“It Is A Non-Negotiable Order”
Public Libraries’ Body Odor Bans and Authoritarian Aesthetics
Keywords:Body Odor, Class, Disability, Hygiene, Public Libraries, Race
Most urban US public libraries have rules authorizing spatial exclusion of people whose body odor is described as “offensive,” despite critics’ identification of such policies as anti-homeless discrimination. Focus on socioeconomic deprivation as a temporary obstacle to producing an odorless body, however, obscures librarians’ role in demonizing people with odor-related disabilities. This paper shows how library rhetoric spreads ableist assumptions about embodiment, interpretation and power. Advice literature addressed to librarians presents patrons’ bodies as simple-to-read texts, in which odor is an unambiguous sign of neglected hygiene. Such beliefs uncritically reproduce elements of classist and racist ideology, while sidelining disability as a disposable exception. The article urges librarians to give up claims of epistemological mastery over patrons’ bodies and make libraries accessible spaces for all.
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