Ordering volatile openings: instrumentation and the rationalization of bodily odors

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3 Scopus citations


Odors define many things: plants, foods, people. Although the rise of instrumental flavor and odor analysis techniques from the 1950s to 1980s, largely driven by the food and perfumery industries, allowed scientists unprecedented access to knowledge about the structures and origins of odorific molecules, these techniques and their influence on the social imagination remain relatively unexamined. Working at the intersection of Gender, Food, and Science and Technology Studies, this paper examines how the technique of gas chromatography-olfactometry (GC-O), key to how perfumers and flavorists managed sensory experience, was mobilized to scientifically categorize the bodily odors of immigrants and women as other. Through analysis of the instrumental and sensory techniques used to quantify as well as qualify bodily odor, I examine how researchers mimicked patterns for ordering the world of taste and smell in their efforts to characterize and master women’s bodily odors. The indexing of bodily odors through GC-O highlighted the porous nature of the body and its smells, even as researchers, physicians, and producers of feminine “hygiene” products promoted commercial anti-fungal medications, douches, and suppositories for their promise to reign in the excess smells of the body and its microbial and mycobial companions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)674-691
Number of pages18
JournalFood, Culture and Society
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 20 2019


  • Sensory politics
  • gas chromatography
  • gender
  • odor
  • race
  • sensory labor
  • sensory science

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies


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