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Touching taste: The classist intersections of materiality, textuality and tactility

Authors
  • Thurlow, Crispin1
  • 1 University of Bern, Switzerland , (Switzerland)
Type
Published Article
Journal
Multimodal Communication
Publisher
De Gruyter
Publication Date
Oct 08, 2020
Volume
9
Issue
2
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1515/mc-2020-0001
Source
De Gruyter
Keywords
License
Green

Abstract

Contemporary class formations increasingly exceed language and, therefore, defy the usual word-centric, text-based approaches of discourse studies. As Bourdieu famously observed, class-sustaining enactments of distinction and taste are often enacted outside language through banal “techniques of the body” such as people’s ways of walking or ways of eating. In this vein, my paper presents a social-semiotic analysis of the particular role menus play in materializing taste, both gustatory and social. However, rather than taking the obvious tack of addressing their linguistic content or typographic design, I focus on their haptic, experiential properties; for example, their shape, size, weight, density and other textural, tactile or material features. As a critical-empirical focus, my core evidence is an archive of Business Class menus from 18 international airlines; it is here that eating practices are explicitly framed as distinctive and superior. The significance of any text cannot be properly understood by simply attending to its straightforwardly representational meanings; its sensory and sensuous materialities must be addressed too. This, I propose, is where some of the most subtle but powerful status-making happens – the seemingly harmless, throw-away moments where privilege/inequality arises, invariably obscured but assuredly naturalized.

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