Halfway along Whitechapel Road on a warm early October evening in 2015. A congested patchwork corridor of clothing wholesalers, budget hotels, homeless hostels, high-street retailers and a street market packing up for the day. Shutters are pulled down as the daytime businesses close. Bassy dance music pummels through the panelling of a low-riding hatchback as it passes through the thick traffic. Yogic exhalations of vanilla ‘e-cig’ vapour intermingle with beedi and tobacco trails of pedestrians hurrying – back home, to the cinema, to the doctor, to the shop for dinner ingredients. The sweet rose and frankincense of a mirror-lined Arabic fragrance retailer, open for evening trade, competes with the high street choices of the emerging party crowd. Powdery, citrus, jasmine, lilies and rose for her. Woody, grassy spices and herbs for him.
Whitechapel sits to the immediate east of ‘The City’, London’s central business district. Looking east along Whitechapel Road, the apricot setting sun catches the glass curtains draped over buildings towering on the horizon – ‘The Gherkin,’ ‘The Cheesegrater’ and a cluster of several other less savoury sounding offerings. During the day, the white noise of riveters, buzz-saws and jackhammers accompanies the smell of concrete, sawdust, solvents and fresh paint; the sensory signatures of The City’s eastward creep. Paving the way for the new towers of luxury are the milky and nutty air of white-tiled coffee shops and a fog of herbs – stoned baked pizza and nouveau pan-Asian cuisine. The new constellation encroaches on the aromatic environs of fried chicken shops and curry canteens. An evening chorus of default ring tones and message alerts chirrups away. Plans for the final hours of the week are laid out.
Moving westward, approaching Brick Lane, once best known for its Bengali curry houses, a smoky fog of charred lamb and chicken (emanating from newly opened Turkish restaurants) catches the nose and refracts the light. Passing through the mist of meat fumes is a German couple, mother and daughter. Their hair glistens with the synthetic bergamot of budget hotel shampoo. ‘Es riecht nach Kreuzberg,’ says the mother to the daughter. It smells like Kreuzberg.
What, in a twenty-first century city like London, is the social significance of the transnational flow of ideas and materials that pass through it? How to conceptualize the city’s cultures, without recourse to crude and ill-fitting caricatures of ethnicity, class, the ‘local’ and the ‘global’? How to express the significance of an individual’s dreams and fears, while attending to the contingencies and histories that shape her sensibility? How to get beyond the ways in which wetalkabout both ourselves and each other, to the significance of the ways in which wefeel? The following chapters argue that answers to each of these questions lie in a close attention to the sensory ambience of the city, and the everyday life that underpins it. More precisely, through honing a sensorial attention to a series of the spaces between ‘The City’ and the East End – over an eight-year period stretching from the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis, through the 2011 riots and the Olympics, to the present day – the following book highlights experiences, artefacts and relationships that help understand early millennial London. The hope is to present the reader with an appreciation of the role that oft-overlooked multisensory experiences might play, within the key sociological processes of our age.
Cities are sonorous, smelly and full of both delectable and stomach-churning things. As part of everyday life, urbanites’ evaluations of city’s sensoria inform an array of decisions. Where to sit on public transport? Next to a young woman guzzling a burger and fries? Next to the teenage boy whose personal soundtrack is spilling loudly out of his leaky headphones? Or next to the middle-aged man, who despite spreading his legs inhospitably, is wearing the same aftershave as a favoured uncle? Which way to get to work? Through the maelstrom of the high street, or through the shaded and notably quieter side streets? Who to approach for directions? Where to go for dinner? Where to buy a house? As Richard Webber demonstrates in correlations of housing choice and lifestyle type, the visual appearance of a given locale certainly plays a pivotal role in guiding like-minded city dwellers to the same neighbourhoods (Webber 2013). Although ‘big data’ on the matter is a long way from being gathered, the research upon which this book rests suggests the same seems true of the soundscapes and aromatic ambiences of neighbourhoods. Particular atmospheres seem partly to correlate with particular sensibilities. As the following chapters will demonstrate, there are a great many ways in which the visual, the sonic, the gustatory and olfactory landscapes of cities shape movements through urban space; drawing people towards that which they desire, providing comfort and reassurance while also alerting them to both real and imagined threats.
Whether luring, reassuring, or alerting, the senses – as this book demonstrates – inform many decisions of sociological significance. Much of the work of the senses, however, happens at a relatively microscopic, interpersonal level, invisible at the scale of the whole city. So microscopic, in fact, that such experiences are often felt to be of barely any sociological significance for the individual, let alone the broader mass of cities or societies. Yet, it is this book’s contention that, when aggregated, these experiences, and the sensibilities they are part of, often have significant consequences for the city and society of which they are part.
In this respect, this book works against the cautions offered by a number of influential urban theorists warning against trying to understand the contemporary city from amidst the thick, sensuous clamour of urban life. The sensuous experiences of the city dweller, it was once compellingly argued, are simply too microscopic, myopic, self-involved and localized to lend anything to our understanding of supra-personal processes shaping cities; processes that for the main part, operate at an increasingly global scale ( Soja in Westwood and Williams 2003: 21). Accordingly, for macro theorists of pre-millennial urban space, the preferred means of representing cities, and understanding the life evolving therein, was to set up a lens – at least 20,000 feet, but ideally around 450 miles – above an urban form (Soja 1996: 152). Elevated out of the clamorous urban miasma, the ‘zenith view’ (Boeri in Koolhaas et al. 2000: 358), produces a spatio-temporal gestalt through which gargantuan, globe-spanning flows in capital, commodities, labour and information became clearly visible. Free of the transient clamour of urban life’s sounds, smells and textures, the position previously reserved for angels reveals ‘macro spatial’ maps delineating the apparent ‘organizing principles’ of contemporary cities (Soja 1996: 153). As seen from above, global cities such as London were revealed as centralized ‘command centres’, integral to the integrated global economy and as such, driving the becoming-one-none-place of the world – a world in which serially monotonous ghettos of affluence are surrounded by the undifferentiated squalor of slums (Harvey 1989: 23–43;Davis 2006, 2007). In both the centres and the margins of cities, and in both central and marginal cities, global urbanization visible from on high is credited with ‘overriding . . . history and culture’ (Sassen 1993 : 22–34).
Doubtless, the tools and abstractions of macro-spatial urban theory have helped identify geographies of resource control, capital accumulation and environmental impact, of which today’s global cities are a central part. The global sprawl of suburban McMansions, luxury flats and the simultaneous processes of dispossession and the growth of ‘slums’ undoubtedly lend to the appearance of an increasingly divided yet homogeneously urban planet. Zooming out to a view of the city from 450 miles up does not, however, mean ‘more’ is subsequently encompassed within the ‘frame’. While revealing certain aspects of reality, such generalized representations of urban life are as vulnerable to hypermetropia as the perspectives of the city dweller are to myopia. That is to say, they reveal little of the actual corporeal experience of city dwellers and their relationship to the political economy of the city. Which is shame, for while, from certain angles, many twenty-first century cities look increasingly alike, rarely do they smell, sound, feel or taste like the same place. Or if they do smell or sound like somewhere else, it is not always the same somewhere else to which a city ‘appears’ to be similar. If nothing else, the discontinuity between relative visual homogeneity and the landscapes sensed by the other senses, ask serious questions of the extent to which today’s cities are successfully overriding local histories and culture (Sassen 1993 : 22–34). At worst, the lack of attention to the actual experiences of city dwellers is of significant detriment to our understanding of the problems faced by today’s cities and the solutions to those problems.
Following these critiques, I want to argue that to understand properly the relationship between everyday urban lives and globe-spanning processes, urban scholarship needs to develop methodological tools, and analyses, that are sensitive to the specific textureson the groundof contemporary life. In particular, drawing on a range of pioneering and sensorially attuned scholarship (Classen, Howes and Synnott 1994 ;Seremetakis 1996; Stoller 1997 ;Sutton 2001; Howes 2003; Vannini, Waskul and Gottschalk 2011 ;Back and Puwar 2012 ;Howes and Classen 2013), I argue that an understanding of the pressing social questions of the twenty-first century city is significantly enhanced by a sensitivity to the multisensory ambience of its everyday life.
Beneath the city captured in aerial images and maps is a panoply of materialities (sensoria) – volatile aromatics, sonic vibrations, distributions of heat and cold – that, combined, serve to distinguish different urban spaces, as well as the types of activity that take place there. Consider, for instance, the aforementioned bassy beats, glowing lights and synthesized perfumes that create the atmospheres of the city’s night-time economy. Or, if you prefer something more genteel, consider an early morning autumn walk through one of London’s Royal Parks – the rustling branches of trees that accompany the sweet composting scent of fallen leaves decaying on an asphalt path while a woollen sweater scratches at the nape of your neck. These are just some of the manysensoriathat fill a city.
A tree falling, or even rustling in the autumn breeze, only makes a noise if somebody is there to hear it. In other words, sensoria are only of sociological importance if somebody is there to experience them as asensation(rustling branches, a portend of seasonal change, decaying leaves evoking memories of childhood walks home from school). But of course, such sensations are deeply personal and are often related to biography. For the purposes of this book, what marks one individual’s experience ofsensoriafrom another, is understood as their sensibility.It is through sensibilities, a biographically, culturally and, to an extent, biologically specific filter, thatsensoriabecomesensations.An individual’s sensibility is, as mentioned, partly a facet of the biological body – its ability to hear, see or touch to varying degrees. Sensibility is also, however, highly plastic, shaped by both individual life experience as well as broader social histories in which biographies are nestled, each of which work to determine how a particular sensation is evaluated. It is because of sensibility, the matrix through which sensoria are rendered into sensations, that London’s most expensive flat ends up being No.1 Hyde Park, deriving its value precisely in part because of its proximity to a romantically bucolic landscape of rustling trees, ornamental lakes and grassy lawns. It is because of sensibilities, that cheaper flats can be found above bars and pubs of the city’s night-time economy. Accordingly, alongside an attentiveness to the myriad sensoria that colour urban space, the book also aims to approach an understanding of the countless sensibilities through which sense is made of the materialities of urban space.
From Charles Booth’s illuminating maps (Booth and Argyle 1902), through Park and Burgess’ bird’s-eye representation of the concentric city’s ecology (Park and Burgess 2012), to the contemporary urban theorists’ preference for satellite images (Soja 1996 ;Longley 2002; Florida, Mellander and Gulden 2012), the zenith view has come to dominate representations of the modern city. That is not to say that other perspectives have been absent. The sociological and anthropological interest in urbanism has, in fact, given rise to a number of distinctly more human perspectives on the city, which have taken the analytical lens from on high, re-angling it closer and parallel to the ground. From the second generation of Chicago school urbanists rallying against the broad brushstrokes of their predecessors (Anderson 1961; Becker 1963 ;Whyte 1993; Cressey 2008; Goffman 2008), through increasingly close-up studies of urban British culture (Cohen 1997; Cohen 1998; Willis 1981; Young and Wilmott 2013) to the globally attuned urban ethnographies of the new millennium’s cities (Hannerz 1980; Back 1996; Alexander 2000; Bourgois 2003;Keith 2005; Wacquant 2007; Venkatesh 2009; Goffman 2015), urban scholars have provided rich insights into the social processes covering the last century of urban life.
Even the richest ethnographic representations of urban life, however, fall short of recording and representing the full range of forces carving the social morphology and cultural texture of cities. Urban ethnography’s historic shortcomings seem, in part, rooted in the inherently textual nature of ethnography itself. In recent years a number of ethnographers have started drawing on the opportunities afforded by increasingly accessible audio-visual technologies to develop a range of non-textual forms of analysis and representation. As a result, ‘ visual sociology’ and ‘visual ethnographies’ of urban environments have made significant strides in addressing the erstwhile blind-spots generated by an over-reliance on reproducing spoken words and textual descriptions. A clear antidote to the totalizing vision of high-flying spatial theorists, reconstructed urban ethnographies have opened our eyes to the visual perspectives of the city’s homeless communities (Knowles 2005; Harper 2006), street booksellers (Duneier and Carter 2001), migrant domestic workers (Knowles and Harper 2009) and spectacles of consumption (Penaloza 1998), as well as revealing new angles on the infrastructure of cities (Dorrian and Rose 2003).
However, if the dominant way of understanding life in global cities has been to take the disembodied view from 450 miles up, and the critical response has been to privilege the optics of city dwellers, a significant portion of experience ‘down below’ (Certeau 1988: 92–93) is still missing from contemporary sociological investigations of urban life. Writing in 1882, Gustav Teichmuller developed a critique of the dominant ‘perspective’ deployed by science and philosophy. Noting that ‘all philosophies are [. . .] perspectival images of reality from a certain standpoint’, Teichmuller cautioned sternly against adherence to any one ‘perspective’ (Teichmuller in Ten 2003: 183). Teichmuller’s critique of perspective was not just a critique of the ‘angle’ with which the analytical lens had been set up. Rather, it was, above all else, a critique of the use of a ‘perspectival lens’ in the first place. ‘Lens’, here, is not simply a metaphor for how we ‘look’ at things. Rather, it points toward the ways in which a particular sensory modality came to dominate the production of modern knowledge. In short, Teichmuller wrote, ‘[p]hilosophy has been dominated by a bias in favour of sight’ (Teichmuller in Ten 2003: 183). This bias, we now know, is very real and skews not just Western philosophy but also the social scientific disciplines that emerged out of it. From Aristotle to Kant, through Freud and Foucault, big thinkers have made no bones of placing the visual at the top of a hierarchy prioritized for serious thinking and explorations of truth (Jay 1993; Korsmeyer 2014: 11–31). Vision is preferred for its purported objectivity, for the ability to see at a distance without being emotionally moved. Conversely, at the very bottom of the sensory hierarchy are taste, olfaction and touch, the ‘animalistic’ senses that have been thought to result in more visceral, emotional responses to sensoria. The result of this sensory hierarchy in Western thought, as Teichmuller and others since have argued, has been a very partial account of reality and is of significant detriment to our wider understanding of the world (Jay 1993; Pallasmaa 2005; Howes 2005 ;Korsmeyer 2014). Teichmuller’s solution to perspectival bias was ‘to over-throw this dictatorship and establish a kind ofdemocracy of the senses’ (Teichmuller in Ten 2003: 183, emphasis added.) Yet despite a minor literature critiquing the ‘ocularcentrism’ (Jay 1993) of twentieth-century thought, the dictatorship of the eye shows no sign of abating. If anything, the new millennium has seen a proliferation of optical technologies, visual practices, theoretical lenses and points of view. There is then, more than ever, a pressing need to ask ‘what of the other senses?’ What of hearing, smell, taste and touch, let alone heat-sensitivity, balance and pain? There is, is there not, a great deal more to the formation of subjectivities and social forms in cities than ‘meets the eye’?
It is not that critical thinking about modernity and metropoles has been completely numb to ‘the other’ senses for the last two hundred years. As mentioned, modernity’s key thinkers – including, Nietzsche, Simmel and even Karl Marx – made serious efforts to theorize the relationship between the senses and epochal processes of industrialization and urbanization. Karl Marx, for instance, noted explicitly that, ‘The forming of the five senses is a labour of the entire history of the world up to the present’ (Marx 2012a: 108).
Neither Marx nor Engels sustained a consideration of the senses as a distinct theme in itself. But in Marx’s vivid descriptions of the mills and factories of the nineteenth century (Marx 2012b: 275, 286, 290, 325) or in Engels’ bleak trudge through the congested streets of east London and Manchester (Engels 2012: 23–24), it is clear that both related to the distribution of sensory experience, and specific sensibilities, to the capitalist city’s social structure. Engaging more explicitly and consistently with the senses as part of his broader reflections on modernity, Georg Simmel channelled Teichmuller when he asserted that ‘every sensedelivers contributions characteristic of its individual nature to the construction of sociated existence’ (Simmel, Frisby and Featherstone 1997: 110, emphasis added). Relating this theme to cities more specifically, inThe Metropolis and Mental Life, Simmel also famously predicted the impact that the ongoing bombardment of sensory experiences had upon urbanites. He did so, in part, to account for the emergence of a newlyblasédisposition (Simmel, Frisby and Featherstone 1997: 174–187), a phenomenon later dissected in more detail by mid-century urban social psychologists (Goffman 2008).
The reworking of Marx by mid-twentieth-century cultural theorists of the Frankfurt School also implicitly placed the sensory experiences of mid-century city dwellers at the heart of their interest in modernity’s accumulating catastrophes (Benjamin 1968 ;Benjamin and Tiedemann 1999; Adorno 2002 ;Horkheimer, Adorno and Noerr 2002; Benjamin 2009). From the palid ‘muzak’ that drifted around ‘places of amusement’ (Adorno 2002: 289) to the razzle-dazzle of the advertising industry and the warm glow of neon lights reflecting on wet asphalt (Benjamin 2009: 86), metro-sensory experiences were thought of, by these scholars at least, as both symptoms and causes of twentieth century society’s rapid transformation. In the decades following the Second World War, structuralist anthropology also sought to delineate the hidden organizing principles beneath culturally specific tastes. Again, never referring to the senses, sensibilities or sensoria as such, many of the last century’s most cited anthropological texts of the era are concerned with the ways in which human sensory experiences relate to the reproduction of social order (Douglas and Nicod 1974 ;Bourdieu and Nice 1984 ;Caplan 1992; Lévi-Strauss et al. 1992 ;Lévi-Strauss 1997). However, following the post-structural backlash against anthropology, phenomenology and the ‘subject’ at the centre of both, came two decades of desensitized critical thought enamoured instead with discursive analysis and word games. It was only in the final decade of the second millennium that critical thought returned with any seriousness to more fleshy concerns. Inspired in part by a return to Simmel (Featherstone, Hepworth and Turner 1991) and re-evaluation of mid-century phenomenology (Crossley 1995; Vasseleu 1998; Crossley 2001; Diprose 2002), progressive critical thinking at the turn of the millennium reinstated ‘the body’ firmly at the centre of the new millennium’s moral and intellectual questions.
In terms of urban theory, the attention to ‘embodiment’ yielded new understanding of the relationship between desire and space (Pile 1993, 2013), as well as the spatialization of gender, sexuality (Braidotti 1994; Grosz 1995; Cresswell 1999; Hemmings 2002), race and class, by way of the body. Importantly for this book, the ‘corporeal turn’ also nurtured an emerging literature engaging in the relationships between food, the body and accelerated processes of globalization (Lupton 1996; Bell and Valentine 1997; Atkins and Bowler 2000; Warde 2000a; Ritzer 2004).
Building on the accumulating critiques of ocular-centrism, textual introspection and linguistic fetish, more recent years have seen the emergence of a program of research that engages explicitly, as Teichmuller called for a century before, in a ‘democracy of the senses,’ (Berendt 1992; Bull and Back 2003). This ‘the sensory turn’ (Howes 2012 ) has emerged from two distinct fronts. First, the ground-breaking social and culturalhistoriesof the sensory experience (Corbin 1988, 1998 ;Camporesi 1989; Classen, Howes and Synnott 1994 ;Smith 2003, 2006, 2014; Sterne 2003; Classen et al. 2014); second, a collection of studies exploring the role of smell, taste, touch and sound in an assortment of contemporary cultural and geographic contexts (Seremetakis 1996; Feld 1996; Sutton 2001; Stoller 2002 ;Degen 2008 ;Drobnick and Fisher 2008; Waskul, Vannini and Wilson 2009 ;Wise 2010; Low 2013; Obasogie 2013; Howes and Classen 2013; Riach and Warren 2014).
Despite the occasional fetishization of the ‘affective’ and ‘non-representational’ aspects of the senses (Lorimer 2008; Thrift 2008), the main objective of this ‘sensory turn’ has not been to do-away with a theoretical concern for language or the visual. Nor has the intention been to ignore the power dynamics that ocular-centric abstractions have revealed. Rather, the sensory turn has been at its best exploring the middle ground opened up by a century of oscillation between mind and body, language and emotion. What it has also revealed is that, notwithstanding the relatively late arrival of an explicitly sensory focus, the last century of social scientific and critical thinking hosts abundant resources for theorizing the sensuosity of twenty-first century city life.
Given the advance of social theory through the senses, this is far from the first book to bring a sociological attention to the role of the senses in a twenty-first century city. In recent years scholars have honed their attention on a range of specific areas of city life including enquiries into the production of urban soundscapes (Bull 2000; Raimbault and Dubois 2005; Adams et al. 2006; Adams et al. 2008) and probes into the tactile city (Sasaki 2000; Devlieger et al. 2006; Iida 2010; Devlin 2011). Paying serious attention to the most denigrated of the senses, a small collection of ground-breaking studies has also started exploring the place of smells within cities. Notable amongst those are the pioneering studies, maps and smell walks compiled by the late Victoria Henshaw (Henshaw 2011, 2013; Henshaw and Mould 2013). Equally of note, although less themed around any one sensory organ, are studies into the role of the senses within immigrant’s experience of cities (Stoller 2002 ;Manalansan 2006; Low 2013a), within the production of everyday multiculture (Wise and Velayutham 2009; Wise 2010; Rhys-Taylor 2013a), and in driving urban tourism (Edensor 2006, 2014). These studies complement a growing interest in the role of the senses with regards to urban regeneration of city life (Parham 2005; Degen 2008, 2014; Edensor 2014). The work of Degen and Edensor especially, has significantly broadened our understanding of the ways in which the senses mediate, and are mediated by, the shifting social, economic and physical terrain of major cities.
It is true that the pages of the following book have been inspired by what remains a relatively anaesthetized mainstream of urban theory. However, in light of the remarkable work that has taken place as part of the sensory turn, this book is in no way the sensory ‘awakening’ that was once called for (Stoller 1997: xii). Its purpose, rather, is to relate the insights that have amassed from the sensory turn, and in particular the urban focus of the sensory turn, to a specific consideration of the relationships between an inner-city’s culture, its economy and its social forms. As you will discover, a sensorially attuned attention to the everyday life of the city reveals, with remarkable granularity, the ways in which the city’s social morphology is both sustained, and transformed, across time.
Heartened by calls for social science engaging in a ‘democracy of the senses’, what follows feeds into an argument for a broadly multisensory set of research methods, analyses and representational practices. However, it should also be noted that while the book argues for a multisensory engagement with everyday life, the argument is made, primarily, through a focus on the interrelated senses of taste and smell – particularly in relation to food. To be precise, each of the following chapters centres on specific gustatory sensations and ingredients scattered through the everyday life of the city, from the heat of chilli peppers, the brackish tang of jellied eels and the warmth of Japanese curry sauce to the oily herbs and spice of fried chicken takeaways. This narrower sensory focus draws inspiration from other single-sense studies into the social life of ears, eyes, hands and noses. Therein, the narrowed focus allowed authors to reveal, ‘the contributions [. . .] characteristic [of each sense’s] individual nature to the construction of sociated existence (Simmel, Frisby and Featherstone 1997 ). However, as important as it might be to understand each sense, on its own, for its own sake; above all else such an understanding seems crucial to finally understanding how the senses shape sociality together.
On the subject of senses ‘working together’, smell and taste are described throughout this book as interrelated primarily because a considerable percentage of what we experience as ‘taste’, or rather ‘flavour’, is – anosmia aside – the product of smell. As we realize when pinching our noses while eating, it is the nose that helps distinguish the taste of a raw potato from that of an apple (Philpott and Boak 2014). In fact, without smell, taste and flavour are a narrow combination of bitterness, saltiness, sourness and sweetness. Compared to other senses – touch, vision and sound for instance – taste alone is ill adept at sensing difference. Combined with olfaction, however, taste becomesthe mostsensitive of the senses, primarily because smell itself is sensitive to the slightest molecular variations in any given material. Even more important than the specificity of these senses, although related, are their relationship to emotion. It is almost a cliché amongst biologists to assert that ‘smell reaches more directly into [. . .] emotions than other senses (Gibbons 1986: 337;Ehrlichman and Bastone 1992: 410). The nose’s capacity to sense the specific atmosphere of a given moment, alongside aroma’s tendency to tap straight into the body’s emotional mechanics, are also crucial to the role that the senses of smell and taste play in episodic memory. As the architect Juhani Pallasmaa notes in his advocacy of a fully multisensory architecture for the city, ‘A particular smell makes us un-knowingly re-enter a space completely forgotten by the retinal memory; the nostrils awaken a forgotten image, and we are enticed to enter a vivid day-dream. The nose makes the eyes remember’ (Pallasmaa 2005: 54).
A century before the sensory turn within the social sciences, Marcel Proust (2006) demonstrated to his readers that entire biographical memories, complete with sound, texture and emotions, can be rekindled through the olfactory encounter with the most dilute substance from the past. Many cultures had, in fact, already inadvertently harnessed olfaction and gustation’s ability to conjure meaningful memories of emotional states. From Hindu weddings, to Greek Orthodox Easters and Northern European Christmases, a particular combination of smells and flavours have had an enduring utility in reproducing and transmitting the meaningfulness of cultural and religious rituals. Even in secular contexts, olfactory and gustatory sensoria, often incorporated into specific cultural rituals, have been crucial to shaping who ‘we’ think ‘we’ are (Howes 1987 ;Classen 1990 ;Caplan 1992; Sutton 2001). Phillip Vannini and his colleagues have referred to each cultural event’s specific combination of smells, flavours and sounds as part of that culture’s ‘ sensory order’ (Classen 1990; Geurts 2002; Howes 2006; Vannini, Waskul and Gottschalk 2011). Through the ritualized transmission of a culture’s ‘sensory order’ (its sensoria), along with the somatic rules (sensibilities) by which the sensoria acquire their meanings, culture itself is sensorially reproduced.
That taste and smell are the dual focus of this book, is not to say they are entirely the same senses. Even if we recognize that taste involves the sense of smell, there is no denying that gustatory taste only works in direct contact with the item concerned, and only with the permission of the jaw. As such, and as denoted by the use of ‘taste’ to denote a preference, taste is much more likely associated with sensations that we have already sought out and serves often to satisfy and shore-up pre-established attachments. In contrast to taste, smell on its own, works in both proximityandat a distance. This renders smell a notably spatial sense, working with sight and sound to imbue the body with a relationship with its broader environs. Moreover, while we can close our mouths, we cannot close our nostrils, which, like the ear, are ‘indefensible’ portals into the body (Schwartz 2003). As such, our sense of smell is susceptible to unpredictable stimulation from the world outside our bodies. This makes nostrils not just tools for hunting down the ‘tastes’ we desire, but a sort of ‘look-out’ for threats to the body and the culture that lives through it. Each of the chapters that follows emerges out of a consideration of these specific senses’ qualities, as well as the ways in which they work together to inflect the city’s social formations. In singling out the interrelated senses of smell and taste, however, the intention is not to place these senses at the top of an inverted sensory hierarchy. Rather, the intention is to foreground the very specific role that these senses play within the life of the city, so as to contribute to a broader understanding of the role, and potential, of the senses in the city.
Looking at the history of the city, there is every reason to believe that these senses play an important, if overlooked role, within its twenty-first century urbanism. For instance, from the Roman London that emerged at the start of the first millennium, right up to industry’s flight from the city at the end of its second millennium, a mixture of symbolic lowly smells and genuinely toxic miasma were kept downwind from the seat of power ( West London) in the East End. As time passed, these smells shifted from those of beef boiling, tanneries, burial pits and soap making, to factories churning out sulphurous matchsticks, burning sea-coal, boiling vats of plastic and chemicals (Brimblecombe 1987; Fenger, Hertel and Palmgren 1998). Identified for centuries as a threat to both the spiritual and physical health of the city, such smells also marked bodies associated with them as dangerous. As Henry Mayhew notes, even those ‘working class smells’, smells that weren’t actually a toxic product of their industrious environment, such as the smell of the herring, consumed routinely by the working classes up until the early twentieth century, were feared amidst upper class homes for their mere association with ‘dangerous’ classes (Mayhew 1861: 285).
If bodies marked by the odour of their dwelling were stigmatized, people who were stigmatized for other reasons – their political or religious beliefs, for example – were also historically relegated to parts of the city that smelled ‘bad’. The city’s new arrivals and heretics in particular, were regularly found living ‘down-wind’ amidst the ‘stench industries’, wherein they were doubly stigmatized by the odours that accumulated in their neighbourhoods. West London, by comparison, has historically been a protected environment of sensory refinement, with several large parks serving as the city’s lungs (Windham, 1808 in Smith 2012: 285), and streets such as Regents Street designed specifically to keep the miasmic masses of the east at bay. This history of olfactory zoning, of course, is an aspect of other cities’ histories besides London. A recently unearthed ‘stench map’ prepared by the New York’s Metropolitan Board of Health reveals how important mapping ‘nuisance’ smells was to interventions in Manhattan’s street scape (Kiechle 2015). As Kiechle recounts, while these maps were produced by health officials, and monitored by chemists, regulation built upon lay conceptions of what a nuisance smell was. While most of these were industrial smells, we know from historical work elsewhere that often the value attached to specific smells was largely arbitrary and symbolic. We also know that, in the US, the senses of smell and taste were integral to the ways in which race and racial divides were constructed and mapped (Smith 2006; Obasogie 2013).
It should go without saying that the sense-scapes of London or New York today are vastly different from those of earlier centuries. The development of sophisticated sewerage systems, and the off-shoring of industry in particular, have removed many of the most genuinely dangerous smells from the public spaces of the city. The chemical revolutions of the late nineteenth century also made cleaning products universally available, vanquishing many of the remaining stigmatized olfactory markers associated with individual dwellings. What is more, the paradigmatic shift from miasma theories of disease transmission to germ theory ostensibly lessened the threat posed by noxious aromas. In the realm of taste, the planetary connections forged through the last two centuries of London’s history, as well as the multitude of materials and ideas flowing through them, has also increased the variegation of Londoners’ palates. As we shall see in the coming chapters, despite these changes to the sensoria and sensibilities that suffuse the city, they still play a crucial role within the broader morphology of the city’s social life. Not least, smell and taste are still important to both individual and collective senses of identity, and both continue to play a central role signifying a broader aura of connotations and values ascribed to the city’s ‘other’ people and places (cf.Classen 1992; Manalansan 2006; Low 2013a).
As bodily as they are, processes of socio-sensory attachment have not, historically, taken place outside of space. Rather, connection between people, culture and the senses has often been intimately related to geography. In most instances, the ‘sensory orders’ or sensibilities that typify various incarnations of culture are also the product of discrete territories and their specific histories. Since their ossification at the tail-end of the Enlightenment, national cultures, for instance, have often had their own sensibilities to which nationals are attached and through which they recognize each other. More often than not, it seems, these sensory orders have been shaped quite deliberately by the distribution, or broadcast, of sensations across a particular territory. Building on Benedict Anderson’s account of communities imagined through synchronous acts of reading and recitation (Anderson 1991), Howes and Classen (2013: 84) point to ways in which national communities are not just imagined but actually ‘ sensed’ through the sensoria distributed across a specific territory. The examples Howes and Classen offer are the daily radio broadcasts to which portions of Japanese population perform synchronized aerobics. Similarly, in Gottschalk’s analysis of the ‘ sensory order’ of Israel a sense of a national community is produced through the daily radio broadcasts and the culinary rhythms of the territory (Vannini, Waskul and Gottschalk 2011: 103).
Sometimes related, but also often distinct from the sensory orders of nations and territorial regions, are the sensoria and sensibilities that characterize specific cities and the cultures within them. For instance, despite the city’s overt cosmopolitanism, a Parisian’s domestichabituswas, for a long time, entirely coextensive with the smells and flavours ofla terroir Parisienne.Today, Paris’ public atmosphere of burnt rubber, cigarette smoke, butter and urine is still accompanied, domestically, by the taste of ‘mackerels in white wine, vegetablemacedoinesalad or the humblejambon-beurre’ (Wyatt 2003). As the ‘central place’ of inland France, with a command over the economy of its terrestrial region – and a responsibility for reproducing cultures and traditions across it – the sensoria suffusing Paris were, and to an extent remain, indebted to the territory surrounding the city (Redfield and Singer 1954). Maritime metropolises such as London, New York, Amsterdam and even Venice, on the other hand, have historically had as close a relationship with other cities overseas as they had with their terrestrial neighbours (Hohnenberg and Lees 1995: 70). Thus, while efforts are constantly made to identify the indigenous cuisine of indigenous Londoners (see Chapter 5), the sensibilities underpinning the city’s cultures have had more to do with the global networks that the city’s ports opened onto, than they have with the terrain at its back door. The relationships between different urban typologies and their concomitant sensoria and sensibilities are discussed further in the conclusion of this book. Regardless of whether the city has been more of a ‘central place’, or a node in a maritime network, the smells and flavours found within it were always central to the embodied praxis through which geographically distinct senses of ‘home’ were produced.
But how many of us are at home anymore? It is here, in the hyper-mobility of the twenty-first century, wherein bodies, culture and commodities are increasingly unanchored from discrete territories, that taste and smell appear to be taking on a special geographical significance. One of the consequences of the mobility that contemporary urban living engenders is that the ‘embodied praxis’, out of which a home is made, is so frequently ‘dissembled’ according to the absence of ‘sensory familiarities’ in new locations (Edensor 2006). It is when faced with the alienating experience of dislocation that new arrivals to the city first seek out the imported aromas and flavours of ‘home’ (Matt 2007; Rhys-Taylor 2013a; Stott 2013). This, it seems, is precisely because the encounter with the smells or flavours from the past or elsewhere – a biscuit, a fruit, a herb, an aftershave, a spice – enable the body to rekindle the embodied praxis out of which a sense of home was first made (Seremetakis 1996; Sutton 2001; Waskul, Vannini and Wilson 2009). It is through smells and flavours that the inhospitable terrain of a new home is first made hospitable.
Thus, while London’s culture has always borne traces of its maritime connections, the more recent history of post-colonial migration, global labour markets and geopolitical conflict have seen London’s various neighbourhoods host an increasingly varied assortment of sensoria. Today these include the sensorium of urban Jamaica, with fogs of jerked meat and marijuana punctuating the boroughs of New Cross, Brixton and Hackney. Elsewhere, the toffee and anise of Hanoi’s stews and grills osmose from around The City’s northern fringes. A summer’s night in Dalston is distinguished by its atmospheric allusions to the Mediterranean, the air coloured by the charcoal-grilled lamb and oregano operated by a mix of both the Turkish and Greek Cypriot diaspora who live overseas in comparative peace (Bertrand 2004). Consider also the sensoria that have endured throughout the rapacious changes on London’s famous Brick Lane: the steamy baked dough of Brick Lane’s bagel bakeries on an early Sunday morning, present for well over a century following the arrival of Jewish refugees from eastern Europe. On the same street but 250 metres north is ‘ Banglatown’, with its breezes of cumin, garlic and cardamom, originally anchors for the homesick lascar, nowadays an olfactory overture to parties of tourists and petite-bourgois omnivores. In the midst of urban life, wherein both individual and social life is always on the brink of ‘melting into air’, the nose and taste-buds continue to create moorings for identities and communities, often out of the most vaporous of materialities.
The ways in which the nose and taste-buds are enrolled into the reproduction of urban identities and cultures is largely unintelligible from the angel’s-eye view favoured by many contemporary urbanists, strategists, planners and architects. Yet this book’s explicitly corporeal focus is by no means a distraction from ‘the structuring of the city as a whole [and] the political economy of urban process’ ( Soja in Westwood and Williams 2003: 21). Spurning the disembodied view of angels in no way necessitates adopting a position that assumes those living the everyday life of cities are somehow better positioned to expound upon processes that shape their lives (Duneier and Carter 2001; Back 2007: 9–10). Rather the main purpose ofzooming into the level of the street scape is precisely to reveal the extent to which the globe-spanning political economy of urban process discernible from on high – the apparent ‘hardware’ of urban life – is in fact entirely coextensive with the ephemeral sensoria and embodied sensibilities of city dwellers.
As discussed previously, efforts to relate the experiences of city dwellers to broader historical, political and economic processes have a good pedigree. As already mentioned in the work of Marx and Engels, everyday sensory experiences are regularly mentioned and implicitly related to the global procession of History (Marx and Engels 1975: 301). The tradition of figurational sociology (for an overview, see Featherstone 1987) also went to great lengths to relate the visceral ‘micro-worlds of everyday life’ to the structuring and political economy of the whole. As part of his magnum opus,The Civilising Process, for instance, Norbert Elias (Elias et al. 2000) convincingly relates the emergence of particular forms of disgust, taste and embarrassment (particularly around bodily functions and table manners) to shifts in Europe’s social and political structures following the Renaissance. Similarly, Stephen Mennell has developed a compelling historical account of the ways in which European distinctions between town and country, rich and poor, were produced, and reproduced, through the long evolution of gastronomic practices (Mennell 1996). In an analogous vein, Italian historian Piero Camporesi paints a vivid picture of linking the gradually shifting social landscapes of pre-enlightenment Italy, to the culinary fears and desires of medieval aristocracy (Camporesi 1989). Perhaps most notable, however, are Alain Corbin’s efforts to join the dots between the political, economic and social upheaval within early modern France and emergent olfactory and auditory landscapes (Corbin 1988, 1998). Although focussing intensely on the micro-worlds of everyday life, each of the above authors relates micro-worlds of sensory atmospheres to far larger shifts in social structure and power.
There are, however, limits to these socio-sensory histories’ ability to cast light on both the fine grain detail and the global scale of the processes shaping a twenty-first-century city such as London. Most obviously, the limits of these histories’ utility for this project lie in the conspicuous occidentalism of the processes they describe. In Elias, civilized regimes of disgust and taste originate solely amidst the power struggles of aristocratic Europe and radiate outwards. In the work of both Corbin and Camporesi an epistemological debt to the avowedly euro-centric Annales school (Wallerstein 1979; Braudel 1992) leaves their analyses focussed on developments indigenous to European geographies. Yet, as figurational sociology’s anthropological interlocutors have argued (Goody 2002, 2003), the sophisticated sensibilities, tastes and dispositions that sociologists saw emerging out of the European Renaissance were not peculiar to Europe. Nor did they solely blossom at that particular point in time. Rather analogous regimes of taste and distaste can be seen emerging out of renaissances, efflorescence and civilizing processes everywhere from West Africa (Liston and Mennell 2009; Goody 2009), to the Islamic World, through India to ancient China (Goody 2009).
More than a planet of disparate efflorescences – as material histories of tea, paper, silk, dates, iron, cod and salt demonstrate – the sensibilities and sensoria of one continent, have routinely been tied to the fate and fortunes of others elsewhere (Curtin 1984; Kurlansky 2000, 2003, 2011). In fact, for as long as camels and boats have made it possible, ‘civilization’, where ever it has emerged, has been nourished by the cross fertilization of both sensoria, and sensibilities, from the disparate-yet-networked territories that connected one hemisphere to the other. As post-colonial scholars have demonstrated particularly forcefully, there is even more reason to develop a planetary historical perspective today. Most obviously, as demonstrated in Sidney Mintz’sSweetness and Powerand Gary Okihiro’sPineapple Culture, the foods and flavours of the early modern plantation system were, and remain, embroiled in the asymmetrical relationships between the economies of ‘temperate’ and ‘tropical’ latitudes (Mintz 1986; Okihiro 2009). As we will see from the attention paid in Chapter 2 to the sixteenth-century culinary transformations around the Indian Ocean, or in Chapter 5 to the interconnected port cities of twentieth-century Japan, North America and England, trans-regional histories of the senses become particularly important when trying to understand the culture and social life of a twenty-first century city. Suffice to say that in the contemporary era, in which disparate continents and histories are becoming more tangled than ever, the bounded geographies of the last century’s socio-sensory history offers, at best, a partial account of the longer term processes pertinent to the city.
While sea-faring and camel caravans have long linked up many of the planet’s most disparate locations, maritime metropolises in particular, seem to have played a crucial role in hosting interactions between different regions’ sensoria and sensibilities (Redfield and Singer 1954; Braudel 1982 ;Curtin 1984; Hohnenberg and Lees 1995; Landa 1997). This is particularly discernible when considering their culinary cultures. As Luce Giard notes, ‘Every alimentary custom makes up a minuscule crossroads of histories. In the “invisible everyday” under the silent and repetitive system of everyday servitudes that one carries out by habit . . . there piles up a montage of gestures, rites and codes of rhythms and choices, of received usage and practiced customs’ (Certeau, Giard and Mayol 1998: 171).
Doubtless, nearly all cultures, whether local, regional or national, are built upon innumerable ‘minuscule crossroads’ and ‘invisible’ histories. In the case of the globally networked city, however, these are not simply the invisible histories of the region or nation. Rather, in such cases, the ‘invisible non-histories’ of the planet frequently come into play. Not least, these multi-lateral histories have significant consequences for how we theorize the city’s local culture. As the Cuban anthropologist, Ortiz noted in the 1930s (Ortiz 1995), in situations wherein the confluence of histories and culture is so multi-directional, it made no sense to talk of one group’s acculturation or assimilation to another’s culture. As is the case of the zones of contact between the new and old worlds recounted by Ortiz, London is – and has long been – a site of ‘transculturation’, wherein histories of the Swahili Coast, Western Atlantic Sea Board and the South China Sea have as significant a bearing on the cultural events that unfold therein as do the specific histories of the city itself.
Giard chooses the term ‘invisible’ to describe the historical trajectories of the materials, habits and customs that accrete in everyday life, primarily because these influences are generally insensible within the temporal and empirical frames of orthodox enquiry. However, while these mundane histories are doubtless invisible, they need not remain insensible. Through the application of a multisensory attention to the flavours and aromas of contemporary urban life, the planet’s ‘non-histories’ – or what Paul Gilroy refers to as the ‘primal histories’ of modernity – become more sensible, tangible and delectable (Gilroy 1993: 55). Importantly, by paying attention to such histories as they play out through contemporary sensory experience, we witness the monolithic processes of ‘global homogenization’, meeting the irrepressible eddies, under-tows, counter currents and cross winds of myriad alter-modernities.
In the early twenty-first-century urban scholars have witnessed an increasingly broad range of representational practices and methods admitted as part and parcel of rigorous research practice (Back and Puwar 2012 ;Lury and Wakeford 2012). Urban ethnography in particular has seen an array of multimedia research tools – including video, cinema, still photography, sound recording and infographics – utilized in efforts to represent and interrogate the mechanics of city life. The emergence of audio and visual modes of ethnography was, of course, significantly helped by the promulgation of technologies for recording, interrogating and representing these particular sensory modalities. The growing number of studies deploying phone cameras as ‘mobile probes’, for instance, typify the depth and breadth of the data capture and representational practices available for even the lowest budget research projects (Hulkko et al. 2004; Raento, Oulasvirta and Eagle 2009; Büscher and Urry 2009). Yet amidst the barrage of new data and representational practices, there remains an absence of studies pertaining to as-yet-unrepresentable – but nonetheless potentially significant – realms of urban experience (such as olfaction and gustation).
If the emergence of visual and sonic ethnographies has been aided by the democratization of the technologies associated with them, the relative absence of gustatory and olfactory orientated forms of enquiry might be partly related to the fact that no such equivalent technologies exist for flavours or aromas. If they do exist, they remain within very exclusive, and expensive, fields of expertise: branding agencies, pharmaceutical companies, chemical producers, transnational beverage companies, commercial perfume houses and all but the best funded artists and scientists. The lack of accessible recording and recoding techniques for taste and smell is, in many respects, a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the lack of such technologies has, so far, saved these senses from the ‘computer based metastasis’ that Jean Baudrillard argued had colonized both sight and sound in the twentieth century (Baudrillard and Turner 2003: 103). It does, however, mean that when it comes to practising ethnography, representing and recording the nuances of experience requires careful consideration.
Methodologically speaking, the lack of recording devices ensures that the researcher ‘being there,’ and having all senses ‘switched on’ is an important aspect of a multisensory research, allying multisensory research primarily with ethnography. This is not a bad thing. Some researchers have been so bold as to claim that multisensory researcher’s necessary dependence on shadowing research participants lives, gives the researcher a unique ability to ‘imagine how others might be emplaced in the world’ (Pink 2008: 175). Somewhat more reflexively, but nonetheless significant, Paul Stoller notes that the researcher’s own ‘experience . . . is the key to reducing distances between universes of meaning. As experience expands with time, the boundaries of universes may begin to intersect’ (Stoller 2008: 30).
Slowly-intersecting universes of meanings, or fragmentary translations across sensory experiences, however, are still of negligible help when it comes to systematically recording, and evocatively representing the sensory life of the city. That is not to suggest that there are no ways to both record and represent the multisensory ‘texture’ of the ‘sensory ethnographic field’. A number of scholars, for instance, contend that audio-visual film and video provide the best ways to stimulate an embodied form of understanding in the reader/viewer (MacDougall 2006; Pink 2009, 2012; Bates 2014). Likewise, although often thought of as mono-sensory media, still photography also has a limited utility as a poly-sensory recording device and representational practice. After all, as Goethe argued in his lusty meditations on Italian sculptures and women, humans were endowed with an ability to ‘see with an eye that feels’ and to ‘feel with a hand that sees’ (Goethe and Hamburger 1996: VII). For this, if no other reason, this book adheres to Steven Feld’s (1996) insistence that multisensory ethnography should not become ‘anti-visual’ ethnography. However, this book contends that if it is to address the ‘other senses’, multisensory research also needs to work harder to develop less visual or aurally stimulating recording devices and representational practices; tools capable of communicating and evoking the complexities of the field.
As poets, wine tasters and perfume reviewers know well, the most obvious tool for the recording and re-presentation of these sensuous experiences remains the written word. In his essayThe Grain of the VoiceRoland Barthes meditates on the activity of transcribing sound into text. Although a linguistic translation is possible, the semiotician suggests, language tends to do ‘very badly’ (Barthes and Heath 1988: 179). As hard as transcribing sounds and audition into text might be, the difficulty would seem to be compounded when trying to translate the experiences of gustation and olfaction into words, of which most modern languages are especially ill equipped to talk. For instance, the only English words immediately available for describing the experience of taste and smell, are either emotive and clumsy adjectives – repulsive, fragrant, pleasant, pungent – or un-descriptive nouns-cum-adjectives that identify the object being considered: ‘This orange both tastes and smells very . . . orangey’.
However, there are, still ‘good reasons for writing’ (Pink 2009: 136). For a start, the conventions of ethnographic writing are well understood by you, the reader. Moreover, some of the apparent limitations of text can also be significant advantages. For example, indexical noun-cum-adjectives, as impressionistic as they are, can – as any wine or food writer knows – be effective linguistic tools for translating the materiality of a given sensory event into an intelligible form, and for translating specific experiences across diverse biographies. This all depends, of course, on any sensory description being written up with reference to the likely sensory repertoires of their readers. But when it works, it works. Naturally, language still falls short of accurately representing the full multisensory nuances of the ethnographic field, and the complexity of personal responses to it. Yet despite what Michel Serres notes as the apparent lack of sensuosity in much scholarship on embodied experience (Serres et al. 2008), text can still provide a medium for representing both the materiality and experience of various sensory stimuli. As will be discussed further below, ethnographic writing in particular, sitting as it does in the interstices between literature and science, is ideal for inculcating an embodied understanding of the ways in which socio-sensory processes shape both our own lives, and those of others.
Given its commitment to ‘evoking’ sensations, parts of the writing that follows this chapter might fittingly be described as ethnographic. But ethnography is more to this project than simply a way of writing. It also denotes a set of methods that were integral to how the research was carried out. Thus, even when the prose departs from ethnographic vignettes into theoretical discussion (as it does in every chapter), the discussion is tethered to data generated by ethnographic methods; the hallmark of which is ‘being there’. Which is to say that the inspiration for the following chapters emerges out of a sustained and ongoing ethnographic immersion within the culture, everyday life, social networks and political struggles of inner-east London; my home for the last fifteen years. As with everyday life, at times I was simply an observer (often looking out of a window). At others, I was a more active participant (for instance, when scraping out the detritus from under a food trailer as a favour to a participant, or otherwise gulping down a bowl of cold jellied eels). Sometimes I was merely note taking. A lot of the time I was conversing. The lines between these modes of engagement are far from clear. Suffice to say that, with chapters that cover local developments over nine years, this is not – despite the fleeting nature of the ‘events’ each chapter describes – a hit and run study. All of the topics, and the vignettes that give way to them, emerge out of the repetitious and sustained process of ‘hanging out’ in various locations around the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Hackney and their immediate environs. This is not to say that the examples used here cover all aspects of everyday life in these boroughs. On the contrary, these are but tiny samples of the city’s everyday life.
Some locations, such as the seafood stand featured in Chapter 6, or the international grocer’s in Chapter 2, I visited regularly; two to three times a week for a number of years. As such, the ‘sensory events’ that I have foregrounded have been selected, deliberately, for their pertinence to the broader set of social features and processes that I want to discuss in that location. Many other moments from within these locations, and many other locations I routinely visited besides these, have been edited out, adding to the partiality of these accounts. Other locations, such as the fried chicken takeaway featured in the introduction to Chapter 5, were one of several locations I visited less frequently (sometimes as little as once every month), but which nonetheless were selected as representative of similar locations and situations. Although the chapters focus on a range of specific spaces within the city, it should also be noted that the analyses draw on observations, conversations and texts collected across many locations, from council meetings and architects’ practices, to radio shows, hairdressers, and pubs and is, as such, a ‘multi-sited’ ethnography.
Each chapter opens with a vignette foregrounding an ‘event’ or ‘events’ in the everyday life of the city. These events, which would otherwise fade into the background of everyday life, have been selected for the possible parts they play within the urban assemblage. The decision to start each chapter with an ‘event’ as opposed to, say, a focal object or a person, emerges out of a commitment to an ‘anti-reductionist project that seeks to describe the relations between actual things, bodies, and happenings and the independent reality of these events in themselves’ (Fraser 2006). As such the analysis of each chapter touches on the various economic, cultural, historical, social and political contingencies that shape the event, as well as the ‘fall-out’ of the event itself. Most of the individuals and locations featured in the events havenotbeen anonymized. Exceptions include the grocery shop, its owner and his fiery customer in Chapter 2, each of which have been renamed. Moreover, in an effort to disclose something of the process by which ‘data’ become ‘findings’, it also serves to mention that one of the characters in Chapter 4, ‘Charlie’, is actually a composite of three different individuals. In my time ‘hanging around’ the Japanese takeaway stall and speaking to its customers, a number of points – cuts to expenses budgets, the journey from The City into the East End, a need to avoid ‘odorous’ food for lunch – were raised consistently by different individuals, but never all at once by the same person. Without loss of any important details, these narratives have been reduced to an ‘ideal type’, called Charlie. Doubtless, the resulting story, that of ‘Charlie’, the city trader, going for lunch, provides a more coherent and evocative narrative than the cluster of narrative fragments would otherwise have done. Whether this renders the chapter more of a work of sociology or fiction, remains a moot point. As mentioned above, ethnography, as a form of writing rather than a mere research method, has historically filled the gap between science writing and fiction writing. In fact several ethnographers have, in the wake of ethnography’s rehabilitation (Clifford and Marcus 1986), made compelling arguments for greater use of literary techniques acrossallsocial scientific writing (Richardson 1988, 1990; Rinehart 1998; Kress 1998). Certainly, any sociological reader will have read sociological texts stuffed with fictions, as well as encountering fictions brimful of sociological data (Stewart 1989; Knab 1997). In both cases, the result is, more often than not, a more effective communication of sociological processes than any text claiming to objectively present ‘raw findings’ might otherwise achieve. Accordingly, along with this one conspicuous synecdoche, the following text draws on several other literary devices – poetic prose, metaphor, lyricism, dialogue, third person descriptions, first person monologues, as well as shifting in between past and present tenses – in its effort to communicate more effectively with the reader. And it does so unabashedly.
This book’s focus on the conjoined senses of smell and taste leaves it well disposed to consider key aspects of the ‘social’ city. The focus on taste and smell open directly into consideration of the role of biography and cultural inheritance in shaping individual identities, as well as the ways individuals organize themselves in relation to others. In a global city such as London, this involves a consideration of the ways in which the senses work to shore up distinct cultural identities, but also means considering the ways in which the senses might work to shore up senses of commonality across apparent differences. Conversely, the empirical foci of this book also leave it well placed to explore the forces of repulsion, estrangement and misanthropy that seemingly inhibit sociality in the city. In focussing on both estrangement and association, the subject matter for the following chapters oscillates between both sides of what Les Back refers to as ‘the metropolitan paradox’: the coexistence of transcultural and transnational social formations with entrenched senses of social distinction and separation (Back 1996).
Following this introduction, Chapter 2 explores the role of sensation in repairing micro fissures in the city’s social fabric, particularly those that emerge out of the cramped economic, spatial and social confines of the city’s poorer neighbourhoods. More specifically, the chapter focusses on a heated exchange at a grocery stall that was, in part, resolved through a shared understanding of the sensations that accompany the consumption of hot peppers. Merely a fleeting moment in the everyday life of an unremarkable location, the chapter nevertheless points towards the ways in which sensibilities and sensoria – especially artefacts with transglobal histories – might help shore up transcultural ‘senses of community’.
Chapter 3 explores the significance of transglobal ingredients further in an effort to pick apart legacies of the tangled culinary biographies of early-modern port cities (London and Tokyo in particular). Scratching beneath the surface of London’s new ‘street food scene’, the chapter details sixteenth- to twentieth-century journeys between Japanese, American and European ports feeding into contemporary economic circumstance to imbue particular sensations (crispy bread-crumbed fillet with sweet, mild curry sauce) with notable economic viability. Beyond helping explain the surging popularity of specific types of food in the contemporary city, the chapter also serves to foreground the historical routes of the city’s millennial cultures.
The first two empirical chapters, as described above, seek to explore the planetary histories manifest in embodied tastes and sensibilities, as well as the ways in which these might afford transcultural affinities through the senses. In some respects, these two chapters are part of an effort to explore the ways in which the senses transcend the work of language and discursive meaning to establish visceral ‘senses’ of identity and ‘senses’ of transcultural community. Chapter 4, however, seeks to explore precisely what the previous two chapters ‘frame out’: the relationship between textual media, discourse and ‘ gut feelings’. Specifically, it considers the ways in which media-driven ‘ moral panics’ about abject meat (horse meat and bush-meat) reflect and reinforce the racism that is enduringly articulated as part of the everyday life of the city. They do this, the chapter argues, by anchoring their racist ‘rationales’ in ‘gut feelings’ elicited by narrative framing of abject practices. The focus on the discursive construction of abject sensations and gut feelings is then carried through into the following chapter. Rather than focussing on an acute bout of media-driven panic, however, Chapter 5 takes as its focus London’s perceived ‘ fried chicken problem’. Starting with a cold winter’s evening in a busy, family friendly, chicken takeaway, the chapter zooms out in an effort to trace short genealogies of the various discourses that shape the ‘meaning’ ascribed to the sensoria of inner-London’s fried chicken takeaways. Moving through an assortment of ecological ethics, biological risk calculations and histories of racism, the chapter reveals exactly why this particular food and its consumers are so overly determined as an abject ‘problem’. In conclusion the chapter also notes that the abjection of this inner-city institution and its youthful patrons comes at the expense of recognizing the more remarkable multicultural conviviality that often lies at the heart of the inner-city’s rapidly disappearing working-class neighbourhoods.
The final empirical chapter, Chapter 6, reiterates themes of its predecessors: first, it traces the transcultural history of an everyday dish; second, it reveals the convivial multiculture that convenes around that dish; third, it touches upon the articulation of exclusive identities and social forms through this dish; and last, it maps the historical abjection of the city’s working-class cultures through attitudes to this dish. The dish in question is jellied eels, the research on which was conducted across the final five years of one of London’s last jellied eel and seafood stands. With the stand now closed, the chapter is also a testament to the loss of a particular type of space, and a particular type of sociality. As the concluding chapter to the book argues, such spaces are increasingly lost to the city’s increasing role as a command centre of transnational finance.
Combined, the chapters demonstrate the variety of processes of affiliation and estrangement that the sensoria of the city are embroiled in. The senses are revealed as the cement binding social strata together, as well as the solvents evaporating the boundaries between hitherto distinct life worlds. Beyond dissecting the sensory mechanics of the ‘metropolitan paradox’, the book finally argues that an attention to the fine grain detail of the city’s everyday smells, flavours and textures, can tell us as much, if not more, than the abstractions of macro-spatial theory. In conclusion, the book argues that an attention to the sensations that fill everyday life is in fact an ideal corollary of macro-spatial theory, revealing the ways in which particular sensoria, and especially sensibilities, mediate the ways in which a ‘global city’ is actually global. By the end it will be clear that if we are to fully understand the significance of the transnational flows that pass through the city, if we are to understand the city’s cultures without recourse to ill-fitting caricatures, if we are to explain the endurance of arbitrary prejudice in the cosmopolitan city, it is imperative that we come to our senses.