Valentine, G. (2002) 'In-corporations: Food, Bodies and Organizations', in Body and Society, Vol 8, No 2: 1 - 20
There has only been a little work on the body and the workplace, and that usually refers to the sexual politics of bodies -- the ways in which women's bodies become commodified in occupations like nursing or waitressing. There has been some work on how bodies have been regulated within work places [more below]. The theoretical approach taken here insists that it is not just social relations that form meanings and identities, however but that 'society is produced in and through patterns and networks of heterogeneous materials; and that it is made up of a wide variety of shifting associations (and disassociations) between humans and nonhumans' (2) [original emphasis in each quote]. It is not only that human beings interact with objects but that 'objects can define actors, the space in which they moved, the ways in which they interact' (2). This is 'Actor Network Theory', which permits the examination of 'food and drink as non-human entities which build, maintain and stabilise links between diverse actants' (2). [Figurationalism, but including objects and technology?].
Thus food can materialise social practices, according to different communities of practice, in this case organisations. Thus working bodies can be 'in-corporated into organisational life through emerging food practices... [and]... organizational food practices are in-corporated into the bodies of employees' (3). This study of food within the workplace supplements the usual focus on the home or the restaurant. The research used 'multi-method qualitative research techniques', including food diaries, interviews, video/photographic diaries and participant observation. This article presents five case-studies, based largely on interviews:
(1) A nurse reported that her training hospital provided different sorts of food for different ranks of staff, and the staff continued to preserve distinctions even after official deregulation. 'In such ways, food helps to define actors and the spaces in which they can move and interact' (4) [but only as an expression of social relations, surely, not as an actor in its own right?]. Theatre nurses who have to maintain strict contamination discipline are not allowed to eat or drink anywhere near their workplaces, and this helps to confirm them as a relatively closed community. Shift work can also have effects on eating patterns, leading to 'quick-to-prepare, but less enjoyable convenience-style foods' (5). Thus 'food, the hospital and the nursing staff mutually enrol, constitute and order each other' (5) [I must say I am still not really convinced]. The network between them is a flexible one, changing in particular local circumstances -- for example, a particularly authoritarian manager led to nurses 'sharing cake... [as]... a source of pleasure to relieve the tension and to bind... [them]... together... the properties of food are transformed -- from refueller to stress diffuser and pleasure giver' (6). As another example, nurses organised a sponsored slim for charity, which led to mutual control over their diet -- food here became more of a '"referee" in the relationship between fellow abstainers' (6).
(2) A buyer felt obliged to attend various business lunches, which play a major part in business culture, binding people together and creating relationships which are later used to guide business decisions. [Silly me -- I used to think that business decisions were taken by the tight calculation of profit]. These lunches were mostly male, involving the consumption of a considerable quantity of food and drink --'most women's bodies could not hold the quantity... required' (7) [it was assumed? Or is this some bodily fact? -- see (4) below]. To indicate the flexibility of the network involved, the buyer also began to gain weight, which 'ruptured his sense of bodily integrity, penetrating the closed borderline he imagined existed between his "public" work and "private" self ' (8). He began cycling to reduce his weight, and was then 'bitten by the exercise bug, taking up running as a serious and competitive hobby... [eating]... more vegetarian food... and switching jobs to work in further education' (8) .Thus 'objects such as food can generate new forms and orders of causality' (8). [I am a bit more impressed by this example] .
(3) For a miner, eating played a different role. For one thing, it was seen as delaying work underground, and thus reducing earnings. Carrying food was an additional burden and source of discomfort. Conditions underground affected both the qualities and the meanings of particular foods -- so that eggs taken underground were unpopular because they 'sweated' and smelled strongly in forced ventilation. Again, these were shift workers, and irregular eating plus underground conditions led to health problems --'providing a further example of the way that organisational practices can be materialized in the bodies of workers through food' (10).
(4) We know from Lash and Urry the value of the 'aesthetic and emotional components of labour', and that employers increasingly insist that bodily performances are manipulated to conform to 'desirable bodycapes' (11). Usually, this involves a slim body. Some employers refuse to employ overweight people. As a result, the accountant in the case study reported constant 'paranoia' about dieting -- 'the calorific composition of particular foods constrained the actants' (11). There are also descriptions of airlines which constantly monitor the weight of their employees, and expect co-workers to discipline themselves. There is a parallel with duGay's work on work cultures which link 'work, home and leisure' (12) [as in 'the organization man'?]. Food and drink clearly play a part here, even if only at the annual company lunch or work picnic. The accountant in this case study felt obliged to attend to workplace meals twice a year. At the meals, senior managers deliberately sat with underlings 'to level social relations' (12). Alcohol was also used to resolve tensions by granting temporary licence. Invitations to meals by colleagues helps to strengthen social and business networks, or in 'marking others as "outsiders"' (13) [lots in Bourdieu on this]. This particular accountant felt that her ['deviant'] identity would be compromised, so she tried to avoid social meals altogether. The same applies to anyone declaring themselves to be a vegetarian -- they risk immediately being identified 'with left-wing or radical political sympathies, feminist values, animal rights activism and so on' (14). Alcohol can encourage stigmatising behaviour, although it can also be used to provide Dutch courage (or, in this case, to prove that women can out drink men, as the accountant gained revenge on an aggressive male -- 14).
(5) Food and drink can also act as a reward and incentive, a treat. Company meals are also about team-building and collaborative working. Such meals can also be occasions for the creation and recreation of 'heterosexual hegemony' (15). Food and drink can 'configure the sexual identity of employees and the organisation'. To take the example of lesbians, the issue arises when they are invited to bring their partners. Unintended consequences can still arise -- a discussion at one of these meals led to some lesbian networking.
In conclusion, bodies enter into relations through 'an unending mutually constituting interaction of a vast array of material and non-material resources', including food (16). Food and drink take on particular qualities as a result of this network of practice -- they can be a form of work, pleasure, measure of success, burden, a means of forming social relations, or an incentive to work harder. The properties of food and drink can both transform and be transformed. Such interaction 'produces a clearer understanding of the meanings of work, food and the workplace itself, than that generated by focusing either just on the features of work alone, or on the features of consumption alone' (17).
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