This chapter explores the role of dining out in expressions of taste in contemporary society, with special reference to the cultural omnivore thesis. People in higher social classes are more likely to appreciate a wide variety of cultural forms and practices. It is shown that diversity and variety, while of universal appeal, are envisaged in different ways by different people. Some people have a broad repertoire and wide experience, and they are likely to be of high socio-economic status. Wide experience in itself does not necessarily signify or entail exceptional interest in food or dining out, although it will always provide resources for talk, reflection and judgement. For many culinary omnivores, food is an object of considerable enthusiasm. Enthusiasm does not necessarily coincide with a search for distinction but in practice it often does. The omnivore thesis is explored using different operational measures of social class.
Beginning classical social theory introduces students and educated general readers to thirteen key social theorists by way of examining a single, exemplary text by each author. After an introductory reflection on the concept of ‘social theory’, the book is organized chronologically, ranging from Comte to Adorno. The chapters address key themes of classical social theory, including modernity, democracy, gender, class, the commodity form, community, social facts, race, capitalism, strangeness, love and marriage. They present a diverse range of arguments that introduce readers to how classical theorists thought and wrote. The book is written as a tool that promotes independent, critical engagement with, rather than reproduction of knowledge about theory. It answers the need for a book that helps students develop the skill to critically read theory. After short, contextualizing introductions to each author, every chapter presents a close reading of one single key text demonstrating how to break down and analyze their arguments. Rather than learning how to admire the canonical theorists, readers are alerted to the flow of their arguments, the texts’ contradictions and limitations and to what makes them ‘classical’. Having gotten ‘under the skin’ of one key text by each author will provide readers with a solid starting point for further study. The book will be suitable as the principal textbook in social theory modules as much as alongside a more conventional textbook as a recommended additional tool for self-study. It will appeal to undergraduate and postgraduate students as well as educated lay readers.
In the first volume of Capital (1867), Karl Marx sarcastically turns the concept of ‘fetishism’, a concept with which defenders of bourgeois capitalist modernity including Hegel, Comte and Tyler classified (and denigrated) non-European civilizations, against modern civilization itself. In his description of the ‘commodity-fetish’ as the basic structure of the form and dynamic of modern society Marx unfolds what all subsequent sociology would address as the complex play of structure and agency.
This chapter examines an essay by Ferdinand Tönnies that serves as the ‘Introductory Article’ to the English edition of his famous Community and Association (originally 1887; more often rendered Community and Society). Tönnies proposes to examine societies under the perspective of how their members will and want things, and distinguishes between ‘natural’ and ‘deliberate will’, from which he derives his two ideal-types of society-as-community and society-as-society (or association). Tönnies is on the one hand nostalgic about a lost world of (village-type) communal life, on the other hand describes modern society merely as a temporary form of appearance of what still remains its essence – community life.
Max Horkheimer’s essay ‘Critical and Traditional Theory’ (1937) is the most explicitly programmatic statement of the Critical Theory of the ‘Frankfurt School’. It addresses the interrelations between the mode of how to organize social research and the nature of the social reality that is being researched. He rejects what both empiricism and rationalism share, namely a conceptual separation of facts and theories. For both, empiricism and rationalism, facts are to be collected like books in a library and theories are like the catalogue that organizes them. Horkheimer’s critique affects our understanding of what ‘facts’ are and what ‘theories’ are. Critical Theory is presented as neither ‘deeply rooted’ in any existing reality, nor detached from societal interests, but committed to the ‘obstinacy of fantasy’ that must be in conflict also with views prevailing amongst the oppressed.
Dining out, or eating a main meal away from home, is now a symbolically significant popular activity which provides a complementary source of food and companionship. This chapter introduces a book examining dining out both as customers in commercial venues and as guests of friends and non-resident kin. It describes the outline of a re-study of an activity with considerable cultural and symbolic significance. It also identifies key debates in cultural sociology in the twenty-first century around theories of globalisation, cultural omnivorousness, cultural intermediation and aestheticisation.
Eating in a domestic setting in the company of friends and non-resident kin is a significant form of social occasion in contemporary England. Most people eat out occasionally at the homes of friends or non-resident family members. People derive exceptionally high levels of enjoyment and satisfaction from such occasions. This chapter collates data about hosts and guests, using evidence from both the survey and interviews about practical arrangements, the company kept and the foods eaten. It describes different forms of domestic hospitality, considers what food is suitable for which occasion, and the effort put into cooking. It also examines how the occasions are orchestrated and guests made to feel comfortable. The role of reciprocity in maintaining relationships is noted. Domestic hospitality is largely informal with sociability rather more important than the food served.
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, one of the pioneers of sociology in the USA, formulated in his The Souls of Black Folk (1903) a powerful argument on identity in modern society. He describes post-emancipation Afro-Americans as ‘born with a veil’ as they are only indirectly able to gain consciousness of themselves, namely through the eyes of the others who despise them; at the same time, though, the resulting ‘double consciousness’ of being both of and not of this society, can be turned into an advantage: the broken, indirect and precarious vision may see more and deeper. Du Bois talks about more than cognition and epistemology, though: both the African and the American strive to be ‘co-workers’ in the ‘kingdom of culture’. Overcoming ‘the color-line’ is indispensable to the creation of a better, modern, human and humane civilization.
This chapter considers the origins of contemporary practices. It identifies forces accelerating and retarding change including globalisation, informalisation, aestheticisation and commodification. It argues that the principal features of the contemporary ideal of dining out began to form in the 1970s when the appeal of variety and greater flexibility in respect of new foods, procedures, timings and venues grew. Informalisation of manners occurred in parallel. The glimmerings of a new informed appreciation of food appeared in print and visual media which intensified from the 1990s. Familiarisation of dining out, informalisation of manners and the expectation of greater variety in practice sustained the trend towards a gradual revision in orientations towards eating.
This chapter considers the nature of experiences of food preparation and consumption in the home, as indicated by evidence from both the survey and interviews about practical arrangements, the company kept and the foods eaten. It explores gender differences in the preparation of household meals and considers how different types of households provide for their own needs. It is argued that domestic arrangements continue to change, slowly. Family meals, although less frequent, are more practically difficult to stage, which means more shared shopping and cooking for busy families. On weekdays, men are perhaps becoming more involved in decision-making and shopping, a movement towards their becoming more involved in mundane food preparation. Weekends offer other opportunities. Change is most apparent among younger cohorts. While younger women probably cannot abdicate primary responsibility for provision of dinner, arrangements for domestic food preparation are becoming less rigid.