Sensory Science in Tension

How Environmental Odour Sensing Involves Skills, Affects and Ethics

  • François-Joseph Daniel ENGEES


For the last 15 years, sensory science has frequently been recommended to industrial actors to monitor odours, assess the quality of the environment and improve their factories’ functioning. Resident “sniffing teams” have been put in place in different contexts to assess odorous pollution. These teams are groups of local residents living in the neighbourhoods of industrial facilities, who have been trained to report pollution emissions. This article describes these teams as sensory devices and argues that their functioning relies on the consent of the residents to allow themselves to “be affected differently” by smells – from annoyance to interest and curiosity about odour recognition and reporting activity. This consent, which is based on an ‘ethic’ of sensing, centered on the sniffers’ own feelings, is delicate, tense and reversible, given the emotionally-loaded contexts of odorous pollution.


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