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Anthropology of Family Food Practices

Constraints, Adjustments, Innovations


Edited By Marie-Pierre Julien and Nicoletta Diasio

What are the factors that govern our food choices at the beginning of the 21st century? Obvious answers to this question would point to social and cultural habits, but the issue is far more complex than this. Changes in national and international economies, the end of political regimes, migration, but also micro-events such as retirement, the birth of a child, varying school times and seasons, or innovations in industrial design, these are all potential factors that may generate a transformation of family eating habits. The meso- and micro-social levels are deeply intertwined in everyday life, and this book focuses on the connections between the two levels and on how they merge and overlap in the creation of new eating habits. In this book the reader will find scholars who analyse how families and households experiment, circumvent and appropriate technical, political, and social modifications in their family food situations, and how they create freedom and innovation under constraint. Grounded in strong ethnographic field research in several countries (Belgium, France, Italy, Norway, Romania, South-Africa), this book is also a contribution to the use of qualitative methods within the domestic space. It will be a welcome source of information for researchers and students in the fields of anthropology and sociology, for industrial designers and for any reader interested in studying social changes from the perspective of food practices.

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Can We Treat the Eater as an Abstraction? On Design, Anthropology and the Rise of “Homo Usus” in Innovation (Olivier Wathelet)


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Can We Treat the Eater as an Abstraction? On Design, Anthropology and the Rise of “Homo Usus” in Innovation


Innovation is a subject of interest to the agri-food industry in many respects. First, private sector organizations need to be a source of innovation to gain or preserve market position in given areas. To achieve this, they must contend with consumers’ capacity to absorb novelty and try to identify and remove obstacles to adopting new products. In certain projects that mobilize collaborative product design approaches, companies aim to address these two issues by incorporating potential future consumers in their product development process.

In this very specific context, consumers and cooks are enlisted at various stages of processes that are initiated, conducted and managed by representatives of these organizations. The social sciences, and in particular ethnography as a field practice immersed in places of ordinary consumption, are used in these processes. As attest several recent publications that have discussed the conditions in which encounters have occurred, the occasions for collaboration between the agri-food industry and the social sciences are many. Methods of collaboration range from industry partnerships with public research centres (Dupuy, 2016) to calling on consultants or agencies (Oliveira, 2012), hiring academic researchers for contract work (McCabe and de Wal Malefyt, 2015) and even including sociologists or anthropologists in the company staff.

As documented in great detail by Franck Cochoy (2011), a sociologist’s or an anthropologist’s collaboration...

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