Eating at Work 18th-20th centuries

RHN 22/2013 | Call

Organiser: Centre Chevrier, Université de Bourgogne, Dijon, France

16-17 January 2014, Dijon, Université de Dijon

Deadline: 31 May 2013

Eating at work, considered in the broad sense as all food consumption practices related to an employed occupation, both everyday and exceptional, in times of strike or during celebrations, constitutes a privileged observatory of social practices, whether they relate to hierarchical power relations or to horizontal, egalitarian sociability in the world of work. The last three centuries (XVIII-XXI centuries) have seen profound changes in the ways in which food is consumed at work, exposing the transformation of societies and their relationship to work, nutrition and taste. The movement seems to concern Europe and beyond, a dimension to be explored in our work, even so we assume that its rhythms varied widely.

To address this question, we wish to examine the times and places where people eat, with whom they eat and what they eat, issues that surely overlap, but on which it is possible to construct and initiate some further reflections.

Where and when do we eat at work? Eating place and eating time are linked, and the varied practices experience many changes. This well-known observation can be illustrated and discussed: in the nineteenth century the home is preferred, but with the growing distance of the workplace and the changing rhythms of activity, the meal is more often taken outside the home, in a corner of the shop or the office (with a bowl or basket meal), on a park or street bench (a snack purchased in a grocery or dairy), as a beverage or a “broth”, standing at the corner of the street, in a soup kitchen or a cooperative restaurant. In general, the constraints related to work cover a variety of situations: the obligation for miners to eat underground, the need to adapt to many forms of outdoor work elsewhere. The appearance of the canteen and catering places at the end of the nineteenth century are contemporary to a profound transformation of the industrial production and the organization of work, but they increase rather than diminish the diversity of practices. It is therefore possible to consider the variety of practices in the workplace and issues of change in terms of acculturation and resistance, which allows us to reopen the debate on the autonomy of the actor. This issue was important in the work of sociologists in the early twentieth century, such as Maurice Halbwachs when discussing Engel’s law. By examining individual strategies, these analyses nuanced the thesis of class determinism. The transition from domestic eating to eating in the workplace also leads us to consider the nature of the supply and the management of eating places that throw new light on the debate on the independence of the working world (charity, philanthropy, paternalism...).

With whom do we eat at work? Nicolas Hatzfeld’s study of the “break for a snack” at Peugeot in the 1990s offered a number of important observations on sociability at work. It contributed to the debate on social determinism and the autonomy of actors. The inquiry uses the “break for a snack” as an opportunity to observe how the society of workers, in seeking to constitute itself, organizes and splits. It shows companionship and teasing, exclusion mechanisms, but also the choice of isolation made by some. It confirms the idea, developed by Martin Bruegel, that “if drinking together seems like a practice widely followed in labour circles, eating together is generally the exception”. The study of the sociability of the world of labour at mealtime can therefore help to investigate the relationship between occupational groups, enerations, genders and people of different national or ethnic origins, and draw a map of the worlds of work, their cultures and making of social consciousness.

What do they eat at work? The issue of practices and recommendations is important because it raises questions about eating habits, acculturation and resistance to dietary injunctions, about what determines taste, whether it is some form of social conditioning or responds to the pleasure principle. We must turn our gaze on the actors who prepare the meals, investigate the identity of those behind the stove as well as of the experts who produce dietary standards. The nineteenth century saw the birth of a hygienist discourse prohibiting alcohol and promoting meat, linked with the rationalization of work, philanthropy and food science. Nutritional advice has been subject to noticeable inflections over time: dairy products and vegetables have been increasingly promoted. Considering the reception of these discourses and the mechanisms of diffusion of new models is useful to understand the overall functioning of society. At this point, a comparison between liberal democracies and authoritarian regimes will be useful as the idea of shaping an ideal man belongs to every ideological project, just as it collides with reality and the state of the economy or society everywhere.

Recommendations Proposals for papers, in French or English, may be monographs or comparative approaches, covering long or short periods of time. The conference, open to all social sciences, intends to promote approaches that allow comparisons over time (XVIII-XXI centuries), space (Europe and beyond), situation (the factory, the office, the city, the country) and regimes (liberal democracies 
and authoritarian regimes, colonial situations).

Terms of submission: Deadline: May 31st, 2013. Communications may be in French or English. Proposals, including a title, an abstract of 300 words and a short curriculum vitae, in French or English, should be sent to mangerautravail@u-bourgogne.fr

Contact: Stéphane Gacon, Centre Chevrier, Université de Dijon
Source: H-Soz-u-Kult