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This article examines the essential oils that are the central tools of aromatherapy and uses them as a case study for different approaches to material culture. It considers the conceptual and political implications of thinking of essential oils as, in turn, commodities, materials and essences. I argue that both cultural studies and aromatherapy have something to learn from each other. Classic materialist approaches might do well to focus more attention on the material properties and effects of things. Aromatherapy, on the other hand, could benefit from the enriched political understanding associated with classic materialist critique. New materialist strains of cultural studies may also find the vibrancy of matter that underpins many CAM/New Age practices worthy of examination.
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