I had an interesting conversation last night with my former teacher in Iranian studies. We were sitting at the bank of the river Main, listening to 2pac and talking about colonialism in history and politics in the Middle West (aka Europe).
In that context, he led me read his newest article. It wasn’t edited or refined in any way but as soon as it is published, I see there is potential to write a review of that article here.
And just so you don’t set your expectations too high:
2Pac wasn’t mentioned there.
As a lover of podcast, I wanted to produce one myself for a long time. And as announced, I actually produced three episodes of my podcast called The Hive. I am glad I did it and it was a great experience but I didn’t publish them.
I wasn’t happy with the result and the overall presentation. I have years of acting experience but hosting a talk show is still another thing. I am probably too introverted to feel comfortable in this kind of format, i guess. I still love the idea and The Hive is still something I want to try again when I am ready for this step.
I consider this a strategic retreat to reassess the whole concept. Now I can better evaluate the applicability of certain ideas. Things that didn’t work out this time will work out next time. I am privileged to have friends who supported me in every step in the making of The Hive, from concept to editing, and with their hands-on experience and feedback, I can’t wait to sit down and create the next Hive.
“It was like Serbia”, I told my friend. And it was. I talked about how things went slower than what I am used to in western Europe and how open and welcoming the people were. It was indeed very similar to what I experienced on the Balkans, “plus the scent of coffee and incense in the air”. I said it with a smile but there was truth to it. The smell of buna and etan, coffee and incense, is something that brings back memories of my fieldwork in Hawassa, Ethiopia. I noticed that smell and sound is a factor that in a way defines the cityscape even more than architecture and urban planning. I was there to do research on religion and ethnicity. But on the back of my notebook, I listed some overall impressions of the city and its atmosphere.
Smells and long term memory are closely related, yet when we talk about our experience in a foreign country or city, we rarely mention smells. Maybe it is so present that we don’t pay attention to it anymore. Or we simply forgot how to talk about smell. When we talk about scent, our vocabulary seems not to be suited for describing it accurately. Our vocabulary is shaped by the topics we talk about and – at least English and German language – still need to develop that aspect when it comes to describing smells effectively.
There is a niche for that though. Marketing and anthropology already work together in that field. But research on senses are conducted mainly on visuals (“bias against sight”, Arantes 2014: 27) and – looking at the perfume industry – mostly concerned with creating positive smells or avoiding bad ones instead of understanding the nature of smell in itself (Moeran 2017).
Maybe I will one day put together these fieldnotes, enriched with some ethnographic inputs i got from people better versed in urban anthropology than I am. Maybe this will be of some use and lead to some kind of conclusion.
- Arantes, Lydia Maria (2014): “Kulturanthropologie und Wahrnehmung. Zur Sinnlichkeit in Feld und Forschung”. In: Arantes, Lydia Maria and Elisa Rieger (eds.): Ethnographien der Sinne. Wahrnehmung und Methode in empirisch-kulturwissenschaftlichen Forschungen. Bielefeld: Transcript, 23-38.
- El Helou, Maria A. (2018): Urban smellscape. The pheromones of a city and the sense of place. (doi.org/10.33797/CCA18.05)
- Moeran, Brian (2007): Marketing scents and the anthropology of smell. Social Anthropology 15 (2): 153-168.
- Quercia, Daniele (2016): The emotional and chromatic layers of urban smell. (aaai.org/ocs/index.php/ICWSM/ICWSM16/paper/view/13092/12750)
- Quercia, Daniele, Rossano Schifanella, Luca Maria Aiello, and Kate McLean (2015): Smelly maps. The digital life of urban smellscapes. (http://researchswinger.org/publications/icwsm15_smell.pdf)
My very first podcast, The Hive, will be produced and released soon!
If I knew what anthropology is, I would start it earlier and skipped all the years of (re)orientation. Now I finally arrived in a field i am comfortable with. But the more I learn about it, the more it becomes obscure.
Continue reading “The more you read, the less you know”