Commensality and Social Organisation

Workshop organised by ToRS (Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies), University of Copenhagen

Commensality, the social context of sharing the consumption of food, drink and sometimes drugs, is of large importance for societies on all levels. Food, commensality, globalisation and identity are other fields of interest, all playing important roles in the social make-up of a society.

Commensality can be understood and defined in at least two different ways:  “Formal” commensality in feasting, meaning in a situation that differs from everyday life; and “Mundane” commensality in everyday behaviour such as eating together at a workshop. Both aspects will be discussed in the workshop with an emphasis on the latter because it has been so far a neglected field of study. 

Research into food and its importance for the development and cohesion of societies has a long tradition. Like sex, food has stood at the center of so many studies precisely because it is so fundamental to the reproduction of society. This reaches from functionalist and neo-evolutionist views to structuralist approaches such as Claude Levi-Strauss’ famous food triangle “raw – cooked – rotten” and has also been of importance in Bourdieu’s post-struc­tu­ra­list statement that “how one consumes is related to who one is”. Food and identity(-building) are thus closely related, both visible in archaeology, anthropology, studies of religion as well as in cook-books, where the different cuts of e.g. Italian and German lambs are explained.  The ways that food and drink are prepared, presented, and consumed contribute to the construction and communication of social relations, ranging from the most intimate and egalitarian to the socially distant and hierarchical. 

The workshop will consist of key-note speakers, the members of the steering committee, and is then open for the other researchers to present their work. A number of junior researchers from Copenhagen University will also participate.