The University of Arizona

Deodorized Culture: Anthropology of Smell in America

Marybeth MacPhee


The sense of smell, though rarely considered important in America, clearly delineates cultural boundaries; this is both demonstrated and promoted through marketing and advertising of consumer products. Historical analyses is invoked to explain why Americans have different tolerances for body odor than their European predecessors. Cultural perceptions of smell are assessed according to Mary Douglas's models; they are also related to American views of disease and social structure. Odor control manifests as both the American ideal of self-control and as individual expression, or release. The inherent contradictions of these cognitive models are underscored when American culture is examined in terms of its need to control body and environmental odors.


Smell; Deodorant

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