D-IAS, Danish Institute for Advanced Study
Institute for Marketing and Management
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Why are consumers not biological beings?
This research project takes its epistemological point of departure in Edgar Morin’s almost 50 years’ old call for considering the human condition as a triad of individual-species-society. My research career has been centered upon adding a societal and cultural perspective on the dominant individualist theorizing of consumption. While this has resulted in the emergence of a new school of thought within the study of consumption, this only completes two thirds of the triad. However, adding a biological component has proved to be considerably more difficult, not least due to the fallacies of past attempts to reduce the social to the biological. Essentially, for consumer culture researchers, Darwin is at risk of undergoing a fate similar to another great contemporary thinker with a big beard. While Marx’s legacy has been tainted by scrupulous exploitation of the idea of egalitarian revolution, Darwin now faces a similar risk of being jeopardized by a reductionist exploitation of the idea of selectionist evolution. It is the aim of this research to contribute to an overcoming of the problematic history of linkages between biology and social theory. Maieutic in this respect are for example a non-anthropocentrist anthropology and bio-semiotics.
The domain selected for a first investigation of the biosocial character of consumption is the practice of eating with the hands. In a preliminary cross-cultural comparative study, we have found significant differences concerning this practice, deeply engrained in socio-historical sets of culinary norms and values. While eating with your hands is obviously a Maussian “technique of the body”, the practice of eating with one’s hand is absent from classical anthropology of the senses. However, the emerging physiological studies of food underline that we use all our senses when tasting and the practice of eating with one’s hands, we will hypothesize, makes no small contribution. On-going data collection will contribute to throw further light on this.
Various sources relate the practice of eating with one’s hands with several benefit such as promoting mindful eating, improving taste of food, and preventing humans from binge eating. Although such arguments still need more scientific substantiation, they potentially situate the practice of eating with your hands in a contemporary battlefield of various market agents concerning the policing and moralizing of food.