[September Online Class] Smells like Xenophobia: An Olfactive History of Otherness


I’m happy to announce that there will be an encore of my class, Smells like Xenophobia: An Olfactive History of Otherness, next week as part of the Institute of Art and Olfaction’s Scent Week programming and in conjunction with their Scent & Society series. If you missed this class last month, this is your last chance to see this talk this year and tickets are likely to sell out again, so don’t wait. I hope to see you there. Details below.

Smells like Xenophobia: An Olfactive History of Otherness

  • Info
    • Tue, September 15, 2020
    • 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM PST
    • Tickets

About this Event

For centuries people have used the language of olfaction to express their disgust and horror at the Other. Who the Other was has been flexible, but the allusion to olfactive disgust remains eerily consistent in the rhetoric of hate to this day. Immigrant children today go to school primed to defend their food from classmates that mock it as “gross,” the same way Huguenots children exiled in England in the 17th century were taunted for their “smelly dishes.” Jewish politicians still field questions like, “why are you so smelly” while giving lectures at Ivy League schools, as they had to defend themselves in the Middle Ages from accusations of “Smelling of the Devil.” Nearly the same insults are used to mock and humiliate the bodies of Black people today as 400 years ago; often only lightly veneered under the respectability of hygiene and dress codes.

In this class, we will briefly explore the use of olfactive imagery in the rhetoric of prejudice, focusing on major reoccurring themes. We will examine scent as a tool for creating ‘in-group’ space and otherness, as well as discuss the science and growing philosophical discourse around why people blindly hate and the part olfaction may play.

This is an online class. The Zoom link will be sent by email 24 hours before the class.


We aim with this class to examine and – above all – challenging historical patterns of communication that relate scent to racist and xenophobic narratives. As such, this session will explore some very difficult topics, and some of the historical images and texts in the presentation will have been originally created to be hurtful – even hateful – to targeted communities.

We will endeavour to give verbal notes to contextualize difficult images.

We are presenting this class in the belief that with knowledge and discussion, society can improve.

This event is present as part of IAOs relaunched ‘Scent and Society’ series. Scent and Society is an ongoing exploration of the multiplicity of perfume histories across time, and across the world.

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