Olfactory Attunements and Technologies: Exposing the Affective Economy of Scent

Jennifer Kitson, Kevin McHugh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


We conceive olfaction as a sense of the elemental—a term encompassing odors and the organs that detect them. Contributing to efforts in elemental thinking, we enlist olfactory attunement as a sensual and speculative mode of aesthetic orientation, an analytical frame for attending to scented matter(s) in the air. Moving in malodorous urban airs of the American Northeast, we encounter new technologies and techniques for curating scented bodies and micro air spaces, fueled by the secretive Fragrance & Flavor (F&F) industry. The F&F industry is creating and promoting “natural” and “pleasurable” scents and atmospheres that impress and inhabit bodies, creating an affective economy that summons, seduces, and habituates moods and memories. We expose the expressive infrastructure of aesthetic capitalism in the realm of olfaction using examples of new digital technologies in transmitting and exercising personalized proprietary scents: AireSpa®, Cyrano by Vapor Communications, and Aroma Gym™, a smell art installation. Operating beneath the radar but in tandem with wellness and the smell arts, digital scenting technologies are manipulating and, ultimately, diminishing the most primal of our environmental senses. We call for olfactory experiments in the “wildlands” of scent, both fair and foul, arguing that olfactory attunements, as artful science and practice, are imperative for multispecies survival on a damaged planet.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)533-553
Number of pages21
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • affective economy
  • attunement
  • elemental infrastructure
  • olfaction
  • tentacular thinking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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