Call for Papers | Food—Media—Senses

Posted in Calls for Papers by Editor on November 26, 2020

From ArtHist.net:

Food — Media — Senses
Philipps-Universität Marburg, 1–2 July 2021

Proposals due by 21 December 2020

The notion that eating is linked to sensuality is a commonplace. But once we take into consideration that during a meal all five senses can be involved, the relationship between eating and the senses becomes much more interesting. By eating we understand a cultural practice which includes the consumption of food as much as its preparation and presentation. Not only in the culinary art and fine dining of the last decades—for example, molecular cuisine—but also in the industrial processing of convenience food, trends of putting all five senses into relation to each other can be observed.

But this very aspect of sensuality is often ignored in the debates of the humanities or cultural science about eating and food, although aesthetics in the sense of aisthesis is one of its core subjects. Strangely enough, up until now there has been only little research on how eating relies on the interplay of the senses. This might generally be due to the fact that sensual experience has been held in high cultural regard only when initiating the creation of sense. The incorporation of the object of perception in no way seemed to be in a position to transcend the bodily, in the manner of the distanced sensory perceptions of seeing and hearing (Zechner 2013). We find here an implicit hierarchization which might be the reason for a lack of differentiated linguistic tools and of useful distinctions when it comes to tasting and smelling, the senses central to eating. While tools for capturing the visual and auditory already have been developed by scholars of musicology, art history, media studies or theater studies. A cultural science which is adequate to the cultural technique of designing food—as haute cuisine or as convenience food—is still lacking. Even the most recently booming food studies are only peripherally are concerned with the sensorially experienced aisthesis of dishes and, when concentrating on the socio-cultural functions of eating, fall back onto a wider perspective of cultural studies.

In order to acknowledge the material and media-related aspects of eating as a cultural praxis, the conference proposes to understand the various aspects of eating as a purposefully designed sensory experience. Thereby it aims to introduce, produce and discuss research tools commensurate with the sensuality of eating. First, we intend to develop ways of describing how the individual senses are addressed by food and to conceptualize their modes of interaction. As they design sensual experience the dishes prepared are to be considered as media themselves. They offer perceptive opportunities which are strongly formed by culture and in special ways address the sensory as much as sense. In addition, haute cuisine even works with textures, smells and taste nuances in an attempt to create meaning. Focusing the senses in combination with the concept of media and its heuristics is meant to permit a new perspective on dishes and eating.

The involvement of media in eating can be further differentiated. By an open concept of media—which could for instance be obtained from the ethnographic orientation of the actor-network theory—the constitutive roles of menu, cutlery, tableware and dining room can be taken into account without relegating them to the secondary role of ‘context’. In this sense, we have to describe the preparation and combination of food together with the specific choice of tableware, table decoration, furniture, interior design, music and, last but not least, the service to the table and additional media components. Also, the fine arts always have reflected on food, for example in the genre of the still life or, since Modernity, in interactive settings which take eating as a starting point for creating a Gesamtkunstwerk and reflect on the aesthetic and socio-cultural dimensions of food.

Finally, media come into play when representing and communicating eating in advance or afterwards. Under this aspect we may ask by which forms of linguistic expression, structure and imagery for example a cooking recipe is characterized, how film and television evoke the sensual experience of eating or how the oeuvre of a certain chef is represented in photo books. Complementary it has to be asked in which ways a whole media ensemble is grouped around food and its preparation, how such a media ensemble organizes perception and consequently directly feeds back onto the senses. The intrinsic logic of particular media and how it affects the presentation of food has to be taken into consideration, too.

The conference is conceived as an interdisciplinary exploration in which experts from media studies, art history, literature, sociology, ethnology, cultural studies and design studies come together for productive exchanges and share their special approaches such as gastrosophy, culinary studies and food studies. The following three thematic blocks can be defined:

1  Food as Medium

The first section focusses on the media-related qualities of eating, which is understood as a designed sensual experience. Food as a multisensory and multimodal object of perception as well as all related practices of preparation, presentation and consumption come into view. In contrast to the traditional approaches in the study of meals, we suggest an understanding of the preparation, presentation and consumption of food not as a cultural framing, but as a communicative practice which includes the meal’s design and its whole field of experience: which role is played by sensual experience when buying and preparing food? Which options are there to control the parameters of sensory experience during cooking? How is a meal arranged to let the eater have a certain experience? How is food semantically charged? Of course, specific associations are induced in food; but can we imagine other strategies as well? The analysis of happenings in the fine arts which perform and simultaneously reflect on the preparation of food as much as on its communal consumption can yield great insights. Art works not only use food and its staging as a vehicle for messages but can also convey its sociocultural implications and even reveal how the construction of culture works.

2  Food in Media

The representation of eating and the sensual experience connected to it has a long history: the interest in food’s colors and tactile surfaces is one of the major causes for the emancipation of the still life as a genre of its own. Cookbooks seek to demonstrate the preparation of meals as much as the expected pleasures by a variety of linguistic devices, specific layouts and images. Food photography in advertising and in cookbooks claims to visualize sensual experience. On product packaging, food photography can work like a serving suggestion inasmuch as it can trigger, in combination with color design etc., sensual associations. In addition, attention must be paid to the parameters of media-specific presentation and how they feed back on the cultural practice of eating. Photogenics and, recently, instagrammability highlight colorful and structured dishes. In what ways does a photogenic appearance indirectly impact on sensual experience? Visual communication as an applied science, at the service of the food industry, which deals with the relationship between packaging design and buying decisions, has to be taken into consideration.

3  Sociology and Culturality of Food

We want to explore how the sensuality of eating is treated in specific cultural contexts. It is not only about preferences—for example, for the bitter or the sour—but also about the involvement of the different senses in eating: in which cultural contexts is the sense of sight particularly emphasized? In which cultural contexts is the sense of touch addressed through texture? In addition to the findings of Claude Lévi-Strauss, not only the relation between the raw and cooked but also between the liquid, soft and solid plays a role. At this point, we would like to reflect on the sensuality of cultural and national identities. Following the discussion on a sociology of taste, as has been prominently guided by Pierre Bourdieu, we aim to identify how the relationship between sensual experience and social biography contributes to the formation of social identity. Sensual experience becomes understandable as basically socially formed; concurrently, the socio-cultural formation is recognized as a naturalized one when, for example, preferences of taste are regarded as being gender-based.

The conference is to be held July 1–2 at the Philipps-Universität Marburg in person or as a hybrid event. In view of the COVID pandemic, it is not yet possible to make definitive statements about the form of the event that can ultimately be realized. Accommodation will be financed by the organizers. Travel expenses will be covered or subsidized, depending on the cost. There are no conference fees. Proposals (of approx. 400 words) for a 25-minute presentation accompanied by a brief CV should be sent by 21 December 2020 to foodmediasenses@uni-marburg.de.

Organising committee: Christina Bartz (Paderborn), Jens Ruchatz (Marburg), Eva Wattolik (Erlangen)

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