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The King Invites

Performing Power at a Courtly Dining Table

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Daniëlle De Vooght

This book was awarded the «Joop Witteveenprijs 2012».
In the aftermath of the French Revolution, the role of the monarchy in Western Europe was redefined. Together with the absolutist sovereigns, the historian’s interest in courts and court life in the nineteenth century seems to have vanished.
This book investigates what happened to the institution of the monarchy in the nineteenth century. More specifically, it examines whether the nineteenth-century Belgian monarchs can be described as influential, or even powerful. The volume also deals with another hiatus in history writing, namely food at nineteenth-century courts. The author addresses these two issues by examining the Belgian king and queen’s dinner guests, as well as the food that was served at the palace. She considers questions such as who was invited, who got to share a table, how did the guest lists evolve over time, was the food adjusted according to the guests and how did the food evolve?
A social network analysis of the dinner guests and a qualitative analysis of the court food are used as tools to tackle these questions. In this way, this book deals with issues that touch upon the very core of society’s development: power, hierarchies, status, imitation, segregation and distinction.

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PART I. THINKING ABOUT THE EATING HABITS OF NINETEENTH-CENTURY ROYALS

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PART I THINKING ABOUT THE EATING HABITS OF NINETEENTH-CENTURY ROYALS 37 CHAPTER 1 Demarcating Power I. The Power of Relationships According to Anthony Giddens, the social framework in which peo- ple subsist is not merely a random array of events or actions. People’s undertakings are structured by latent regularities that exist within peo- ple’s behavior as well as in their relationships with each other.1 Alt- hough the structure/agency-debate remains one of the “unresolved” issues within sociological theory,2 the idea that people and their behav- ior are at least in part defined by their position within a complex of relationships is widely accepted. The figurational sociology of Norbert Elias is a well-known example of this relational worldview, even though he did not refer to structure when describing society.3 In The Court Society, Elias explained why he thought it was necessary to come up with a concept like figuration: The traditional debate on the role of the individual in history sometimes starts from the assumption that the antithesis between historians who con- centrate on “individual phenomena” on the one hand, and on “social phe- nomena” on the other, is irreconcilable and inevitable. But this antinomy is in fact quite unreal. It can be explained only in the context of two political- 1 Giddens, A. (1993). Sociology. Polity Press, Cambridge, p. 18. 2 Ibid., p. 718. “There are several basic theoretical dilemmas […] One dilemma concerns human action and social structure. It is: How far are we creative human actors, actively controlling the...

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