Thesis Title: Hazy atmospheres: a sensory history of smoking and vaping, c. 1880 - present
The project will explore the everyday atmospheres of smoking in Britain from c.1880 to the present. Taking in the current rise of vaping (using e-cigarettes), this projects seeks to unearth the overlooked sensory experiences of touch, smell and taste, as well as affect and rhythm to expand an understanding of a practice that is too often construed merely as personal health risk or socioeconomic problem.
By the late 19th century, smoking in Britain had become universal and the mass consumption of cigarettes post-WWII saw a stark shift in the class and gender profile of smoking (Hilton, 2000), while the development of cheap, mass-produced paper cigarettes that replaced clay pipes and fine cigars, created an atmosphere with new scents, flavours, textures and rhythms. The project will examine how these changing sensory, material and affective spatio-temporal experiences shaped and were shaped by the established cultures of class, gender and health. What is more, the recent emergence of e-cigarettes further complicates these issues and poses new questions about the smoker’s identity by offering not only a safer, familiar alternative, but evoking, at the same time, a distinct atmosphere. The key contribution of this project will be to map the historically diverse atmospheres of smoking not only to get a richer understanding of the past but also nuance the ways vaping is sensed today.
The project will hence move beyond traditional, ‘deodorised’ histories (Classen 1993; Smith 2007) and be in line with the ‘sensorial revolution’ in the humanities (Howes 2006) that displaced vision as the main medium for understanding the world. Thus, by capturing these more diffuse, ‘hazy’ atmospheric aspects, which have implications for the ways smoking is extolled or vilified, I will challenge a model that imposes rigid conceptual divisions by reducing smoking and vaping merely to notions of health and risk.