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Title: Feeding the middle classes :taste, classed identity and domestic food practices
Authors: Gibson, Kate Shirley
Issue Date: 2018
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: This thesis develops the insight that ‘good’ taste is associated with middle-class lifestyles (Bourdieu 2010 [1984]) by examining the classed links between food and the performance of identities. I focus on middle-class food practices to explore social meanings relating to the ways in which food choices reproduce class distinction. Engaging in a critical dialogue with Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus, capital, practice, and field, I trace the complex ways in which class and identity are connected to everyday practices of domestic food consumption and provisioning. Based on research with twenty-seven participants in the North East of England, I draw on data generated from mixed methods: semi-structured interviews, food biographies, participant photographs, and exploration of participant homes. In doing so, I produce original empirical findings which extend and complicate sociological debates about class. A central finding is that food practices are played out through classed ideas about individuality, diversity, and authenticity. The processes by which food comes to be domesticated emerged as significant: worthy of continual investment and active personal involvement. This entailed marking boundaries around the individuated self, especially in relation to, and working against, mass consumption. However, probing the minutiae of practices in the intimate space of the home highlighted that while distinction was enacted through social distance from the imagined mass consumer, participants collectively reproduced middle-class food choices and practices. They attached value to similar foods and modes of provisioning and displayed a strategic disposition to accrue and reproduce shared food knowledges. Few studies have explored the subtle ways in which middle-class domestic food practices act as classed social markers. In addressing this gap, I offer a new understanding of a hitherto undertheorized dimension of middle-class reproduction. Through my specific focus on middle-class participants and the middle-class habitus, these findings make visible the classed relationships around valued food practices, which otherwise are naturalised as intrinsically legitimate. By marking themselves as knowledgeable and active consumers, participant narratives reproduce a rhetoric of individual choice which can pathologise others as actively making the wrong food decisions. The findings help problematize these narratives by offering a nuanced critique of the social distinctions participants both rely on and reproduce.
Description: PhD Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

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