Accepted paper:

'Meat smells like corpses': sensory perceptions in a Sicilian urban marketplace


Brigida Marovelli (Trinity College Dublin)

Paper short abstract:

Based on my in-depth ethnographic research (2008-2012), this article demonstrates that it is possible to analyse the changes in the urban social context of food markets though accounts of the sensory experience.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper I analyse how the tendency to sanitising urban spaces has affected an urban marketplace ('La Pescheria', Catania, Sicily) and how this transformation is reflected in the sensory experience of the space itself. Local authorities aim to render the market more appealing for a new clientele, mainly tourists and gastronomic experts. The reactions to this urban gentrification attempt is observable through ethnographic accounts of people' sensory experience, which informs what kind of social order is maintained and/or contested within the market. Focusing on what is allowed to be experienced helps to unveil stratification of meanings, which demonstrate that bodily knowledge is deeply connected to space. The relationship with urban space appears to be active, complex and multi-sensory. The market is seen as a space under construction, in which cultural values are intertwined within the economic system. Pervasive smells provoke disgust, informing a social order in which blood, death and decomposition are hidden from customers. Moreover the increasing distance between food and buyers provokes suspicions and resistance within the market and the de-materialisation of food introduces anxieties. The shift in the direction of a more sanitised and secluded urban space encounters resistance and a smelly, noisy market can be understood as a space of disobedience, in which noise and smell become a statement against authority.

panel Urba003
Ethnographies of urban public spaces