Smells and their meanings

deadline for submissions: 
June 15, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
University of Lille (France)

The sense of smell is certainly less developed in humans than sight or hearing, both of which enable us to orient ourselves in space. This is why the social sciences and humanities have been more inclined to study the other senses. Although it is more difficult to verbalize an emotion from a smell (Dubois, 2009), human beings are nonetheless able to perceive thousands of them and internalize them with a strong emotional charge (Le Guérer, 2002), with the understanding that the "olfactory discourse" also enables humans to express their relationship with respect to the world - adaptation or alienation – based upon a given communicative situation. Given the close link between the sense of smell and the brain, this discourse has a powerful influence on human behaviour (be it a question of food, sexuality or business, for example). Smells, good or bad, generate strong emotions and play an essential role in the construction of memory, especially in the case of remembrance such as Proust's Madeleine (in Du côté de chez Swann); a scent - like a flavour - is a reminiscent medium. 

The ALITHILA laboratory (French language and literature), the CECILLE laboratory (foreign languages and literatures), the GERiiCO laboratory (information sciences and communication), all three part of the University of Lille, are partnering with the CIMEOS laboratory (information sciences and communication) at the University of Bourgogne, to pursue this new field of research in the humanities and social sciences. They call on other researchers to share their interest in sensory meaning and the symbolism of communicative postures related to smell. Members of the research community in the humanities and social sciences are therefore invited to share their work on the olfactory experience by distinguishing the sensory domain (aesthesia) from the reflective sensitive domain (aesthetics), with an eye to reflecting on the meaning and symbolism of this experience (possibly resulting in a kind of "olfactory ethics"), in reference to the "trinity of the senses" of J.-J Boutaud (cf  Parizot, 2013). The interdisciplinary challenge, at the crossroads of literary and info-communication approaches, is to decipher a "rhetoric of scents" (Perrouty, 2006). 

Smells not only structure our relationship to time and space, but also fix our social representations and evoke shared emotions. The point of this symposium is to show that the olfactory sense, forgotten by the philosophical tradition  ̶  except for Condillac and Nietzsche (Jaquet, 2010)  ̶  is fundamental to our construction of meaning, and to show that smell is an inevitable social marker. This implies certain problems of expression: how can one express the unspeakable smell? What are the words and linguistic expressions characteristic of the olfactory experience? To what extent does smell structure the imagination or inspire poetics? There are also a number of communication-related problems: how can one exchange and document information from the olfactory point of view? What role can a smell play in cultural mediation processes? How, with the help of smells, can one be persuasive, and even to encourage us buy via advertising in a commercial context? What are the social rites related to smell?

The "Sens et Senteurs" symposium will be held on Friday 5 October and Saturday 6 October at the ‘Pont de Bois’ campus of the University of Lille (registration fee: 50 euros for full-time professors and researchers, 40 euros for doctoral students). Proposal abstracts in french or english, with a brief biographical sketch, should be sent to and before 15 June 2018. Following a double-blind review of the proposals, the scientific committee will inform participants of their acceptance no later than 14 July 2018.

Web site :

Main axis :

Axis 1 : Smell as a medium of social communication

  • Interpersonal communication through smell
  • Smell in intercultural communication
  • the use of smell in commercial communication
  • the symbolical dimension of smells in social rites
  • smell in cultural mediation
  • smell as an olfactory signature of organizations

Axis 2 : olfactory lyricism

  • How to convey smells ? through which words ?
  • which rhetorical device can we use to speak of smells ?
  • how can olfactory imagination serve a literary project ?
  • which aesthetic discourse about smell ?
  • to what extent does a discourse use smell in order to touch the reader ?

Axis 3 : Smells, representations and the introduction of plots

  • how to narrate smells ?
  • is there an olfactory storytelling in the media ?
  • how does society represent smells through a particular period ?
  • what are the gender stereotypes linked to smell ?
  • how to picture a smell ?
  • how to figure smell and taste ?


Scientific committee :

Michèle Aquien (Paris)

 Jean-Jacques Boutaud (Dijon)
Patrice de la Broise (Lille)

Anne Parizot (Besançon)
Cécile Tardy (Lille)

Paul-Henri  Giraud (Lille)
Paul Rasse (Nice)
Annick Le Guérer (Paris)

Yves Baudelle (Lille)

Joël Candau (Nice)
Jérôme Hennebert (Lille)

Andrée Lerousseau (Lille) 

Constantin Bobas (Lille)

Audrey Moutat (Limoges)


Managing committee :

Jérôme Hennebert (ALITHILA, Lille)

Valentine Coppin (ALITHILA, Lille)

Jessica Kounda  (ALITHILA, Lille)

Andrée Lerousseau (CECILLE, Lille)

Patrice de la Broise (GERIICO, Lille)


Bibliographical suggestions :

Barbet Virginie, Le Marketing olfactif, Paris, Presses du management, 1999

Boutaud Jean-Jacques, Sémiotique et Communication. Du signe au sens, Paris, L’Harmattan, 1998

Candau Joël, Mémoire et expériences olfactives, Paris, PUF, 2000

Corbin Alain, Le Miasme et la jonquille : l’odorat et l’imaginaire social XVIIIe-XIXe siècles, Paris, Flammarion, 2008

Dubois Danièle, Le sentir et le dire, concepts et méthodes en psychologie et linguistique cognitives, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2009

Eliena Jean-Claude, Le Parfum, PUF, coll. « que sais-je ? », 2015

Jaquet Chantal dir., L’Art olfactif contemporain, Paris, Garnier, 2015

Jaquet Chantal, Philosophie de l’odorat, Paris, Odile Jacob, 2010

Julien Mariette, L’Image publicitaire des parfums, Paris, L’Harmattan, 1997

Lardellier Pascal dir. , À fleur de peau : corps, odeurs, parfums, Paris, Belin, 2003

Le Guérer Annick, Les Pouvoirs de l’odeur, Paris, Odile Jacob, 2002

Le Guérer Annick, Le Parfum des origines à nos jours,  Paris, Odile Jacob , 2005

Parizot Anne, « Ici, tout est… Sens : vers un partage des sens en harmonie », Revue française des sciences de l’information et de la communication [Online], 3 | 2013, Online since 01 August 2013, connection on 19 March 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/rfsic.570

Perrouty-Perret Stéphanie, Rhétoriques des senteurs, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2006

Revue Autrement, série mutations, « Odeurs : l’essence d’un sens », 1987, n°92

Revue Hermès, « La voie des sens » , 2016 / n°74

Revue Langage : « Pour une linguistique des odeurs » 2011, n°181

Revue Littérature, « Sociabilités du parfum », 2017 /1, n°185.

Revue Moebius, « Le Parfum », 2013, n° 137

Revue Terrain, « Les odeurs », 2006, n°47