October 20, 2020

The Air of Ethnography: breath, work and class in a small Angolan city

Jess Auerbach

This paper considers air in the coastal Angolan city of Lobito. It explores how scents, air quality and the ability of individuals to control their bodily exposure and interactions with air are important elements of class positioning and interaction. Through ethnographic analysis of the three domains of transportation, work, and exercise the paper draws attention to the ways in which the invisible ‘surrounds’ of individuals are perceived and interpreted, and the power of these interpretations to facilitate or at times block interactions with power and influence. Most importantly, it argues that a perfumed body is critical if one wants to be successful in what is locally referred to as the ‘trafficking of influence’ , and argues that a mastery of olfactory symbolism is a prized skill when it comes to class mobility and aspiration.

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Jess Auerbach C

About Jess Auerbach

Jess Auerbach is a Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at North West University. She completed her undergrad at UCT, MSc at Oxford and PhD at Stanford University. She is the author of From Water to Wine: Becoming Middle Class in Angola and writes for both public media and within the scholarly domain. She is currently conducting research on linkages between the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean islands, and working on a second monograph about Mauritius.