Smell Culture Studies at the University of St. Gallen

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The University of St. Gallen has long been known for its integrative view of economics, business administration, law, social science and the humanities. Given its holistic course architecture, the so-called contextual studies are a key pillar of the overall educational concept. Students, who are predominately enrolled in top ranked business administration programs, practice critical thinking out of their disciplinary comfort zone. Since the early 2000’s, Claus Noppeney has been teaching various courses as part of contextual studies. Since 2015, the offering has focused on the role of smell in culture, business and society. It is an introductory course tailored to regular business, economics and law students. The readings cover different key thinkers in intellectual history: Aristoteles, Immanuel Kant, Marcel Proust, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Lewis Thomas…

This year, the student papers respond to four key themes:

  1. Trajectories of specific olfactory notes e.g. how has the the smell of coffee travelled through Western society? What are milestones in this development? Starting with the odor of coffee beans up to more recent innovations such as the olfactory alarm clock sensorwake.
  2. Social processes of normalizing scent e.g. how do scent candles become normal? The use of ambient scent in private settings? How do social expectations change and develop?
  3. Controversial scents e.g. Abercombie & Fitch, Sécretions Magnifiques by Antoine Lie for État Libre D’Orange and other scent that trigger public controversy.
  4. Olfatory explorations e.g. sensory ethnography at different sites: retail, coffeeshops etc.

Moreover, a field trip to institutions and discussions with key players in Switzerland is part of the program. A perfumer takes the students on a fascinating journey into the world of perfume creation: How to start with a tuberose? And how to turn it into an multi-faceted bouquet? Till Fiegenbaum at Sueskind familiarizes the students with iconic scents from niche perfumery and openly shared his expertise from the commercial side. Beniamino Aloise and Lucas Heusser, who had recently explored the olfactory dimension of organizational life ,share first hand insights on the role of smell at the workplace. They take the students through the impressive mail operations center at Zurich-Mulligen with a guided tour that also explored the organization as a smellscape – very much along the lines of a recent study by Kathleen Riach and Samantha Warren.