Infrastructure and Logistics

Scratch-and-sniff Palestine: How olfaction shapes nonsovereign infrastructural spaces

This article makes two related arguments. First, that the continuum of hazards that people can experience in relation to waste infrastructures can include unstable epistemic and political positionings of olfaction, alongside other impingements of human excrement such as toxicity to the human body and damage to ecologies. I show this by paying attention to how people are sensitized to smell and by paying attention to how diverse forms of scientific measurement have responded to embodied attunements under nonsovereign conditions in Palestine. Second, I argue that olfaction can be key to shaping infrastructures’ specific trajectories while also creating open-ended possibilities for the making of political subjects and futures. In Palestine, olfaction is an object of interpretation, a sensory tool for interpretation, and a shifting marker of belonging to different types of collectivities. Holding one’s real or proverbial nose—or not—contributes to the conditions that facilitate or preempt livability there. This article draws on fieldwork among Palestinian environmentalists, Palestinian Authority bureaucrats, and municipal employees between 2007 and 2017 to show how human bodies—and their interpreted and interpretive attunements—must figure in our investigations of infrastructural spaces in the Middle East and beyond.

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Volume 40 Issue 6

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