Organized Panel Session
Studies of modernity thus far have tended to apply visual methodologies such as Foucault’s spatial understanding of power. This paper turns the focus to cultural politics based on the sense of smell, which had a more subtle yet decisive effect on Korean society as it simultaneously underwent modernization and colonization. The cultural politics of olfaction helps us understand the complexity of the modern individual’s self-governance/determination beyond the framework of conflicting concepts like imperialism-colonialism, nationalism-internationalism, resistance-submission, or capitalism-socialism. Throughout the 1930s, the urban experience made individuals more attuned to the scents of others. By mapping such experiences from historical and spatial perspectives, individuals developed a sensus communis to make the kind of distinctions Pierre Bourdieu observes in La Distinction. It was also during this time that nostalgia was associated with the scent of home, and national premodernity with a noisome smell. Meanwhile, commercialization led to the distribution of standardized scents for different national, class, gender, and age groups while simultaneously inspiring the desire for uniquely personal scents. This paper seeks to capture the formative site of olfactory identities by studying urban experiences in publications from the 1930s, primarily the works of Lee Hyo-seok, Yi Sang, Sim Hun, Park Tae-won, and Baek Seok as well newspapers and magazine articles. These texts illustrate how individuals who entered the fluid, uncertain state that Zygmunt Bauman terms “liquid modernity” rebuilt their self-identities through interpersonal dynamics using the volatile and expandable olfactory perceptions as the medium.