Scent in New Materialism

New Materialism is a growing movement rooted in neo-disciplines such as gender studies or science & technology studies. It challenges contemporary discourse as Karen Barad points out: “Language matters. Discourse matters. Culture matters. There is an important sense in which the only thing that does not seem to matter anymore is matter.”

Recently, a network on New Materialism: Networking European Scholarship on ‘How Matter Comes to Matter’ was initiated by Iris van der Tuin as an EU COST Action. Claus Noppeney is serving on the management committee of the network; as such, scent culture research and projects will find resonance in the academic, business and cultural community, as well as the broader public sphere.

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In the context of the development of scents, issues of matter and materiality are expressed in ambivalent ways. On the one hand, scent is ephemeral, volatile, elusive, transient and non-permanent; it seems to literally vanish into thin air. As a consequence, scent lacks the qualities commonly associated with matter. Thus, olfactory experience appears as purely sensory. Yet, material practices dominate the processes of perfume-making. Perfumers use blotters of highly absorbent paper to materialize the olfactory experience of the scent. Accordingly, Jean Claude Ellena, one of today’s legendary perfumers, describes his work precisely as ”physical work with the material“. Olfactory experience is above all material and follows the ”agentiality of matter“, a key concept in New Materialism.

In the context of the network, the materiality of olfactory experience will be discussed in the third working group, New Materialisms Embracing the Creative Arts, chaired by Marie-Luise Angerer, Katve-Kaisa Kontturi and Milla Tiainen. It first met on the occasion of the kick-off meeting of the network in Barcelona.