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sociological studies of food


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An area of sociology which, with some significant exceptions (as in the work of Norbert Elias on table-manners), is of very recent interest, despite the quite wide-spread and long-standing attention to the rituals surrounding food in the work of social anthropologists. (Claude Lévi-Strauss 's studies, such as The Raw and the Cooked, 1970, are a notable illustration of the latter.) The anthropological interest in food no doubt arises from the attention to the details of everyday life that are a feature of ethnographic studies. The prohibitions and prescriptions relating to food provide a useful vehicle for the examination of cultural differences. Without the same concern to describe the full detail of everyday behaviour, so much of which is taken for granted, ideas and practices concerning food have until recently generally seemed of little significance to sociologists, except in the context either of studies of poverty and deprivation, or of the study of agriculture and industry.

The expanding sociological interest in food stems most obviously from, and is a reflection of, the growing social and cultural significance of food in affluent industrial societies. Whereas the preparation and consumption of food may often have been simply seen as the meeting of a biological need, they are now seen as of diverse cultural and social significance. On the one hand, they are regarded as of major significance to the individual's bodily health, with diet identified as a key health-related behaviour, and a range of studies now examining many aspects of food and diet. There has also been an enormous increase in eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, which are more frequently detected in women than men and are seen as in part a reflection of the cultural significance attached to diet and the body. On the other hand, the preparation and consumption of food within the home are seen as important aspects of the gender-based division of labour and distribution of resources. In addition, the consumption of food in the public sphere is not only an increasingly common leisure activity, but is also seen to be important to the maintenance of the social networks surrounding paid employment (see Alan Warde and Lydia Martens, Eating Out, 2000).

The sociology of food is therefore likely to be an expanding area of research for some years to come. Jack Goody 's Cooking, Cuisine and Class (1982) and Stephen Mennell 's All Manners of Food (1985) give good—though quite different—impressions of the field. See also consumption, sociology of.

Subjects: Sociology.


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