Discursive identities, food choice and eating practices


Wijzig gegevens

Titel Discursive identities, food choice and eating practices
Looptijd 09 / 2001 - 12 / 2005
Status Afgesloten
Dissertatie Ja
Onderzoeknummer OND1283033
Leverancier gegevens METIS Wageningen Universiteit en Researchcentrum

Samenvatting (EN)

The aim of this project is toprovide a novel account of food choice and eating habits by reformulating these practices as important resources for identity building. While most studies on consumer behaviour place a emphasis on individual perceptions of and preferences towards foods, this research is designed to study the social-interactional features of food choice and eating practices. In this project, a discursive psychological approach will be drawn upon in order to examine how participants talk about food in their daily lives and, in particular, how their talk is designed as to construct different identities. Providing a systematic insight into the daily context of food preferences and eating practices seems an essential precondition for the effective development of communication strategies which aim to stimulate sustainable food habits. In recent years, the concept of identity has received considerable attention in the sociological and anthropological literature on consumer behaviour. These studies show that the pleasure which people derive from goods in only partly related to their physical consumption (Douglas & Isherwood, 1980). Goods are used to create social bonds and simultaneaously function as 'markers of difference'. Bourdieu (1979), for example, argues that people use foods, just as they use preferences in music, art and clothes, to symbolically reproduce their class positions. Other studies have shown the connection between food practices and gender issues (for example Murcott, 1995) and the influence of ethnic identity (Douglas, 1984). While convincingly arguing for the importance of identity matters in relation to food, these studies largely restrict themselves to classical sociological varaibles such as gender and class. In doing so, they tend to overemphasise the consistency and a priori relevance of particular identity structures (see also Caplan, 1997). Indicating a cultural rather that structural pattern, the well-known concept of (consumer) lifestyle partly solves the rigidity of more traditional divisions (Giddens, 1991; Featherstone, 1998). However, life style research does not seem to capture the way in which identities are (re)formulated and managed in daily life, by social members themselves. Precisely this focus seems essential if we want to explain the many apparent inconsistencies in consumer behaviour. Recent studies show that contradictory tendencies such as the 'unabased' pursuit of pleasure and a growing importance of health-related and ethical motives can be found in the very same consumer (Steenkamp 1997; Gabriel & Land, 1995). Incongruities are also noted between self-reported identities or beliefs on the one hand and food behaviour on the other. Willet (1997) for example points out that the majority of self-reported vegetarians occasionally eat meat. In this project, a discurive psychological focus is proposed in order to study how consumers deal with inconsistencies in food practices in a naturalistic environment. Rather than arguing that the path between self-reported identities and behaviour is indirect and influenced by more than one variable, discursive psychology reformulates the problem by suggesting that identities may be just as variable as behaviour. People continously formulate and reformulate their identity in such a way as to perform different social actions with it, such as presenting oneself as an 'average person' in order to legitimise potentially reproachable activities or depicting oneself as Burgundian to account for 'unhealthy' eating practices (Antaki & Widdicombe, 1998; Edwards & Potter, 1992; Potter, 1996). It is because of the wide range of social functions people aim to fulfill through talk, that they regularly use different and sometimes conflicting identities at the same time. People may, for example, present themselves as a vegetarian in order to express their commiment to animal welfare, but at the same time drwa on the identity of a self-responsible human being that looks after his own health as to account for meat-eating. In line with the assumptions of self-categorization theory (Turner et al., 1987), this study will focus on identity as a member's concern rather than as something imposed on them by other people's defenitions. In studying identity work in a largely naturalistic environment and using novel analytic techniques, this study will, however, also add an important new dimension to the prevailing explanations of diverse and apparent contradictory food practices, it aims to: * provide a systematic, theoratically quides, description of the kind of identities people may draw upon while accounting for specific food preferences and eating practices. * provide a better understanding of the varying social functions these types of (possibly conflicting) identities fulfill in daily interactionsand, through that, more insight into co-occurring contradictory food practices. This focus on the mundane context represents a shared concern with recent developments in communication science which stress the importance of receiver-oriented approaches in which the understanding of daily interactions takes a central place (McQuail, 1997). * developing recommendations as to which communicative strategies, aiming to stimulate sustainable food habits, may link up with the symbolic role of identity building in food preferences and eating practices.

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D66000 Communicatiewetenschap

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