Questioning The Virtues Of Commensality: To What Extend Does Eating Together Improve Social Relationships And Well-Being?
1Institut Paul Bocuse Research Center, France; 2Centre Max Weber, France; 3Université Lumière Lyon II, France; 4Centre Maurice Halbwachs, France; 5Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, France
Eating together, which can be named using the word “commensality” (Grignon, 2001 ; Sobal, 2000), has a lot of implications for human beings, as it is a way of expressing social relationships with others. Nowadays, commensality is often used with a positive connotation. Sharing food is supposed to have many virtues, like improving the nutritional content of meals (Gillman et al., 2000), fighting obesity (Mamun et al., 2005), fighting social isolation or improving family relationships (Larson et al., 2013). On the other hand, eating alone is generally associated with a lower quality of meals and several physical or social pathology (Pliner and Bell, 2009 ; Sidenvall, Nydahl and Fjellström, 2000 ; Torres, McIntosh and Kubena, 1992). However, some researches tend to temper this one-sided vision, underlying the difficulties commensality can also create (Sobal and Nelson, 2003). Following this cautious position, this presentation aims to question these different points of views, trying to understand the implication of such discourses in regard to scientific knowledge and empirical data. It relies on 1. a literature review on commensality in general, 2. a particular review on family meals, 3. an ethnographic work conducted in associations offering shared meals for retirees living at home, in France, during the last 3 years. It will allow us to better understand the way social and moral norms are underlying such a discourse, and to clarify the different forms and meanings the notion of commensality can take.
The Swedish Backstage of the Sociology of Food and Eating: Fractalization of Boundaries in Scientific Work
1Uppsala University, Sweden; 2Linnaeus University, Sweden
In recent decades, sociologists have come to take an increased interest in food, institutionalizing “the sociology of food and eating” through British sociology of the 1980’s. From the 1990's and onward, this strain of sociology has also developed and grown in the Nordic countries. Finnish and Danish sociology in particular, but also Norwegian sociology, have placed the study of eating, drinking and procuring food at the center of its disciplinary endeavors and several scholars have become influential in the sociology of consumption. But less so in Sweden, the largest Nordic country, and it is the aim of this paper to explore the reason(s) for this. In Sweden, social scientific approaches to food and eating have primarily been developed within applied food research, e.g. culinary arts and sciences, dietetics and nutrition. Here, sociological theory is often drawn upon in order to explain issues such as the development of food habits, foodwork and gastronomy, but with minimal or no ambition of sociological theory development. The “audience”, instead, has been the culinary and dietetic professions, the health sciences and public actors with an interest in consumer behavior related to food and eating. Analyzing the targeted debates and research questions posed in the sociology of food and eating in Sweden since the 1970’s, we thus explore the conspicuous absence of food in Swedish sociology, discussing possible paths for a Swedish sociology of food and eating to become as established as in Finland, Denmark and Norway. In particular, we suggest analyses of food industries, rural sociology, welfare state politics and the role of capitalism in shaping consumption through production.
Resituating ‘The Visceral’ Within The Sociology Of Consumption: Examining The Case Of Alternative Food
Lancaster University, United Kingdom
This paper builds upon and extends recent work within human geography associated with the ‘visceral turn’ and related questions of embodiment (see particularly Hayes-Conroy and Hayes-Conroy, 2013). Drawing upon as well as taking a qualitative research project investigating alternative food practices as its starting point, this paper argues for the need to resituate this important concern with ‘the visceral’ within a (critical) sociology of consumption. In doing so, this paper offers a productive critique of the recent and increasingly pervasive trend towards practice-theoretical approaches both to food and consumption more broadly. I argue that whilst the diverse body of ‘practice theory’ has fairly tended towards recognising practices as profoundly and necessarily embodied, within the sociology of consumption more specifically it has tended towards offering a thin reading of ‘the visceral’. That is, practice theory has tended to see embodiment as referential of other phenomena (e.g. class structures), whilst a differentiated focus on the visceral instead reveals a complex interplay of structural forces and political-economic tendencies which both shape and are shaped by the dynamics of this more intimate and sensory realm. In this sense, I argue that we need to synthesise these insights within an augmented practice theory alongside the need to resituate the visceral itself as a key locus of change within consumption practices. Finally, I conclude by outlining some new avenues of enquiry for sociology of consumption which build upon this synthesis, continuing with the example of food but also hoping to broaden it out for future lines of enquiry in other areas of consumption.
Boundaries of Conscious Food Consumption – An Interdisciplinary Multi-Method Approach to Food Knowledge and Consumerism
Technical University of Munich, Germany
Mixed Methods Design for Explaining the Nutrition Behaviour
People of all age and gender consume unhealthy food in their everyday life although they communicate self- and social-expectant normative nutrition knowledge. This shows how objective knowledge is not solely leading to changes in nutrition behaviour. If we look at the nutrition market, the health policy and results from nutritional science, no reliable conclusions about the real motives for consumption are possible. Research shows that taste, socioeconomic status and habits are mentioned to be most important for the individual nutrition and food consumption. Also, status passages in life are relevant in their physical-emotional dimensions for the individual practices of nutrition.
Within the project enable 2.0 FA6/2, we analyse how knowledge about own physical reactions on sensory effects combined with narratives of self-awareness on nutrition behaviour influences the individual buying patterns and consumerism of food. In an interdisciplinary and multi-method approach, we combine biographic interviews with consumer participation gained in the field of technology design (dietary diaries) and natural science (measurements of brain activity (fMRI)) when being confronted with certain food smells and tastes in diverse gender and age groups. By that, we explore normative knowledge about nutrition that is acquired during lifetime and enlighten the boundaries of conscious food consumption. Besides, we figure out how insights into own body (via fMRI) influence participants, affect their food consumption nutrition and change consumerism.
The project is part of the interdisciplinary research cluster "enable 2.0", founded by the German Ministry BMBF, therefore seeks to gain new insights in healthy food choices in all stages of life.