Making Sense of Perfume

  • Lauren Greehy

Student thesis: Phd


This study examines the co-constitution of olfactory relationships between individuals and perfume. Contributing to sensuous and sensory geographies, this study documents and examines the ways in which individuals come to form and sustain intimate and emotional relationships with specific olfactory compositions. Perfumes are complex commodities that are situated as matter with an agency that comes to affect and generate effects upon those who encounter and embody it. In turn, individual bodies are a form of matter that intra-acts with perfume to transform it by ascribing meaningful associations with it. The study reconceptualises how olfactory relationships can be grasped and interrogated through a unified ontological and epistemological position. The onto-epistem-ological position was formed from the contributions of Henri Lefebvre and Karen Barad. The study mobilises Lefebvre’s critique of the commodity, space, everyday life and rhythm (1991a, 2004, 2014) to grasp and interrogate the nuances of olfactory relationships with perfume as they are formed by individuals. Perfume is conceptualised as a form of matter with agency – able to affect and generate effects through intra-action with other forms of human matter. This reconceptualisation stems from the agential realist and material feminist arguments of Barad (2003, 2007). These conceptual approaches are bridged through rhythm. All matter is governed by an anarchy of vibrations (Bachelard, 2014) which humans come to interpret by organising them into ordered or mechanistic rhythms (Lefebvre, 2004), which we experience sensorially and make sense of them cognitively. With this position, the study builds connections between a broad array of literature from philosophy to the geographies of olfaction. This study is based upon qualitative research conducted between 2018 and 2020. This includes mobile and situated on-site interviews with individuals working in the perfume industry who possess specialised knowledge, and with individuals who consider themselves ‘perfume aficionados’, the arts-based method of smellsketches to create a visual representation of olfactory encounters, and finally an autoethnography. The bricolage of methods deployed in this study sought to capture the nuances of olfactory relationships with perfume as they are experienced sensorially and made sense of cognitively by the wearer. This study presents an account of olfactory relationships between individuals and perfume as they are formed, maintained and performed in the realm of everyday life. The study presents an in-depth account of the ways perfumes are encountered, embodied and performed in everyday life, the memories that participants have with perfumes, and the convergence of prosaic, ritualistic and luxurious practices with perfume. There is a methodological contribution through the use and analysis of smellsketches as visual representation of participants’ olfactory encounters and relationships with perfume. The smellsketches document the meaningful associations (emotional, remembered and performed) that participant’s and I have with the matter of perfume. The scope of this study has allowed me to reconceptualise understandings of olfactory relationships through a material, spatial, temporal and corporeal lens.
Date of Award31 Dec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMartin Hess (Supervisor) & Sarah Marie Hall (Supervisor)


  • Intra-action
  • Everyday Life
  • Smell
  • Matter
  • Sensory Geography
  • Human Geography
  • Olfaction

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