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    'Staff publications' is the digital repository of Wageningen University & Research

    'Staff publications' contains references to publications authored by Wageningen University staff from 1976 onward.

    Publications authored by the staff of the Research Institutes are available from 1995 onwards.

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Record number 348612
Title Food for talk: discursive identities, food choice and eating practices
Author(s) Sneijder, P.W.J.
Source Wageningen University. Promotor(en): Cees van Woerkum; Hedwig te Molder. - [S.l. ] : S.n. - ISBN 9789085044024 - 220
Department(s) Communication Science
Publication type Dissertation, internally prepared
Publication year 2006
Keyword(s) voedingsgewoonten - ethiek - morele waarden - psychologie - consumptiepatronen - internet - communicatie - analyse - sociale interactie - eetstoornissen - moraal - verantwoordelijkheid - identiteit - feeding habits - consumption patterns - appetite disorders - ethics - moral values - psychology - social interaction - internet - communication - analysis - moral - responsibility - identity
Categories Feeding Habits
Abstract This thesis focuses on the construction and use of identities in food interaction. Insights from discursive psychology and conversation analysis are drawn upon to examine the interactional functions of identities in online food talk.

Discursive psychology (DP) explores how psychological themes, such as identity, are handled and managed in discourse, by participants themselves. The main principle of this approach is that talk is action-oriented. Rather than assuming a cognitive basis for identity, a discursive study focuses on identity as a means of achieving particular interactional goals, such as accounting for food choice.In this respect, the DP perspective marks a shift away from current approaches in anthropology, sociology and social psychology, which largely ignore the notion that identities are part of social actions performed in talk, and thus designed and deployed for different interactional purposes.

The project is spread across three research settings, namely online interaction on veganism, food pleasure and obesity. The main criterion for selecting these cases was their relationship to recent dominant trends in current food choice, namely ethical considerations, hedonism and weight concerns. These 'motives' are also likely resources for identity-related activities.

Chapter 2

In this chapter we draw on a corpus of online discussions on veganism in order to explore the relationship between food choice, eating practices and identity work. A discursive psychological analysis focuses on action, rhetoric and construction. The analyst studies how speakers react to one other and show interpretations of previous turns. The analyst also considers potential alternative versions of descriptions, in order to demonstrate which version of reality is being undermined or countered. The analysis in this chapter demonstrates that participants draw on specific discursive devices to (1) define vegan meals as ordinary and easy to prepare and (2) construct methods of preventing vitamin deficiency, such as taking supplements, as routine procedures. In 'doing being ordinary', participants systematically resist the notion that being a vegan is complicated - in other words, that it is both difficult to compose a meal and to protect your health. In this way, participants protect veganism as an ideology. More generally, it is argued that identities and their category-bound features are part and parcel of participants' highly flexible negotiation packages rather than cognitive predictors of their behaviour.

Chapter 3

In this chapter we apply methods developed by conversation analysis and discursive psychology in order to examine how participants manage rules, facts and accountability in a specific ideological area. In particular, we focus on how participants in online discussions on veganism manage the problem posed by alleged health risks such as vitamin deficiency. We show how speakers systematically attribute responsibility for possible deficiencies to individual recipients rather than to veganism.The analysis focuses on a conditional formulation that participants use in response to the recurrent question about supposed health problems in a vegan diet (for example, if you eat a varied diet, there shouldn't be any problems). By using this formulation, participants blur whether they attribute responsibility or predict the absence of health problems. The blurring of logic and morality is used to implicitly ascribe responsibility for potential, assumed shortcomings in the lifestyle (such as calcium deficiency) to the individual. This implicit attribution allows participants to protect veganism as an ideology.                                    

Chapter 4

Chapter 4 draws on insights from discursive psychology to demonstrate how members of an online forum on food pleasure handle the hedonic appreciation of food in everyday interaction. The analysis focuses on how participants work up and establish their identities as 'gourmets'. A dominant tool in performing this identity work is the discursive construction of independent access to knowledge of and experience with food items, in order to compete with or resist the epistemic superiority of a preceding evaluation. Participants formulate their judgments in such a way that they are independent of or even superior to evaluations of the same dish in previous turns. The construction of independent access to and knowledge of culinary items is important in the interactional achievement of an identity as a gourmet who not only likes good food, but who knows what good food is .   

Contrary to sensory approaches to food choice, this study portrays the enjoyment of food as an achievement that comes into being through interaction. We discuss the wider implications of this study for the relationship between food, identity and taste.

Chapter 5

Weight management is a problematic activity, involving issues of accountability and control.  In this chapter, we focus on how people discursively manage these issues in an online support group.  A discursive psychological approach is used to highlight some of the practices employed by participants to handle their dieting failures, like overeating or binging, in terms of blame and accountability. We focus on the way in which participants describe lapses in dieting while at the same time heading off 'mind explanations' such as a lack of control of one's eating practices, which would raise delicate issues regarding the narrator's personal identity. It is shown how participants work up a disinterested account of their lapse by presenting a detailed factual account of what happened and how they feel, while not spelling out what these 'facts' mean. Furthermore, their accounts display the lapse as a one-off incident or choice in an ongoing process. The one-off event itself is scripted up as recognizable and logical in a chain of events, thereby inviting the recipient to dismiss a possible explanation in terms of the speaker's psychological make-up.

Rather than treating attribution as a cognitive process, the study shows how attributions can be studied as situated productions that perform identity-implicative work through managing accountability and blame.

Chapter 6

In chapter 6, we provide an overview of the main observations in this study and formulate recommendations for future research. The study as a whole shows that identity construction is active and ongoing. This thesis has shown how identities were constructed to manage inferential implications of food choice. Such implications, for example 'complicatedness' in the case of veganism, 'abnormality' for obesity and 'subjectivity' for food pleasure, are managed by formulating rhetorical alternatives - ordinariness, normality and objectivity respectively. The relevance of rhetorical alternatives in everyday talk shows that identities are not fixed, but are flexible and negotiable. This implies that groups of consumers cannot be addressed as if they have only one identity, imposed from the outside. In this chapter, we discuss the importance of knowledge claims and accountability in identity work. We also discuss findings relating to the specifics of using online data compared to conversational data. Future research may draw attention to identity construction in face-to-face food conversations and in food interaction in other domains than the three examined in this study.
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