Scent Culture at the University of St. Gallen

The University of St. Gallen has long been known for its integrative view of economics, business administration, law, social science and the humanities. Smell Culture is now part of its contextual studies program.

Given St.Gallen’s 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. The most recent offering 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 covered Avery Gilbert’s introduction to the “science of scent in everyday life“€, the canonical “cultural history of smell“€ by Constance Classen, David Howes and Anthony Synnott, as well as classic reflections by Georg Simmel, George Orwell and others.

Impressionen HSG, Universitaet St. Gallen.. 29.03.2012 Bild: Urs Jaudas

Moreover, a field trip to institutions and discussions with key players in Switzerland was part of the program. Andy Tauer took 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 familiarized 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 ,shared first hand insights on the role of smell at the workplace. They took 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.

Based on this intellectual and experiential input, the students conducted small research projects on their own. For instance, one group explored the smellscape on campus and identified surprising spots. A selection of perfume reviews by Chandler Burr and Luca Turin was the empirical material another group analyzed as an example of the ongoing culturalization of scent. Data from the Milano based trade fair Esxence devoted to artistic perfumery was used to identify patterns in this industry. An auto-ethnographic study of another group explored the olfactory experience of disgust. An updated version of this seminar is scheduled for spring 2016.

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