Smell is one of the many senses we deploy to act in and on our world. It is arguably the most visceral, ubiquitous and immediately experienced, but simultaneously devalued and understudied, sense. Smell is often processed in an unconscious manner, exposing social class, gendered, age-based and racialized stereotypes. Smell therefore links to structural inequalities, affecting marginalised client groups who may emit certain smells, abide in malodorous environments, possess smell deficits, or exhibit strong emotional reactions to specific smells. Without relevant knowledge, social workers may associate various smells directly with negative individual personality or group characteristics or misinterpret situations. They could consequently unwittingly oppress subordinated groups, contravening value-based, anti-oppressive and reflexive practice. This article therefore explores the limited multidisciplinary literature on smell, supporting more informed and ethical practice decisions.
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