Loughborough University
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Eating your words: constructing food and eating practices in mealtime conversation

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posted on 2010-10-29, 11:31 authored by Sarah Wiggins, Sally Wiggins
This thesis examines the construction and action of food evaluations in mealtime conversation. It takes a social constructionist approach to eating, arguing that `talking food' is inseparable from, and thus constructive of, the practices around food and drink consumption. This challenges current psychological thinking on eating, which is typically based on a cognitive-experimental model of attitudes and intentions to eat. I argue that this does not adequately take into account the social nature of food and the way in which food and eating is embedded in everyday interaction. The thesis examines instances of family mealtimes, as a way of looking at food in interaction. Data is taken from the tape-recorded conversations during these interactions. Conversation analytic and discursive psychological approaches were used to analyse the data corpus, with a focus on participants' usage of food and drink evaluations. These evaluations were examined as part of the situated activities of the meal such as offering or requesting food, and justifying eating habits. The analysis looks at different types of food evaluations: those that are associatedw ith the food and those associated with the person evaluating the food. These types are seen to be specific to either items or categories of food, and are rhetorically designed to counter challenges. Finally, the analysis considers how embodied eating sensations such as `gustatory pleasure' are constructed through evaluative expressions. It is argued that food and drink evaluations cannot be treated as separate mental or physical states (such as food attitudes or preferences) as they are bound up with the structure of interaction at the micro-level of speaker turn organisation. Instead, food evaluations can be regarded as part of, and as constructing, the practice of eating as well as contributing to our notions of food sensations and individual taste. The analysis and approach taken in this thesis therefore suggest that we need to reconceptualise eating and consumption in terms of discursive activities in interaction.



  • Social Sciences


  • Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies


© Sarah Wiggins

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

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  • en