Title: Common Scents?: Regulating the Use of Fragrances in Workplaces
Abstract: Fragrances in consumer products have become a contested topic in daily life. Workplace fragrance policies problematize fragrances, which, for many people, are normal aspects of consumer products. This mixed-method dissertation focuses on employees in a large non-industrial workplace with a fragrance-free policy. It examines employee reactions to a policy that requests behavioral changes based on claims that everyday consumption of fragranced products may be harmful to employee health. In order to develop an understanding of how and to what extent fragrances and indoor air quality are problematized in the workplace, I engage a number of different constructs from environmental and consumer sociology. The dissertation expands upon constructs of contested illness (Brown, Kroll-Smith, & Gunter, 2000; Phillimore, Moffatt, Hudson, & Downey, 2000; Shriver & Webb, 2009); framings of environments in bodies (Kroll-Smith & Kelley, 2008); lay assessments of health impacts (Burton-Jeangros, 2011; Collins, 2010; Heikkinen, Patja, & Jallinoja, 2010; O'Sullivan & Stakelum, 2004; Scammell, Senier, Darrah-Okike, Brown, & Santos, 2009) and understandings of the role of scents in social life (Largey & Watson, 1972; Low, 2006; Synnott, 1991).
My findings show that a majority of participants understand fragrance impacts through an individual health frame, as an allergy, that locates the problems associated with fragrance within the bodies of specific individuals who exhibit symptoms due to fragrance exposures. While this orientation has had positive impacts on the implementation of the policy and reducing corresponding impacts on those who are Fragrance Sensitive, the degree to which fragrances have been problematized is limited by understandings of fragrance impacts as allergies. The limiting framework of fragrance sensitivity as allergy has practical efficacy because it helps employees to connect with the idea that fragrances cause health issues for some individuals. However, it also stymies assessments and connections to potential broader environmental health impacts of fragrances in part because allergens such as pollen are generally viewed as benign and only problematic to the anomalous individuals who experience reactions. Limitations of the framework are reinforced by established moral and cultural assessments of good and bad fragrances and the appropriate use of fragrances (Low, 2006; Synnott, 1991).
Chair: Juliet Schor
Members: Brian Gareau, Eve Spangler