Anthropology of Family Food Practices
Constraints, Adjustments, Innovations
Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Table des matières
- Introduction. Between Constraint and Innovation: the Transformations of Domestic Food Practices (Marie-Pierre Julien)
- When politics comes to the table
- An Emergent Mix of Traditional, National and Global Cuisines: Lower-middle Class Consumption in Post-apartheid South Africa (Sophie Chevalier)
- From Shantytown to City Life: How Moral Regulation and Dynamic Inventiveness Structures Roma Families’ Eating Practices in France (Kàtia Lurbe I Puerto)
- Constraints as Drivers in Norwegian Family Food Practices. On Porridge as Tradition and Pizza as Transgression (Virginie Amilien)
- Food Habits in Post-Socialist Romania. Between Shortage and Abundance (Anda Georgiana Becut)
- Constraints to adjustments in domestic spaces
- Temporality and Family Meals: Recurrence is Not Routine. Necessary Disruptions (Marie-Pierre Julien)
- Food Daily Inventions under Age Constraints: the Case of Dependent Retired Couples (Philippe Cardon)
- Feeding young Children with Home-made Food: Routines, Necessary Disruptions and Production of Domestic Rituals (Anne Dupuy / Amandine Rochedy / Charlotte Sarrat)
- Food Practices among Moroccan Families in Milan: creative adjustments of cultural repertoires (Elsa Mescoli)
- Anthropology as an innovation practice
- Can We Treat the Eater as an Abstraction? On Design, Anthropology and the Rise of “Homo Usus” in Innovation (Olivier Wathelet)
- From Village Agricultural Systems to Urban Middle Class Kitchens. The Detour, the Transposition and the Translation: the Three Skills of Professional Anthropology (Dominique Desjeux)
- Conclusions: Creating Freedom under Constraint (Nicoletta Diasio)
- The Authors
- General Bibliography
- Series index
What are the factors that govern our food choices at the beginning of the 21st century? Are they socially constructed biochemical pleasures, economically directed biological necessities, political and environmental issues, social norms, habitus or sanitary regulations? The transformations in food production and distribution techniques of the past 200 years have occurred in synergy with the various forms of industrialization, urbanization and globalization. These changes have given rise to new possibilities of purchasing and stocking up on food, to new consumer practices (Flandrin et Montanari, 1996) and to flavors previously unknown to a part of the population (Capatti, 1989), and have brought along new social, political, technical and sanitary constraints. In Europe as well as everywhere else in the world, health policies that attempt to regulate eating practices are one of the branches of biopower. Historically speaking, this trend has been spreading since the 19th century, with the political organization of nation states, and exists in a variety of times and purposes depending on the country. Moreover, new changes are on the way. While current production systems in all their variety and contradiction seem to be able to feed the eight billion people counted on earth in 2018, they are heavily criticized: a part of humanity remains underfed or is starving, most supply systems are depleting the planet’s resources, and sanitary scandals that constitute a danger for human groups of various sizes regularly come to the surface.
In this book, we look at ways in which eaters experiment, circumvent and appropriate technical, political, and social modifications of their daily food practices. In other words, the question is: “What is the relationship between macro-social changes and domestic food practices?” In order to answer this question, the authors in this book demonstrate ← 9 | 10 → the importance of what qualitative methodologies contribute to Food Studies. Indeed, Food Studies brings together a number of disciplines, which are mainly composed of economic, psychological and biological approaches1. In this context, sociology and anthropology have sought to form a counterweight against the behavioural sciences which emphasize individual risk and responsibility (Macbeth and MacClancy, 2002). This research has shown the social roots of individual food practices and the complexity of adopting a transformation in practice when this is driven by policy, with all its secondary and sometimes perverted side-effects. At the same time, the question of the transformation of practices is of interest both to sociology and anthropology.
By focusing on families, for instance, more extensive field work that observes domestic food practices contributes to further reflection on socialization processes, which is one of the themes on which both disciplines are founded. Since the 1930s Norbert Elias (2000) has thus adopted food practices as a research field from which to develop his theory on the process of civilization. Similarly, Audrey Richards examined domestic food practices and their transformations in South-East Africa (Rhodesy), as affected by colonization (1932, 1939). In her research, food is one of the bases of the bonds of kinship (e.g. “kinship porridge”), an idea that will be developed later by Janet Carsten (2004). This one wrote, by her Malay fieldwork, about a form of “relatedness” allowed by sharing domestic food. The work of Richards became known in France through Marcel Mauss (1950). The latter developed the notion of habitus based on a number of precise monographies. The concept of habitus was renewed by Pierre Bourdieu in the second half of the 20th century, as part of an analysis in terms of social categories, thus renewing with the contribution of Maurice Halbwachs and his precursor work on the various forms of consumption between social classes (1912), including the food consumption of working households. The approach focusing on social inequalities was taken up again in research on food practices carried out by authors like Claude Grignon and Christiane Grignon (1999), Cavaillet et al. (2006), Wills et al. (2011), Backett-Millburn and al. (2011). The notions of habitus (Bourdieu, 1950) and of structuration (Giddens, 1984) were also discussed by Warde (2016) in the context of what he and several other Anglo-Saxon authors call the ← 10 | 11 → theory of practices, which was taken up in France by Dubuisson-Quellier and Plessz (2013), as well as by Gojard (2018).
Because of the everyday habits could be understood next to the exceptional food practices, in a comparative anthropology which was initiated by Mauss, Jack Goody (1982) examined both hieratic and hierarchic societies in order to grasp the conditions under which an “haute cuisine” emerges alongside daily cooking habits. In the USA of the 1940s, Margaret Mead also used the field of food practices to illustrate American culturalist theory and to find levers with which to transform the food practices of American families during the war period (1943, 1945, 1964). At the beginning of the 1970s, Mary Douglas and her doctoral student Michael Nicod applied their structuralist reflections to the field of cooking (1974), and in 1979, Claude Fischler discussed Durkheim’s concept of anomy and applied it to the transformations in French food practices observed at the end of the 20th century. Thirty years later, he proposed a comparison of the domestic food practices observed in several European countries with those found in the US (Fischler et Masson, 2008). More recently, the notions of career (Becker, 1963) and trajectory (Strauss, 1967) were tested on the field of Food Studies by Muriel Damon (2003; 2008). Further field-based food studies gave rise to a reworked definition of the notions of social and cultural identity, particularly in France in the work of Jean-Pierre Corbeau (1992), in post-communist Eastern European countries (Jung et al. ed., 2009), and in England and Nordic countries by James, Kjørholt and Tingstad (2010), thus rephrasing the question of taste through the need to feed oneself (Régnier and Parkhurst-Ferguson, 2014).
The practices of eaters have also allowed researchers to question power relationships within households, such as between adults and children (Diasio, 2004; 2006; Maurice, 2015) or women and men (De Vault 1991; Holm et al. 2015), age categories (Diasio et al., 2009; Brougère et De la Ville, 2011; Mathiot, 2015) or gender categories (Counihan and Kaplan, 1998; Roos et al. 2001; Hubert, 2004; Julier and Lindenfeld 2005; Fournier et al., 2015; Régnier, 2017). Through food, researchers have explored the dynamics of contemporary families, for example the transformations in gendered organization of care work (Julien, 2009; Neman 2017), the relationships into stepfamilies (Gacem, 2002), the impact of turning points or biographical disruptions, as the retirement or the disease of household members (Sidner et al., 2007; Cardon, 2010). Food practices enable family transmission too (Diasio, 2014), even when children introduce their parents to new consumer practices. ← 11 | 12 →
These data can then be analyzed from the perspective of material food cultures (Julien et Rosselin, 2012; Julien, 2013), or they can be studied through the prism of the risks and uncertainties which they involve (Diasio, 2010). In this way, the common object of food practices involves epistemological reflections on the place of the social sciences in the scientific debate on food: how can their contributions be aligned with those of behavioral and biological sciences (Poulain, 2009), more specifically with epigenetics? This short overview of the sociological and anthropological studies on domestic food practices reveals the extent to which analyses of transformation processes are slowly replacing analyses based on social categories.
This book proposes three analytical axes, and is based on mainly European fieldwork (France, Belgium, Italy, Norway, Romania), which was carried out thoroughly and ethnographically and which is here also contrasted with a South-African study. The first axis focuses on the ways in which eaters negotiate, through their practices, the consequences of macrosocial changes, such as the end of communism (Bécut), or of Apartheid (Chevalier), and of microsocial events like a change in status, as is the case for instance for Roma migrants (Lurbe i Puerto), thus making them enter integration schemes that allow them to leave the slums behind. Indeed, changes in politico-economic regimes reveal how the constraining power of such frameworks extends to food practices. This is how Sophie Chevalier and Anda Bécut, using very different methodologies, show how a new political context can give rise to new practices that mix previous habits with new and current norms and actions. Moreover, bio-policies centered on food and health have considerable effects on those who are excluded from their range of action. Such events not only mark an exclusion from citizenship, as marginality is enhanced by the fact that these people are forced to beggary and thus suffer physical consequences generated by the food practices in question, as is shown by Katia Lube i Puerto concerning people living in French slums. In the last chapter of the first section of this book, Virginie Amilien looks at the connections between bio-politics and the transformations of the food practices of Norwegian eaters. Her analysis is based on the archives of the Norwegian Ethnographic Research Institute (NEG)2 and focuses on the connections between Norwegian and European agriculture ← 12 | 13 → policies which, since the end of the 20th century, have promoted national food traditions, examining the consequences this has had on domestic Norwegian food practices as observed by the SIFO (National Institute for Consumer Research, Oslo, Norway).
The second axis focuses on the transformations of practices which occur in individual life trajectories, for instance those put in place to preserve habits and lifestyles in spite of the disabilities brought on by old age (Cardon) or in spite of a situation of migration (Mescoli). How are such situations turned around and circumvented, and how are new ways of doing things invented, in order to maintain food practices or to remain close to them, in spite of the appearance of physical and psychological illness in old age? How are culinary habits and food preferences observed and transmitted in a situation of migration? How are daily temporalities related to the course of a life? How to interpret home-made and industrially prepared food for young children when it is combined with a multitude of daily constraints, including the norms governing good parenting (Dupuy, Rochedy et Sarrat)? The eaters who are studied here are thus not seen as mere consumers, but as producers who, through their daily food practices, put in place uses that transform socio-cultural norms (Clochard et Desjeux, 2013).
This reflexivity of eaters on their experiences has prompted us to include, in the third part of this book, two authors who discuss the place of the user in the procedures of industrial conception, which, when studied closely, reveals its many loopholes. Olivier Wathelet thus examines the place of anthropology in industrial procedures which apply ethnography to a number of core design processes, which raises the question: how can we study the links between eaters and situations? How can we differentiate between anthropological description and a process of performative conception? In the text that follows Wathelet’s, Dominique Desjeux insists on the importance of carrying out a work of translation, for the anthropologist who studies consumer habits. This has become a classic part of the discipline, and it is based on the analysis of the elements that trigger action in precise situations, and not on an analysis of consumers’ motivations as produced by social psychology.
The tools and concepts developed in these studies raise a number of epistemological and heuristic questions. Firstly, how can we apprehend domestic food practices (action, habits, habitus, routines, rituals), and what are the epistemological consequences of these qualifications on our conception of food norms and on the way these are developed and ← 13 | 14 → modified? Secondly, how can we describe the different temporalities that run through food practices, i.e. how can we propose to connect an analysis of situations and an analysis of social processes, and how can we integrate the reflexivity of eaters in the way we construct our inquiries?
Qualifiying food actions: from categories of people to categories of actions
The authors in this book use the terms practice, action, habit, routine, ritual, and technique, but the question whether these are synonymous or whether they signal different approaches when it comes to food studies must here be addressed. The question of scales of observation can help to explain some of these terms and their applications in this book. Indeed, an action can be considered to be a routine on a macro-social scale, at least for the researcher who is not interested in the details but rather wants to look at the repetitions that form a part of the definition of a life-style. On a micro-social level, however, researchers focus on changes happening as a function of food situations that are actually experienced, and on how people commit to becoming involved in several actions (Dodier, 1995), and ask what the underlying logic is (Lahire, 2010) and which choices people end up making. However, if the researcher wants to shed light on a specific topic, this may be included in the study, as is the case for instance with the notion of habit which Katia Lube i Puerto examines in order to insist on the regularities that are produced through repeated actions in the unstable environment of a slum. Thus the notion of routine, which is used by several authors, is taken up in this book and it is applied to diverging purposes. On the one hand Anne Dupuy, Amandine Rochedy and Charlotte Sarrat use the notion of routine to show how actors rely on a stable material environment that allows them to ground their experiences. This way the emphasis is on actions that are repeated in a specific order, which results in lightening the mental and physical burden of the task. These authors even have recourse to the term ritual or to a ritualization of daily life, while Marie-Pierre Julien prefers the concept of recurrence, with reference to Georges Balandier, in order to reintroduce the importance of disruptions and of the complexity of repetition, which are both doors that lead to change. Philippe Cardon and Elsa Mescoli apply the notion of routine in yet a different perspective that aims to demonstrate the way in which lifestyles are defined based on actions that are repeated daily. ← 14 | 15 →
The question of qualifying food actions leads to a reexamination of the question of social norms to understand the change, durability and hesitation involved in certain practices. In an extremely profound article, Nicole Ramognino (2007) defines the various levels of social normativity, and underlines that these levels can contradict one another. By pointing at several levels of normativity the author explains why knowledge is not always the same as know-how, as Jean-Pierre Poulain also indicates when he observes on a scale that is representative of the French national population that there is a clear difference between a good level of appropriation of knowledge about food, and the practices themselves, which turn out to be very heterogeneous. Social norms that are referred to when action is taken not only depend on situations: within one and the same situation we can also see various levels of normativity that motivate one individual’s action and which can be contradictory, thus explaining why the individual did not act as he/she had initially planned, or as he/she had said they would. These dissonances are in themselves spaces which subjects can use to justify and invent new ways of commensality that might resolve some of the normative contradictions with which the individual is faced. This would mean a return to the definition of norms as formulated by Georges Canguilhem (1991), a historian of science, whose concept is borrowed by sociologists and defined as the capacity of the living organism to resolve the problems linked to the constraints of its environment, not by adapting to the environment but by inventing solutions.
The authors in this book thus start from daily actions in situations that are both repetitive and open up the possibility to integrate new elements, in order to question the construction of analytical categories. The question then arises whether we should, as Becker proposes, abandon categories of people and only look at categories of actions. Or else, as the Bourdieu school proposes, should we continue to interpret social facts based on categories of people? A group of Anglo-Saxon scholars have tried to link the two positions and have elaborated what they call a theory of practice with which they propose to reformulate the theories of Bourdieu and Giddens to understand consumerism (Warde, ibid.). This approach has found an audience in France among sociologists who attempt to demonstrate the importance of sociological analyses in our understanding of the obstacles and levers of consumer practices, and to inform policy, in their aim to promote a social transformation that would lead to food consumption that is ecologically sustainable and more in line ← 15 | 16 → with the social groups to which it applies (Dubuisson-Quellier et Plessz, ibid.; Gojard ibid.). However, while an analysis in terms of categories of people is more accessible for policy makers, these works may end up validating the categories of public action. Moreover, they leave aside the sociology of usage as developed in France in the 1960s with the work of Michel de Certeau, Henri Lefebvre and Michel Foucault on usage in the home, work which became an independent branch of sociology in the 1980s with studies on domestic consumption (De Certeau, 1984) and more specifically on the generalization of new technologies used in the home (Akrich, 1992a; 1992b; 1995; Jouet, 2000). In order to pursue the dialogue between Anglo-Saxon and French research, this book, in which references to De Certeau’s work abound, proposes a different approach to domestic food practices and their transformations, leaving behind the approaches based on categories of people.
Indeed since the 1980s the work of Michel De Certeau has been used to understand the ways in which technical or social changes become accepted by users or consumers. Sociology has shown how the user is also a producer of meaning, thus undermining the strict and classic Marxist division between production, distribution and consumption3. Through what De Certeau calls tactics, which are actions that are opposed to the strategies of policy makers and economic deciders, consumers circumvent, divert, experiment and resist the social constraints that govern their practices. These tactics of usage and consumption are difficult to control but contribute to modifying social rules, and they can thus trigger the emergence of new cultural forms. These concepts have been taken up and refined by what is today called the sociology of usage (Proulx, 1994; Vidal, 2012), and an overview of what this approach has contributed seems pertinent at the beginning of a work on food practices.
The sociology of usage questions approaches that take innovation as the only element of social competition, as was the case since the end of the 19th century in the works of, for instance, Veblen (1899), Elias (ibid.) or Bourdieu (ibid.), where it is claimed that innovation is always diffused from the elite towards the lower categories of society. The second contribution of the sociology of usage is a result of its connection with family sociology, and lies in the fact that it shows how new technologies that enter a home change the balance of power between the family ← 16 | 17 → members, thus giving rise to new conflicts and new forms of negotiation. Thirdly, the sociology of usage highlights the importance of taking into account improvisation, which is always present in the usage of new technologies, and which justifies a vindication of the role of users in the conception of the services that are associated with the new technology. Fourthly, the sociology of usage underlines that there are no radically new usages that appear with the introduction of new technologies, but that their adoption is based on previously known technologies and governed by the past, by routines, and by cultural survival. Social usage thus needs time to be elaborated, because it runs into resistance from the social body and carries the weight of habit and tradition, which counter and prevent any rapid diffusion of innovation. We thus see a line of descent and hybridization that forms between old and new practices, with the latter being removed from the prescriptions under which they were produced. This process of composition happens in stages and can result in rejection, abandonment or, quite the contrary, in the insertion of the practice into daily activities. Lastly, the contribution of studies in the sociology of usage lies in its pertinent questioning of the cognitive dimension of acquiring knowledge, know-how, and abilities in the process of appropriation, as well as its examination of the impact of new usages on modes of organizing and on professional identities.
The discussions in this book thus cover the following topics: the impact of unpredictability on the creative aspect of domestic food practices (in the case of a missing ingredient, or a lack of control over cooking times, the absence of a guest who might play a central role in the activity); the connection between habits, routines, unpredictable events, and technical and social modifications; power issues affecting mastery of the new practice, played out between genders and between generations; the role played by multiple temporalities in the various stages of appropriation of a new practice; social and biological effects of a new practice on the acting subject, etc. In the first part of the book the authors take up these issues while also resituating it in its political context, while in the second part the focus is on life trajectories. In the third part of the book the focus is on the ways in which users understand the practice they are faced with. This way, all the authors also discuss the methodological, epistemological and heuristic aspects of their work. ← 17 | 18 →
Constraints and tactics in research practices
The research presented here can be ranked on a continuum ranging from the most anthropological study that uses participatory observations (Lube i Puerto or Mescoli) to the most sociological, in the sense of the French school of Durkheim, and which relies on statistics (Becut). Between these two poles we find the studies by Sophie Chevalier, Virginie Amilien, Marie-Pierre Julien, Olivier Wathelet or Dominique Desjeux, who adhere to a variety of anthropological approaches, while Philippe Cardon, Anne Dupuy, Amandine Rochedy and Charlotte Sarrat all refer to a comprehensive sociological approach based on repeated qualitative interviews and assisted, depending on the study, by photographs taken by the respondents themselves (Dupuy, Rochedy et Sarrat), or those who work with weekly menu journals (Cardon), all of these materials being commented upon by the eaters during a second interview. The epistemological and heuristic analyses proposed by the authors allow us to distinguish three transversal themes: firstly, the analysis of the temporalities that schedule these food practices, secondly a focus on the situation or rather on the feeding process and thirdly the acknowledgement of the reflexivity of the actors involved.
The question of temporality pervades this book, and the authors try to combine a restitution of the power of socially constructed time (number of meals, times, shapes) with alternative temporalities that are negotiated by the individuals in their daily practices (for instance when they live in a slum). This way the researchers can ask epistemological and heuristic questions: how can we observe and restitute the various temporalities at work in people’s daily food practices and consider the transformations they undergo in different terms? How can we analyze the data collected on these temporalities? How can we discuss and combine the multiple temporalities of the fieldwork with those yielded by research, which is also a social situation?
In 2008, Michel Lallemant reminded us how much the French school of Durkheim was hampered by the question of temporalities. First of all, Durkheim, Hubert and Mauss called into question the Kantian principle of transcendent time and posit the social aspect of time as a principle: time is a collective concept. A few years later, M. Halbwachs claimed that time is also plural: “there are as many different sources of time as there are different groups. There is never one time that imposes itself on all the groups” (Halbwachs, 1996: 49). Lallemant thus asks how we might ← 18 | 19 → reconcile these two positions, which seem to be a priori opposed to each other? On the one hand, there are the classic authors who insist on the collective aspect of temporality and who cannot escape the two pitfalls of this approach: culturalism, on one side (see the work directed by Paul Ricœur under the auspices of the UNESCO, 1974), and evolutionism on the other (with Elias, Bourdieu or Le Goff in history). On the other hand, there is a plethora of sociologists who insist on the plural aspect of temporality, especially since Sorokin and Merton (1937) and Halbawachs (ibid.), but who do not converge on the nature of this temporality and on the logic that underlies its typologies: the time of each social class, of each scientific discipline (historical time is not the same as sociological or anthropological time), the time of each type of event, the time arising from different orders of reality, or the time of a specific dynamics, etc. Time and Society, the review founded in 1992 by the publishing house Sage, and the review Temporalités, founded in 2004, are Anglo-Saxon and French demonstrations of the concern with temporality. Lallemant, following Grossin (1989; 1998) proposes, rather, to try to reconcile the two approaches: social relations produce powerful temporal frames of reference which are, however, constantly being renegotiated by social groups, thus giving rise to other more or less marginal frameworks.
In the course of their fieldwork the authors in this book observed a number of temporalities which eaters experience, and this compelled them to analyze the power relations and the negotiations which this brings about: finding new places of food supply and transforming the temporalities involved in supply and cooking after the end of Apartheid or in the wake of a communist regime, or combining the time of Ramadan or a Muslim holiday and the temporality of European working times, heterotopic meals and the effect of disruptions of recurrence, the combining of daily temporalities with those of a life course, sanitary norms and cooking times, etc. The authors thus ask several epistemological questions: how to analyze layered and pluri-dimensional food practices? How to connect the different temporal dimensions, strata or scales? How to turn the multiple temporalities of these food practices into a relevant empirical research object? How to combine a diachronic and a synchronic approach to these food practices, in order to fully reveal their complex nature?
In order to answer the last question, the researchers in this book rely on specific food situations, but in spite of this, the chapters in this book might also be placed on a continuum that would range from a focus on ← 19 | 20 → a mealtime situation, to the entire food process. Dupuy, Rochedy and Sarrat are closest to the first end of the continuum, as they look at the food situation of babies in several households. They talk about the food consumption situation, which is then completed by the interviews that give information on food preparation and supplies. The methodologies put in place by the household appliances industry, which Olivier Wathelet describes, focus on preparation times. On the other end of the continuum, Dominique Desjeux finds that supply, preparation, meals and stocking are all part of the food situation, and he therefore proposes to look at the process through the lens of itineraries, which is a classic approach in anthropology. It can be found in the anthropology of techniques, which studies chains of operations, and in the cultural technology of farming activities developed by André-Georges Haudricourt (1968), or in Goody’s anthropology (ibid.), where cooking practices are restituted in their context (production, distribution, preparation, consumption). This type of methodology has greatly contributed to establishing the idea that cooking practices are activities both of production and consumption, and that the difference mainly lies in the angle from which they are observed. The research carried out by Chevalier, Puerto i Lurbe, Julien and Cardon is more closely related to this process-oriented end of the continuum.
Finally, with the exception of Anda Becut’s chapter, these studies apply a qualitative methodology that puts reflexivity at the heart of the inquiry process, and entails abandoning the idea that inquiries, in order to be objective, should be invisible, as the first sociologists of the French school used to recommend in their more macro-social approach. Such an idea of objectivity cannot convincingly be maintained at a micro- and meso-social level, because these scales require researchers to be closely present in the daily lives of the respondents, or even to participate actively with them. Since the 1960s anthropologists have in their epistemological reflections (Kilani, 2013) abandoned the idea that research would have no consequences on methods and practices of inquiry. Inquiry situations can thus be taken as social situations like any other, with power issues that can be described, in a Foucauldian approach, as a network of actions upon the actions of others. This means that participating in an inquiry commits eaters to a work of reflexivity on their practices which the researchers must take into account, just as they must neutralize their own ideas, in order to construct the objectivity that is necessary in any scientific approach. ← 20 | 21 →
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- Bruxelles, Bern, Berlin, New York, Oxford, Warsawa, Wien, 2019, 342 p., 43 ill. b/w, 2 tab. b/w