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(Guest Editors: Simone Dennis and Yasmine Musharbash)

  • Simone Dennis and Yasmine Musharbash: Anthropology and Smoke
  • Yasmine Musharbash: Yulyurdu: Smoke in the Desert
  • Gillian G. Tan: Differentiating Smoke: Smoke as duwa and Smoke from bsang on the Tibetan Plateau
  • Bryonny Goodwin-Hawkins: Monstrous Spectres: Chimneys and Their Smoke in Industrial Britain
  • Dena Sharrock: Smoky Boundaries, Permeable Selves: Exploring the Self in Relationship with the Amazonian Jungle Tobacco, Mapacho
  • Julia Brown: Smoking and Vaping While Being Pharmaceutically Treated for Schizophrenia
  • Simone Dennis: Touching Anthropology of Smoke, Violence and Institutions
  • Georgia Curran: On the Poetic Imagery of Smoke in Warlpiri



Guest Editors: Simone Dennis and Yasmine Musharbash

Simone Dennis and Yasmine Musharbash

College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University
Department of Anthropology, The University of Sydney

Anthropology and Smoke

pages 107-115

In this introductory paper, we contemplate both a variety of anthropological approaches to smoke and how analyses of smoke—as object, material, phenomenon, practice, or political fact—might contribute to anthropological knowledge. We consider these questions in and through the themes cross-cutting this collection, including: the sensuous aspects of smoke (especially in the olfactory, visual and haptic relations it occasions, entails and denies); the politics of smoke (in particular regard to climate change, public health, and Indigenous knowledge); smoke’s temporal dimensions (from the human mastery of fire via industrial chimneys to vaping e-cigarettes); and its ritual functions (encapsulating transition par excellence, curing ills, placating spirits, and marking time). We conclude by pondering smoke’s inherent capacity to escape the bounds we might set for it, including the imposition of highly politicised spatial, temporal, and intellectual constraints.



Yasmine Musharbash

Department of Anthropology, The University of Sydney

Yulyurdu: Smoke in the Desert

pages 116-125

I begin this paper with a nod to ‘the beginning’ by linking smoke to fire, and fire to humankind. Bound up in this deep history of smoke and humanity is a dichotomy cleaving humans from animals and the west from the rest. Taking smoke at Yuendumu, a Warlpiri community in central Australia as my subject, I aim to destabilise some of the certainties entrenched in this dichotomy.
Smoke, of course, is nigh impossible to pin down, literally as well as conceptually. So rather than trying to immobilise it, I follow in smoke’s own fashion and waft across different kinds of fires and different kinds of analytical approaches. Ethnographically, I draw a narrative picture of the different ways in which smoke at Yuendumu permeates everyday life by considering the smoke of breakfast fires, signalling fires, cooking fires during storms, caring-for-country fires, and the scent of cold smoke on blankets, clothes and bodies. Analytically, I move from smoke and how it relates to embodied Warlpiri ways of being in the world, to smoke and childhood socialisation, including baby smoking rituals. From there I shift to the smoke of caring-for-country fires, and on to smoke, memory, odourphilia and odourphobia. I conclude by pondering the potential of a smoke-like approach.



Gillian G. Tan

School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Deakin University

Differentiating Smoke: Smoke as duwa and Smoke from bsang on the Tibetan Plateau

pages 126-136

On the Tibetan plateau, smoke, either as by-product of heat-generating activities or intentionally produced, is ubiquitous. Wafts of smoke rising from the central flaps of black yak-hair tents in pastoral communities are mirrored by yak-dung smoke rising out of chimneys in stone houses of agricultural areas. Observers of summer horse races and other community events might note the presence of thick plumes of smoke emerging from pyres of dried branches, often placed within or near a cairn of stones and prayer flags or latse (T. la rdzas).  To a casual observer, the ever-present smoke might seem homogenous but, for Tibetans, smoke is expressive of multiple contexts and meanings. In this article, I attend to different kinds of smoke as they are articulated in the literature and experienced by nomadic pastoralists in eastern Tibet. Smoke as duwa (T. du ba, dud pa) from everyday activities including yak-dung burning and cigarette smoking and smoke from bsang (T. bsang)—a ritual complex of fumigation and purification—reveal that Tibetan perspectives distinguish kinds of smoke. Understanding where smoke comes from and the contexts of which it is part are crucial when attempting to delineate a conceptual and terminological category such as smoke. Tibetan phenomenological categories broadly prioritise vernacular ways of knowing and classifying, which presents a corrective to a dominant classification of smoke that could be used as rationale to resettle nomadic pastoralists and transform their way of life.



Bryonny Goodwin-Hawkins

Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, Aberystwyth University

Monstrous Spectres: Chimneys and Their Smoke in Industrial Britain

pages 137-145

What does a chimney mean? As Britain industrialised, chimneys and smoke grew out of technological change and expanding manufacturing. Yet, as I demonstrate here, the substances of brick and particulates had – and have - more than material meaning. This article offers a brief ethnography of industrial chimneys and their smoke in Britain, from the nineteenth century to the smokeless, postindustrial present. Taking as my concern how chimneys and smoke have been ‘written’ into socio-spatial symbolism, I show their polarisation between triumphant spectacle and savage monstrosity. I then reflect on their current, spectral, presence.



Dena Sharrock

School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Newcastle

Smoky Boundaries, Permeable Selves: Exploring the Self in Relationship with the Amazonian Jungle Tobacco, Mapacho

pages 146-157

As more Westerners travel to the Amazon Jungle to seek healing through the increasingly popular plant medicine, ayahuasca, they are exposed to an environment pervaded by the use of tobacco smoke. Mapacho is the name of the potent jungle tobacco that is central to the shamanic practices of Amazonian plant medicine healing, regarded locally not as a pathogen but rather as a potent ally: a spirit that can be co-opted as a purifier, healer, protector and teacher. In order to render these functions available to patients, Mapacho must be smoked, its efficacy, along with that of the shaman, activated through the absorption of each into the other. By means of this relationship, Mapacho smoke pervades culturally-recognised boundaries of the Western Self, simultaneously permeating both the internal and external realms that constitute the healing environment. In this paper, I explore the relationship between Mapacho, Peruvian Shipibo shamans, and Western patients, suggesting that the boundaries that are often conceived by Westerners to distinguish each from the other may well be as smoky as the medicine practices they engage in.



Julia Brown

Department of Anthropology, Australian National University

‘Doing Things Little by Little’: Smoking and Vaping While Being Pharmaceutically Treated for Schizophrenia

pages 158-170

This paper explores the experiences of smoking and ‘vaping’ while being pharmaceutically treated for schizophrenia, as well as what the experiences of breathing smoke and vapour in and out can reveal about health ‘care’, toward the self and others. Drawing on ethnographic data collected over 2015-2016 in Australia and the UK, and particularly on patient experiences in the UK where electronic cigarettes had become an endorsed Nicotine Replacement Therapy, I argue that inhaling nicotine via e-cigarettes can, like tobacco cigarettes, be experienced in terms of temporal opportunities for self-reclamation and experiences of health. When patients opted to vape instead of smoke, their sense of self-reclamation allowed for shifted attention toward the movement and materiality of exhalations, and toward how second-hand vapour (compared to smoke) is socially received. Experiences of vaping were, however, contingent on the clinical endorsement of e-cigarettes, and were inconsistent inside and outside of clinical spaces. Further consideration should be given to vaping as a harm minimisation tool in Western societies dealing with widening disparities in health. Ultimately, clozapine-treated schizophrenia patients continue to smoke or vape for reasons that speak to the desire to make ‘time’; to find connections to life rather than focusing on death.


Simone Dennis

College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

Analysing Smokefree: Notes on Senses, Smoke and Violence

pages 171-182

Throughout my fifteen-years-long exploration of tobacco smoking in Australia, I have analysed the practice and the legislation pertaining to it using sensory tools. Ten years distant from the beginning of my engagement with smoking, I can appreciate that a striking feature of the sensory analyses I have made is what they reveal of violence. Included here is (not only) the violence done to the smoker’s own body – by the biotechnology of cigarettes themselves, and by the state; the violence she does to nonsmoking others with her dangerous exhalations; and a kind of violence conducted against a critical anthropology by, precisely, a veraciously interventionist form of medical anthropology. In what follows I reveal some of these violences. In this paper, I use key examples that have featured in my published work before to make the related points that (a) sensory analyses are good for thinking about and revealing powerful relations and (b) that it really matters what kind of sensory analysis we do; some kinds, I suggest, might actually work to shore up the powerful conditions under which a topic, an issue or a problem has emerged. Others might lay those conditions bare and make plain their violent operations.



Georgia Curran

Sydney Conservatorium of Music, University of Music

On the Poetic Imagery of Smoke in Warlpiri Songs

pages 183-196

Smoke, an ever-present source of comfort in day-to-day Warlpiri lives, is also a powerful ritual symbol and theme in the poetic language of Warlpiri songs. Rather than signalling these soothing qualities, in this more formalised sung context, smoke symbolically alludes to tension, uncertainty and unknown liminal states of transition. Here, I analyse examples from Warlpiri song texts to argue that, rather than being a semantic paradox, the cultural symbolism surrounding smoke has a functional poetic purpose in that it flags circumstances of discomfort or unknown states within the Dreaming narratives upon which Warlpiri songs are centred. To illustrate this point, I analyse song imagery in which smoke and other visually similar phenomena are focal.