Beyond intersubjectivity in olfactory psychophysics

A set of two articles in the most recent issue of Social Studies of Science may interest AHP readers:

Beyond intersubjectivity in olfactory psychophysics I: Troubles with the Subject,” by Morana Ala?. Abstract:

This article provides an experience-oriented relational account that goes beyond a human control of the world. Rather than working with the notion of intersubjectivity (commonly evoked in sensory STS, and still conserving the subject/object opposition), the article reports on how the sense of smell affords a rethinking of our relationship with the world. It does so by challenging the assumption of olfactory ineffability as it turns to a place whose inhabitants speak about smell as a part of their everyday affairs: a laboratory of olfactory psychophysics. There, we attend to a multimodal, embodied language that participates in preparing, running and analyzing scientific experiments. While Western languages are short on specialized vocabulary for expressing olfactory qualities and it feels difficult to talk about smell, laboratory events manifest smell language in its enmeshing with the sensory realm and the world. Noticing these ties destabilizes the idea of agential subject, highlighting instead our pre-intentional sensibility, in its connection with the world. A sister article on ‘troubles with the Object’ (Ala?, 2020) continues to argue that the notion of intersubjectivity is overly narrow, highlighting our immersion in the world (rather than assuming our dominance of it).

Beyond intersubjectivity in olfactory psychophysics II: Troubles with the Object,” by Morana Ala?. Abstract:

This article takes advantage of the sense of smell’s peculiar spatiality to reflect on how we may render our engagement with the world other than through manipulating well-defined objects. The lived spatiality associated with olfaction is not reducible to the known parameters of ‘distant observation’ and ‘reaching toward’, familiar from the visual and tactile modalities. Instead, olfactory spatiality is one of immersion: Odors ask us to give up our dominance while we continue to be involved. The article attends to this immersive quality of the sense of smell by tracing multimodal, embodied qualities of mundane events in a laboratory of olfactory psychophysics, also considering the spatial organization of laboratory chambers, and how researchers fashion their bodies while they recognize the frailty of their enterprise. To engage these complexities, the article illustrates an exercise in experimenting with re-production, re-enactment and re-experiencing. While the exercise functions as a reflection on how to orient a laboratory study to non-ocular dimensions of science, the article, in parallel, enquires into semiotic articulations of smell experiences. By pointing out how smell language, rather than being ‘mute’, speaks the spatial quality of our olfactory experiences, it concludes the argument against the olfactory ineffability, initiated in the sister essay on ‘troubles with the Subject’.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.