also reveals variation across
various categories of person (by gender, age, etc.) which makes it
less likely that a social collective is characterized and dominated by
a single sensorium or hierarchy of the senses.
The sociocultural domain of odor under its general Boholano
cover term baho is split into two broad categories that only partly
overlap. They are divided again into several further elaborated sub-
categories. The first divide in fragrance (humot) and stench (bahô)
runs along the dimension of pleasantness. Although the strength
of a smell influences its evaluation on this dimension and some
ambivalent odors exist, the decision what to sort into the category of
humot or bahô was in most cases quick (compare for experimental
situations Engen 1991: 12) and clear. Which confirms the statement
pleasantness is the most salient dimension in descriptions of
odorant object space (e.g. Coxon, Gregson & Paddick 1978;
Davis 1979; Schiffman, 1974). Pleasantness is not a semantic
dimension, nor is it a dimension of odor character, because
it reflects a similarity among descriptors that are semantically
very different (i.e. they evoke different things) yet share a pleas-
ant quality and that have clearly different odor characters (e.g.
floral, fruity, vanilla). (Zarzo and Stanton 2009: 226)
The importance of the pleasant/unpleasant divide seems to be a
universal pattern and clearly stronger than for visual or acoustic
stimuli (Hermans and Baeyens 2002), although judgments of what
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Boholano Olfaction
counts as pleasant varies with situation and social sphere. Familiarity
is another important aspect of odor evaluation. In experiments, a
higher percentage of familiar odors are evaluated positively than
unfamiliar odors (Engen 1991: 13ff.; Ayabe-Kanamura et al. 1998),
which likely to be evaluated negatively even when subjects are
sure that they are harmless. Given these psychological findings, it
is not surprising that pleasantness is the basis for the first level of
taxonomic differentiation.
Odor subcategories are important as they allow variation in em-
phasis, importance, and meaning of groups of odors. In Bohol the
main subcategories of the domain are: good artificial smells, foods
and fruits, body odors, body waste, smell of death, and modern
potentially dangerous chemical smells. Cultural consensus on the
order and the structure of the domain, the categories, and subcat-
egories is very high, as cultural consensus analysis for the pile sorts
A sociocultural anthropology that considers the situationality of
olfaction could contribute to a better understanding of why certain
smell categories are strategically used for differentiation in social
hierarchies and in situations such as conflict, intimacy, cooperation,
or the construction of boundaries. The Boholano category of body
odors is cross-cut by the dimension of pleasantness, but with a
clear emphasis on its absence – at least in public. The ambivalence
of body odors, and the possibility of manipulating them, makes
them perfect for situational strategic use, and hence for commer-
cialization, as folks try to change their social esteem, through their
self-presentation (see also Cohen 1988; König 2013). In everyday
discourses, categories relating to the body and social relations are
often discussed. Social control and smell are closely related in the
domain of body odors.
The dimension of artificial versus natural odors is differently evalu-
ated for pleasant and unpleasant smells. Artificial fragrances are
highly valued as they are embedded in discourses on being smelly
or not and positively evaluated modern consumption patterns,
while artificial stenches are perceived as threatening and unclean.
Unpleasant artificial chemical odors are not part of the cycle of
smells of reproduction, birth, disease, and decay (compare Cohen
1988; Parkin 2007). The categories of artificial fragrances and artifi-
cial stenches are positioned very differently within the sociocultural
domain of odors.
The combination of standard ethnographic methods with freelist-
ing and pile sorts is a good basis to understand the spread of in-
terpretations of perceptions (including individual differences) as well
as common patterns. These patterns have open boundaries and
are in process. The impact of colonial history on the meaning of the
senses, via imported material culture, religion, economic systems,
values, and languages, becomes obvious in the domain of odors.
In Bohol particular interethnic relations with tourists and minorities
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and the influence of migrants living abroad contribute to diversity in
practices and values.
In everyday life, the context dependence of odor evaluations and
practices of odor management are evident, even more than in exper-
imental situations (see Lawless et al. 1991). The combination of the
categorization of odors (e.g. baho sa lawas/body odors) with social
relations (e.g. relative, partner, or school teacher), ethnicity, race and
particular social situations (bus, home, or intimate situations), and
sociocultural contexts (communication with spirits, self-presentation,
evaluation of others) produces different perceptions and mean-
ings of the same odorous substances. This is one of the reasons
why placing olfaction within a highly structured sensorium with a
general hierarchy of the senses is a difficult, perhaps impossible,
endeavor. Multiple overlapping sensoria that are flexible, sensitive
to circumstances and their historical transformation, and reflective
of broader social processes might be more helpful in understand-
ing olfaction in different cultural settings. Domain and consensus
analyses (with methods such as freelisting and pile sorting) enable
ethnographers to chart the role of smell categories in general, while
showing the sensitivity of perception to context; they also reveals
variation across various categories of person by gender, age, and
other social dimensions.
1. Fieldwork in Bohol took place over several months in 1996–7,
1999–2000, 2002, 2003–4, and for a few weeks in 2009 and
2. In early 2012, Asifa Majid encouraged me to supplement my
existing data and to analyse them statistically. The analysis would
not have been possible without John Gatewood, who showed
me how to run Dosbox on my Mac and use Anthropac (Borgatti
1996) to explore and examine my data. Much information and
many connections would have remained invisible without his ex-
pertise. The research group “The Cultural Constitution of Causal
Cognition” at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research (organized
by Andrea Bender and Sieghard Beller) provided a very stimu-
lating environment and a forum for discussing methodological
problems. Special thanks to Don Gardner for asking many ques-
tions about smell and the senses, discussions of my data, and
corrections of my English, and also to Doris Bacalzo, Teresa
Fürcho, and Anika König for discussing the Visayan ethnography.
3. “Smith’s S” calculates this combination of frequency of nomina-
tions, position on the list, and length of the list; for the first four
items it is: 0.364 perfume, 0.295 flowers, 0.255 armpit smell, and
0.277 feces.
4. When people spoke of the unpleasant smell of “a dead body,”
they referred to an unembalmed corpse. Philippine funeral prac-
tices require that a dead person be kept at home for several days,
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while relatives and friends visit, and the prayers and vigils that are
a prerequisite of the funeral have taken place. How far people
who referred to the stench of a decomposing human corpse
actually experienced it was not entirely clear to me.
5. Amoy matanda/“the smell of old people” is a common expression
in Tagalog.
6. In other Philippine languages bakag is a more general term for a
“foul” smell.
7. Judged similarity data were collected from twenty-one infor-
mants, each of whom did a single pile sort of sixty-six items.
Consensus analysis, using Anthropac 4.983X (multiple choice
method, proximity data), shows a very strong consensus among
the informants. The ratio of the 1st factor’s Eigenvalue (15.404)
to the 2nd factor’s (0.384) is 40.11; the mean 1st factor loading
is 0.838 (with a standard deviation of 0.175); and no respondent
has a negative 1st factor loading.
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... (Bloch, 1970, p. 189) Anthropological and ethnological studies show that all human cultures distinguish between favoured and less favoured odours for the purpose of order and orientation in their everyday world and identify, categorise and evaluate places, animals, plants and, above all, foodstuffs, also by means of odours (cf. for example Lévi- Strauss, 1966;Beer, 2014). In this context, putrid smells, since they are associated with processes of decay and putrefaction, are fundamentally perceived as repulsive and evaluated negatively: they indicate the decay of what has grown naturally, the decay of what was originally well-formed, the decomposition of once sharp boundaries, which brings into close relation uncleanliness and unpleasantness (cf. ...
That which we consider to be real we call knowledge. As a rule, we consider what our five senses convey to us to be real. Our perception and what we consider real and construct as socially effective differs depending on which senses we focus on and how intensively. The connection between reality constructions and sensory conditions has received little attention in social research so far. This concerns, for example, the use of our sensory organs for empirical reconstructions of bodies of knowledge, sensory perceptions as part of bodies of knowledge, or the question of how far knowledge is dependent on sensory abilities. This anthology attempts to close this gap by focusing on the social significance of sensory perceptions and discussing it using the example of various objects of investigation. This book is a translation of an original German edition. The translation was done with the help of artificial intelligence (machine translation by the service A subsequent human revision was done primarily in terms of content, so that the book will read stylistically differently from a conventional translation.
... (Bloch, 1970, p. 189) Anthropological and ethnological studies show that all human cultures distinguish between favoured and less favoured odours for the purpose of order and orientation in their everyday world and identify, categorise and evaluate places, animals, plants and, above all, foodstuffs, also by means of odours (cf. for example Lévi- Strauss, 1966;Beer, 2014). In this context, putrid smells, since they are associated with processes of decay and putrefaction, are fundamentally perceived as repulsive and evaluated negatively: they indicate the decay of what has grown naturally, the decay of what was originally well-formed, the decomposition of once sharp boundaries, which brings into close relation uncleanliness and unpleasantness (cf. ...
Cultural Turns are certainly in vogue. They are not without controversy, but they do fulfil important filter functions in the accelerated academic world. This article traces the logic of cultural turns and discusses their use. The contours, directions and horizons of a Sensorial Turn and thus the questions of the chances, limits, potentials and challenges of a stronger consideration of sensory qualities of experience in the analysis of social phenomena will be discussed.KeywordsCultural turnSensorial turnSensesSensory perceptionSensory researchMethod development
... Smell vocabularies have previously been considered a characteristic of small languages with few speakers [51] (of the existing 6500 languages, the median number of speakers is less than 1000) and particularly likely to appear in hunter-gatherer languages [59,60]. Numerous hunter-gatherer languages have indeed been reported with smell vocabularies [8,12,41,43,[59][60][61][62], but sizeable smell lexicons have also been reported in various pastoral and horticultural communities [37,42,61,[63][64][65][66][67][68][69][70][71][72] as well as in major languages of industrialized societies with millions of speakers [51,73]. It could be that smell lexicons are more likely to appear in small languages or hunter-gatherer contexts, but it is premature to conclude so. ...
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The human sense of smell can accomplish astonishing feats, yet there remains a prevailing belief that olfactory language is deficient. Numerous studies with English speakers support this view: there are few terms for odors, odor talk is infrequent, and naming odors is difficult. However, this is not true across the world. Many languages have sizeable smell lexicons — smell is even grammaticalized. In addition, for some cultures smell talk is more frequent and odor naming easier. This linguistic variation is as yet unexplained but could be the result of ecological, cultural, or genetic factors or a combination thereof. Different ways of talking about smells may shape aspects of olfactory cognition too. Critically, this variation sheds new light on this important sensory modality.
The article deals with the social over-forming and the moral impregnations of smelling. It develops the thesis that precisely the reduction and marginalization of the sense of smell, which has always been lamented for the spectrum of sensory equipment as well as with regard to the cooperation of the senses, forms the actual condition of its contribution to the pre-reflexive order of social reality. Because every sense has a representational ground in that ‘world’ which only it brings out, the analysis focuses on the intrinsic sense of smell. To this end, it transcends the ‘classical’ question of the olfactory construction of social reality in the direction of a proto-sociology of smell.KeywordsOlfactory perceptionOlfactionOlfactory judgmentsProtosociologySociology of knowledgeEveryday morality
From constructions of rasa (taste) in pre-colonial India and Indonesia, children and sensory discipline within the monastic orders of the Edo period of Japan, to sound expressives among the Semai in Peninsular Malaysia, the sensory soteriology of Tibetan Buddhism, and sensory warscapes of WWII, this book analyses how sensory cultures in Asia frame social order and disorder. Illustrated with a wide range of fascinating examples, it explores key anthropological themes, such as culture and language, food and foodways, morality, transnationalism and violence, and provides granular analyses on sensory relations, sensory pairings, and intersensoriality. By offering rich ethnographic perspectives on inter- and intra-regional sense relations, the book engages with a variety of sensory models, and moves beyond narrower sensory regimes bounded by group, nation or temporality. A pioneering exploration of the senses in and out of Asia, it is essential reading for academic researchers and students in social and cultural anthropology.
The present study investigates the semantics of a dozen basic smell terms in Indonesian using data from a large corpus of written register. Examining how these smell terms lexicalize some odors but not others raises questions that are central to our understanding of the language of olfaction. How are smell terms structured? What does the structure of smell terms tell us about human behavior? By applying cluster analysis, the present study reveals that the Indonesian odor lexicon is structured based on one dimension correlating with pleasantness. The large dataset of a written corpus enables the present study to reveal the differences in lexicalization and frequency: Indonesian smell terms have more negative types but more positive tokens in texts. This novel approach to investigating smell terms allows us to take a step closer toward our goal of understanding olfactory vocabulary, as data on token frequency are difficult to obtain in studies of (unwritten) minority languages. This key finding supports the Pollyanna Hypothesis: people tend to use positive words more often than negative words, but the negative words convey more information.
Der Beitrag befasst sich mit der sozialen Überformung und den moralischen Imprägnierungen des Riechens. Er entwickelt die These, dass gerade die für das Spektrum der Sinnesausstattung wie auch hinsichtlich der Kooperation der Sinne stets beklagte Reduktion und Marginalisierung des Geruchssinns die eigentliche Bedingung seines Beitrags zur vorreflexiven Ordnung der gesellschaftlichen Wirklichkeit bildet. Weil jeder Sinn einen gegenständlichen Grund in jener ‚Welt’ hat, den nur er herausbringt, hebt die Analyse auf den Eigensinn des Geruchssinns ab. Hierfür überschreitet sie die ‚klassische’ Frage nach der olfaktorischen Konstruktion von gesellschaftlicher Wirklichkeit in Richtung einer Protosoziologie des Geruchs.
This work aims to report the specific interest of experiential walks for smell perception in environmental analyses, using a review of different methods and field actions. The first part of the chapter reviews the main difficulties when one wants to comprehend environmental olfactory phenomenon, emphasizing the importance of semantic considerations and the role of the context accounts (from in vitro to in-situ, including in vivo approaches). By the way, field studies on the topic are scarce, especially if compared to the in vitro experiments profusion. If in vitro approaches allow parameters controls and statistical analysis, they struggle to covert identified ordinary life smell phenomenon. However, expectations and implicit memories are critical in everyday smell experiences. Even in vivo approaches, such as store reconstitutions, often fail to appreciate the magnitude of contexts in olfactory interpretations, especially situational ones. The second part of the chapter therefore, considers the main assets of experiential walks for smell: an in-situ posture implying confrontation of heterogenic data and an in motion specificity. The first one may permit to go a little farer then the simple sources inventory often use in environmental smell analyses. The second one allows renew sensations for a sense for which habituation, that is the rapid and specific olfactory acclimatization when exposed to an odor, is a particulary important feature of everyday smell experiences and movements. The advantages and drawbacks of smell walks are then discussed, to clear some recommendations for smell walks applications.
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The article analyzes the sensory aspects of urban life in one of the districts in the outskirts of Moscow. Revising the concepts of sensory ordering of space, I analyze the ways how urban dwellers in this district order the space by smell perception. I define three components of sensory ordering: i) the language of sensory experience, ii) ascription of meanings to space and smells localization, iii) actions aimed at supporting the desirable olfactory landscape. The process of creating this language and negotiations about the desirable olfactory landscape are based on adopting the special terms and visualizing the smells. This language allows to interact with the various agents on different levels of power, to transform and control the space. The production of meanings, based on smells, influences the district identity. Both positive and negative smell perception produce the value of the district, while the negative smells acts differently and devalues the other city territories. Citizens actions support the sensory normativity: through sensory patrolling (different ways of detecting the smells) and microordering (creating the cleanliness and freshness within neighborhoods). These ways of ordering sensory experience and creating olfactory landscape help to explain the interaction between district dwellers, the principles of how their agency is formed, and the principles of being responsible for the space.
The English lexicon is quite impoverished in capturing the perceptual detail of odour qualities. To make up for the lack of smell vocabulary, speakers will often resort to source-based descriptions, a strategy that likens smells to real-world reference points, like ‘mint’. This study examines the instances when Australian English speakers use particular communicative strategies, to explore whether cultural or cognitive influences allow for the easier abstraction of odour qualities. This study combines (1) an odour description task, and (2) a similarity-based sorting task. The results of (1) show that the communicative preferences for describing smells are indeed reliant on source-based descriptions, and the results of (2) show that conceptualisation of odours is primarily based on hedonic valence, and secondarily on salient scents. By combining these results, I find that the communicative preferences vary depending on the conceptualisations of a scent. Scents judged as pleasant receive relatively more abstract descriptions, like ‘sweet’, and show a higher degree of agreement, and the source-based descriptions are particularly frequent among culturally salient scents.
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According to a widely-held view among various scholars, olfaction is inferior to other human senses. It is also believed by many that languages do not have words for describing smells. Data collected among the Maniq, a small population of nomadic foragers in southern Thailand, challenge the above claims and point to a great linguistic and cultural elaboration of odor. This article presents evidence of the importance of olfaction in indigenous rituals and beliefs, as well as in the lexicon. The results demonstrate the richness and complexity of the domain of smell in Maniq society and thereby challenge the universal paucity of olfactory terms and insignificance of olfaction for humans.
The human organs of perception are constantly bombarded with chemicals from the environment. Our bodies have in turn developed complex processing systems, which manifest themselves in our emotions, memory, and language. Yet the available data on the high order cognitive implications of taste and smell are scattered among journals in many fields, with no single source synthesizing the large body of knowledge, much of which has appeared in the last decade. This book presents the first multidisciplinary synthesis of the literature in olfactory and gustatory cognition. Leading experts have written chapters on many facets of taste and smell, including odor memory, cortical representations, psychophysics and functional imaging studies, genetic variation in taste, and the hedonistic dimensions of odors. The approach is integrative, combining perspectives from neuroscience, psychology, anthropology, philosophy, and linguistics, and is appropriate for students and researchers in all of these areas who seek an authoritative reference on olfaction, taste, and cognition.
IntroductionNacirema Understandings of TreesBartender Versus Customer Understandings of Mixed DrinksSalmon Seining in AlaskaConclusion References
Olfaction offers unique entry into the non‐human world, but Western culture constrains such opportunities because of the dominance of the visual mode of perception. We begin by briefly reviewing philosophical arguments against olfaction as a reliable cognitive input. We then build a biological case for the similarity of non‐human and human olfaction. Subsequently, we argue that some contemporary societies still make use of olfaction for organizing themselves in space and time. We end by suggesting that olfaction offers promise for advancing inquiry into the human‐nature relationship that is so important to many environmental philosophers, scientists and activists.