Saturday, October 30, 2010

Theory section...

I apologise in advance if the theory section of my thesis isn't too entertaining - in fact, if you're not interested in theory it's probably better not to read it, but here goes... (feel free to comment) (oh, and it's also incomplete)


Tapas: Selections of theory 

Because of the eclectic emergent nature of this research a diverse range of theoretical components will be explored in this chapter including praxis, power and discourse.

Sauces of Knowledge(s) – is this part of theory? Where does it go?

Any source of information, regardless of how credible it is considered to be, will be based on assumptions and will, therefore, carry biases.  Even academic peer-reviewed publications will be influenced by the biases of the system and academics involved in the writing and reviewing process.  This work will draw on a wide range of resources, each with varying strengths and weaknesses, in order to bridge the gaps in the literature.  Newspaper and magazine articles can be influenced by the biases of their authors, the leanings of the publications, and the anticipated response of the target audience.  I will use these types of information to look at issues around raw milk, a topic of which very little has been written, academically.  I will use the work of well-regarded scientists as well as scientific journalists such as Gary Taubes, and marginalised scientists who are critical of the dominant paradigm in order to examine the complexities around the relationship between saturated fat and coronary heart disease.  I will use weblogs (blogs) as a source of primary, qualitative data to get an in-depth understanding of a modern-social movement involving food.  I will even use internet open-encyclopaedia Wikipedia, at times, in order to get general understandings of topics that are new and difficult to find information about.  Wikipedia, like blogs, is a dynamic medium of communication and information dissemination.

There exists a significant distrust within the academic community of the incredibly popular and continuously expanding Wikipedia.   Although Wikipedia articles are not academically peer reviewed, they are reviewed in a far broader and, some would argue, less prejudiced way, by an unlimited number of 'peers' with no particular academic biases.  Wikipedia articles do demand references and encourage readers to add to short and incomplete articles in order to improve them.  Many academic articles have come to Wikipedia's defence and studies have found that the articles are remarkably accurate and comparable with a library reference service (Garfinkel, 2008, Shachaf, 2009).  Black (2008) argues that the traditional peer review process is due to be updated in line with the quick dissemination of knowledge characterising contemporary media “The implications of such a concept would have a dramatic effect on the academic community.            (Black, 2008, p. 73).  Furthermore, the International Sociological Association are adopting a Wikipedia-like approach with their ‘Sociopedia’ project (International Sociological Association, 2010).

Wikipedia is also a good example of praxis as it encourages information sharing and evolves through the input of a variety of contributors.  Articles also often include ‘criticism’ sections, allowing room for subversive thought and giving a more balanced perspective than many encyclopaedias.


A Recipe for Praxis

Although the Greek work praxis originally meant "action" or "practise" through the early work of Karl Marx it has come to signify something more complex.  Marx saw praxis as revolutionary, as the ideal process by which social change could be created and a better, fairer world established.  The theory of praxis can be seen as heavily influenced by Hegel’s dialectic which proposes an alternative to the rigid laws of formal logic encapsulating the synthesis of theory and practice necessary for revolution [expand?] (Ninnes, 1983)  Praxis has since been used to describe activity in a wide variety of socio-political contexts, many of them differing from the original Marxist connotations.  One of the theorist responsible for the development of ‘praxis’ as a framing device is Paulo Freire, and it is his conceptualisations of Praxis which I intend to employ in this thesis.

Freire defines praxis as “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it” (Freire, 1970, p. 36).  Freire considered praxis a central defining feature of human life as well as a necessary condition of freedom.  He posited that human nature is expressed through activity that is intentional, reflective, and meaningful. History and culture are also important considerations in Freirean praxis, particularly the dialectical interplay between history and culture which are both created by and shape people’s experiences. The struggle for freedom can be humanising, but could also be dehumanising; making people objects of history and culture, and denying their capacity to be self-defined subjects. Freire argues that overcoming the limits of situations can be achieved through politicising education, respecting everyday language and allowing people to voice their own experiences. This he calls a practice of freedom; a continuous cultural re-creation enabling the greatest expression of human existence, allowing people to become fully human (Glass, 2001). 


Tom Heaney summarises Freirean Praxis as follows:
Praxis is a complex activity by which individuals create culture and society, and become critically conscious human beings.  Praxis comprises a cycle of action-reflection-action which is central to liberatory education.  Characteristics of praxis include self-determination (as opposed to coercion), intentionality (as opposed to reaction), creativity (as opposed to homogeneity), and rationality (as opposed to chance). (Heaney, 1995 page???)

Freire saw praxis as a process of action-reflection-action, whereby the initial action is reflected upon and the reflection feeds back into the future action.  This is a process through which theory can be utilised in a practical way.  Freire’s work was focussed on education and is well known for its implementation in the Cuban literacy campaign.  Creativity is considered by Freire to be an essential component of the praxis of liberatory learning along with ‘empowerment’: “Power is not given, but created within the emerging praxis in which co-learners are engaged” (Heaney, 1995, p.9) giving people the motivation to become critically conscious in order to take charge of their lives in a political sense. 

Praxis is a useful construct for explaining how social change works or doesn’t work. For the purpose of this thesis, praxis will be defined as a working system, whereby theory informs practice and practice feeds back into theory in a progressive way so that both the practice and the theory symbiotically evolve.  Praxis, in this case, also requires transparency in communication, a balance of power and an absence of the power exploitation which could be considered to be ‘dispraxia’: a breakdown of praxis

This thesis is focussed on the praxis of food and nutrition.  The socially dominant perspectives on food and nutrition are largely dictated by the scientific paradigm, influenced by food industry and administered by government and corporate advertising.  In this thesis the theory of praxis will be used to illustrate both dispraxia – in the case of nutritional science and the food industry, and a working model of praxis – in the case of the Weston A. Price Foundation and Nourishing Traditions

Let them eat cake: Social movements and new social movements

This section will begin by attempting to define social movements and new social movements generally and in the context of this thesis.  It will then explore some social movement theory in order to identify key characteristics of new social movements and look briefly at social movement research which is relevant to this thesis.

The term ‘social movement’ covers a variety of collective action aimed at generating social change.  (Abercrombie, Hill & Turner, 2000).  Wikipedia provides a concise definition for social movements: “Social movements… are large informal groupings of individuals and/or organizations focused on specific political or social issues, in other words, on carrying out, resisting or undoing a social change.”  The entry goes on to mention the importance of education and dissemination of literature as well as other factors of industrialisation which have given rise to modern Western social movements.  Although social movements occur in all corners of the world, “Over the past 200 years, they have become part of a popular and global expression of dissent.” For the purposes of this thesis, a social movement is defined very broadly as any group of people who organise themselves in order to affect change on the world.

The term ‘new social movement’ (NSM) has immerged since the second world war to describe modern movements with a specific focus or interest group, for example, feminism or environmentalism.  (Abercrombie, Hill & Turner, 2000).  The Wikipedia entry on new social movements (NSMs) describes it as: “a theory of social movements that attempts to explain the plethora of new movements that have come up in various western societies roughly since the mid-1960s (i.e. in a post-industrial economy) which are claimed to depart significantly from the conventional social movement paradigm.”  This entry suggests that these NSMs may have been affected through the growth of the post-industrial economy, making them different from earlier movements under different economic periods.

Some qualities of new social movements have been said to include a focus on autonomy and qualitative life improvements rather than material benefits and resources (Steinmetz, 1994).  NSMs are seen to be less oriented toward social-utopian projects or metanarratives of progress than previous social movements and are not necessarily limited to class categories or other more solid identity boundaries, for this reason identities in NSMs can sometimes be more flexible (Steinmetz, 1994).  NSMs prefer decentralised organizational forms in comparison with more centralised structures favoured by previous social movements, they tend to rely on temporary or part-time membership and informal networks and work mainly outside of the parliamentary political system, although this is not particularly unique to NSMs (Steinmetz, 1994).  NSMs politicise formerly unpolitical aspects of everyday life (Steinmetz, 1994).  Different NSMs can be brought together or unified through a common cause such as a shared opposition to a system, for example, capitalism (Steinmetz, 1994). 

Some theorists have argued that new social movements are not particularly different from general social movements, pointing out that many of the qualities of NSMs have existed in historical social movements and therefore, are not confined to a particular time in history (West, 2004).  One important factor in recent social movements is the use of the internet as a tool in communication, networking, education, organisation and mobilisation (Hsu, 2003, Van Aelst & Walgrave, 2002).  Hsu examines the concept of self-reflexivity in relation to internet and social movement.  He claims the self-reflexivity provided by the internet transcends the boundaries of the social movement and blurs the lines between the public and private spheres (Hsu, 2003).

Salter (2003) notes that one function of New Social Movements is to perceive problems and highlight them in the public arena, generating and publishing information independently from the needs of government and industry.  The fast changing and interactive capacity and nature of the internet provides a more suitable medium for NSMs than traditional media which is more static and not interactive.  The internet not-only has a similar culture to social movements in that both are dynamic and relatively decentralised, it also provides an effective medium for facilitating online political activity which crosses over to offline activity.  The internet may also share other characteristics with NSMs including open protocols and communications, self-generated identities and information and non-hierachical qualities. “The internet enables social-movement groups and organisations to communicate, to generate information, and to distribute this information cheaply and effectively, allowing response and feedback.” (Salter, 2003, p.130)

Subversive uses of weblogs have been documented in academic publications, for example, Kahn and Kellner (2004) discuss the internet as a political vehicle “The internet may be deployed in a democratic and emancipatory manner by a growing planetary citizenry that is using the new media to become informed, to inform others, and to construct new social and political relations.” (p.3).  Many new social movements could be viewed as embodying praxis as they seek to change the world by re-interpreting information, generating new information and disseminating it.  New social movements often seek to transform existing hegemonic structures, liberating people and society from them. The decentralised nature attributed to new social movements is also in line with the ideal of power being shared as part of praxis.  In these ways, and likely many others, concepts of praxis can be seen as deeply entwined with new social movements.  This connection has been explored by social researchers.  Atton (2003) considers the use of the Internet by NSMs as a radical, socio-technical paradigm challenging the dominant, neoliberal model of information and communication technologies.  He examines Indymedia, an independent media organisation, as a radical manifestation of internet use and looks at examples of praxis by anarchist groups (Atton, 2003).   

It is not the intention of this thesis to focus extensively on social movement theory or nuances or debates around the terminology of social movements and new social movements, and therefore, the term ‘new social movement’ is used to illustrate the contemporary nature and importance of the new technologies, in particular, the internet, in the movement of focus which centres around the Weston A. Price Foundation. 





Courses of discourse: a Foucaultian Soup

Another theorist who will be drawn on in this thesis is Michel Foucault.  Foucault is well known for his theories of the medical gaze, medicalisation, and bio-power [Ref?]** He is also known for his work on discourses and knowledge.  These are some of the concepts that will be drawn upon in this thesis with regards to the food industry, public health authorities and nutritional information.  Foucault’s conceptualisation of power implied that it isn’t a simple centralised structure of a top-down capitalist system, rather it is more dynamic, coming from multiple avenues and normalised by the lower ranks (Johnston, 2008).  This concept of power can be helpful in understanding the complexities of the food industry and the agency of social movements that rally against it.  Governments also play a role in this web of power and Foucault’s concept Biopower attempts to explain governments’ efforts to regulate the health of populations.  (Power knowledge and regulation of bodies???). Public health nutritional information is one example of biopower which is influenced by the dominant scientific paradigm and also often sponsored by corporate interests (Warde, 1997).  It is not the intention of this thesis to explore these concepts in depth, however, they do make a useful framework for understanding the key points of the thesis.

Medicalisation of health – biomedical model [explain?] (Germov & Williams, 2004). Often health is considered only in terms of illness (or the lack thereof) - malnutrition, obesity etc ***


Discourse analysis

Discourses colour and shape our understandings of the world.  Discourse analysis is a useful tool in exploring the subjective worlds of meaning, truth, society and culture.  Unravelling these can help to explain contradictions and disagreements and also to understand the nature of perspectives (Long, 2008). Many theorists, including Foucault, are known for their use of ‘discourse analysis’.  Foucault claimed that discourses are entwined with social practice and may mutually co-exist or intersect “Indeed, the multiplicity and fragmentation of discourses, especially in conversation and dialogical exchanges, is more common than the clash of well-defined opposing viewpoints, beliefs, or rationalities.  This also holds for the rhetorical content of official government statements drawn up by politicians and their “spin doctors”” (Long, 2008, p.75)    In this thesis I will examine various food discourses in order to illustrate some of the various constructions of food and health and the way these can be incorporated or excluded.  The incorporation of discourses can also be related to the Hegelian concept of synthesis and can form a part of a praxis.  This will be demonstrated in the case of the Weston A. Price Foundation.

Food Discourses:

The following discourses are relevant to this thesis and will be drawn upon throughout.

Hard Science, Reductionism and Nutritionism:
Food is seen as comprised of small particles of nutrients or anti-nutrients.  There are macronutrients, such as carbohydrates, lipids (fats) and protein, and micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals.  These substances are considered to be 'good' or 'healthy' in the right quantities.  Substances considered to be 'bad' may include toxins, dangerous or risky micro-organisms, or may be otherwise linked to the body (or what little is known about it) and how it requires and responds to these substances.  The good and bad moral judgement placed on substances takes on a religious tone and may be a historical remnant of the Christian society that Western science sprung from.  This critical perspective of science has been drawn upon by many social theorists and possibly dates back to the work of Nietzsche ***[ref?]. Scrinis is particularly critical of this perspective, which is the dominant perspective, in line with modern science and the bio-medical view of the body.  The scientific perspective of food and nutrition focuses just on the physical level, for example, looking at the biochemistry of nutrients or anti-nutrients. (Scrinis, 2008).   Scrinis coined the term nutritionism to describe the way the nutrition industry; scientists, nutritionists and public health authorities, have conceptually reduced food into its nutrient composition, connecting particular nutrients to health. This perspective has become so widespread that it has been adopted by the public. (Scrinis, 2008).  This is one of the key perspectives I will use to examine topics around food.  Nutritionism is a critique of the discourse surrounding nutritional science and the advice it produces.  One powerful claim made by Scrinis is that this discourse has been co-opted by food industry as a way to market their products.  Packets are labelled with nutritionist slogans about vitamin content and other known nutrients enticing shoppers to purchase these products for the sake of their health.  (Scrinis, 2008)

Nutritionism has become a contemporary certainty, one that is taken for granted and mostly unchallenged, even among food and nutrition experts and institutions. While there is much contestation over the way nutrient-level knowledge is used and abused, few have questioned the reductive focus on nutrients per se. (Scrinis, 2008, p.39)

Because of the complexity of human biochemistry uncertainties and contradictions surrounding nutrient knowledge are evident: “nutritionism is nevertheless characterized by a sustained and confident discourse of precision and control.  This discourse implies both a precise understanding of foods, diets, and the body and an ability to precisely control and manipulate them.” (Scrinis, 2008, p.42).  This results in greatly exaggerated representation of scientists’ understanding of food and health.  Scrinis (2008) also claims that disagreements within the scientific community are either concealed from the lay public, or misrepresented.

The strong focus on the quantities of specific nutrients means that other, more qualitative ways of categorising different foods are given less importance, for example: processed and un-processed.  The lay perspective viewing highly processed ‘junk food’ as unhealthy is undermined by the strong focus nutritionism has on the numbers of nutrients, which can be added into processed foods to make them more appealing: “when nutri-quantification becomes the primary or exclusive basis for evaluating foods, then some highly processed foods may exhibit similar—even superior— nutrient profiles to unprocessed wholefoods. An important example has been the promotion of margarine over butter on the basis of their respective fatty acid profiles[1].” (Scrinis, 2008, p.43).

The nutritionist discourse is also regarded as impervious to time, space and cultural situations, although it is predominantly a recent, Western, scientific discourse. In this way food is fragmented, rather than seen in a holistic sense.  This perspective can obscure the value placed on local, seasonal foods, culturally important foods and environmental concerns about food production: “Foods that are central to traditional cuisines may be discouraged on the basis of their nutrient profiles. An example of such quasi-precise evaluations of wholefoods is the recommendation to switch from jasmine rice to basmati rice on the basis of the latter’s lower GI[2] score as if such a substitution would make any meaningful difference to one’s blood sugar levels or overall bodily health.” (Scrinis, 2008, p. 44).  The lay adoption of the nutritionist discourse may mean a combination of two paradoxical experiences of food knowledge: “Nutritionism creates ambiguous tendencies toward a disempowered, confused, and dependent individual on the one hand, and an active, empowered, and critically informed individual on the other.” (Scrinis, 2008, p.46)

The following is an example of nutritionist discourse in relation to the foods traditional Maori were likely to have eaten:

The incidence of non-infectious diseases appears to have been low in these people, perhaps in part due to the presence of protective chemical constituents within their food plant supply… The seeds of C. australis, of some Astelia spp., and of hinau (Elaeocarpus dentatus) are good sources of various essential fatty acids, generally regarded as protective against cardiovascular disease. Shoots and leaves from a wide range of native species were traditionally eaten as greens, especially “sow thistle” or puha (Sonchus spp.), reportedly high in Vitamin C and various phenolics. (Cambie & Fergusson, 2001).

In this example specific active agents found in foods are emphasized and linked to health benefits.  This kind of narrow focus can have many useful functions, allowing specific knowledge to be obtained; it also has the limitations of not being holistic.  Despite the limitations of looking at nutrition under the microscope in terms of particular small components claimed to be connected to health or illness, it is still an important perspective in understanding the whole topic of food and health and it is for this reason that this perspective will be used in this thesis along with other perspectives. 


Indigenous, holistic and lay understandings
As Mason Durie (2004) points out, indigenous societies have more holistic perspectives, incorporating values and principles about food and health with other philosophies.  An indigenous or traditional perspective to food might incorporate concepts of energies, for example, in traditional Chinese food and medicine hot and cold or wet and dry energies are associated with foods (Koo, 1984).  These traditional principles do not exclude other avenues of meaning, whereas, in a scientific, bio-medical perspective one explanation or solution is sought to the exclusion of other meanings and experiences (Nettleton, 2006).  It is not the intention of this thesis to attempt to encapsulate the holistic perspectives of traditional societies relating to food, however, it is important to be aware of the different perspectives and how they may relate to or exclude each other. 

Lay understandings are also often holistic in that they can incorporate more than one perspective to try to make sense of the world.  For example, scientific information might be incorporated along with life experience, folklore and other kinds of knowledge.  Contemporary lay understandings are influenced by contemporary culture, reproduced and reflected by media.  These may include ideas about what ‘healthy food’ is and may be closely linked to ideal body image.  One predominant contemporary discourse centres around fat as a negative phenomenon – both in terms of body fat and in dietary intake of fat (Cowley2006).  Lay understandings will be examined later in this thesis, looking at the case study of the consumption of raw milk.

Food and Health and Indulgence

According to Warde (1997) health was rarely a concern in recipes in 1967-8, only four percent of recipes recommended food because it was healthy.  This was before concerns over nutrition escalated; in the 1991-2 sample sixteen percent of recipes made reference to the healthy nature of foods.  There was a common assumption that healthy food equated to light food which would (hopefully) equate to a lighter physical form.  Nutritional information was increasingly supplied, alongside recipes, about factors such as fat, fibre and calories following the trend of increasing obsession with health and healthy eating, particularly prevalent in the middle class and often more of a concern for women.  Warde (1997) asserts that this reflects government propaganda campaigns encouraging healthy eating.  This is an example of the Foucaultian concept of bio power and has been challenged with new right accusations of ‘food fascism’ (Warde, 1997).

Warde (1997) discusses a gastronomic compromise: ‘Comfort food’ is a common term used to describe the consumption of (usually unhealthy) food for emotional pleasure rather than bio-physical health.  This may be a way that lay discourse patches the divide between the puritanical good and sinful foods – allowing for some emotional pampering on the part of the unhealthy food, but just occasionally.  Warde calls this:
One of the most important mixed messages regarding contemporary food. We should eat healthily; but not if it makes us sad.  Implicitly hedonistic consumption is justified in terms of what the mind and the body need.  This juxtaposition of indulgence and bodily self-discipline identifies a profound contradiction.  Its only resolution is by eating something different tomorrow.  Bangers and mash is for a special occasion, when feeling blue; and that is a most important condition in the world of self.  You deserve to be happy, and to be comforted when not.  The indulgence may be craved for a transgression of the rules.  Ultimately, this is a tale about good and evil, and what is being encouraged is evil.  But you can be forgiven because you feel miserable; if you aren’t happy, try sin! (1997, p.79)

Food advertising has played on this discourse, using religious and hedonistic terms such as ‘naughty but nice’, tempting, wicked, irresistible, indulge and so on.  Often these terms are used to promote processed puddings, pies and cakes (Warde, 1997).  Perversely, this kind of discourse has increased along with the promotion of the super slim body shape as an ideal of feminine beauty which adds to the stress of many women’s lives while they are being tempted to comfort themselves with the pleasures of the consumption of supposedly sinful food (Warde, 1997).  This could be a discursive throwback to the Biblical Garden of Eden where Eve was tempted by forbidden fruit.

Reconstructed Nourishing Traditions
‘Nourishing’ and ‘traditional food brings to mind a warm, satisfying home-cooked meal.  The Weston A. Price foundation claims to advocate traditional, nourishing foods.  It is important to point out that this is a modern reconstruction of ‘traditional’ which may bear some resemblance to foods of the past.  ‘Nourishing’ is another term to which this can apply.  It is possible that the connotations associated with these terms were largely positive for many people and their successful utilization enhanced the popularity of the foundation. ***


Inherent Health
With the exception of breast milk for a new born baby, there is no particular food that is necessarily healthy.  Health is not a static property that can be definitively attributed to particular foods. Health is an abstract property, and whether or not food can promote or maintain health is relative to the context of the body in which it is digested (Germov & Williams, 2004).  Despite this, much talk of ‘healthy food’ and of particular foods being healthy is evident in contemporary lay discourse resulting in much confusion around health and food.  One may read in a newspaper article one week that coffee is healthy, that it reduces the risk of Parkinson’s disease only to watch on television the next week that it is carcinogenic.  These kinds of contradictions are becoming increasingly common, stemming from the nutritionist focus on isolated substances along with the narrow scope of bio-chemical research, which often relies on testing lab rats as human beings are too complex in their activities and other factors to produce reliable outcomes.  It is this kind of limited research that informs public health strategies, pressuring the public to conform to fragmented and often contradictory dietary advice (Germov & Williams, 2004).



Social science discourses (food as identity)

This perspective looks at food in a social context.  Food may be part of rituals within cultures or families.  It may hold meaning that relates to various aspects of social life.  Food may be portrayed as 'healthy' or 'junk food'.   The construction of food from various perspectives may be examined under this approach, for example, a nutritionist perspective can be seen to be a modern Western perspective to food.  There are many perspectives within the social sciences.  A social geographer would place emphasis on place and space in relation to food, an anthropologist would be likely interested in food culture, a psychologist might be interested in individual food identity.

Despite the artificial categorisation offered by this example and the potential for social science perspectives on food and nutrition to be quantitative and positivist, there is much more scope in the field of social sciences for broader and more qualitative approaches.  This thesis will be coming from a particular ‘sociological’ social science perspective.

The social construction of food

As Germov and Williams point out, food habits are socially constructed.  What is considered taboo to eat in one culture may be common cuisine in another.
While hunger is a biological drive and food is essential to survival, there is more to food and eating than the satisfaction of physiological needs.  There are also ‘social drives’, based on cultural, religious, economic, and political factors.  The existence of national cuisines, such as Thai, Italian, Indian, and Mexican (to name only a few), indicates that individual food preferences are not formed in a social vacuum. (Germov & Williams, 2004, p.4)

Modern food is often constructed as commodity and can also be linked to culture, sub-culture, socio-economic status and identity.  Processed food is marketed to target consumers by promoting image, taste or health benefits.  


[1] For more information about the health value of fats see the case study of fat in chapter thee
[2] Glycemic index

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