Brooklyn foodie “insiders”: (Dis)avowing distinction over dinner

Lecture by Gwynne Mapes, University of Bern, Switzerland.


Grounded in Bourdieu’s (1984) classic perspective on the cultural production of taste, in this talk I orient to recent work in sociolinguistics on language materiality (Cavanaugh and Shankar 2017), authenticity (Karrebæk and Maegaard 2017) and elite discourse (Thurlow and Jaworski 2017). Against this backdrop, I focus on the discursive production of class status and, specifically, the management of distinction/privilege during conversations about, and around, food. Drawing on a recorded dinner conversation among friends in Brooklyn, New York, I use critical discourse analysis to demonstrate how these so-called “foodies” come to be socialized into a particular community of practice (Eckert and McConnell-Ginet 1992), and how their shared values and norms are interactionally achieved and constituted. Namely, my analysis identifies the key rhetorical strategies (e.g. simplicity, locality/sustainability) by which participants claim and experience prestige in their food practices; as such, I show how the material-symbolic economy of these Brooklyn eaters hinges on a careful (dis)avowal of privilege, alongside the construction of what I call elite authenticity (Mapes 2018). Thus, this talk not only interrogates the ways in which food is deeply connected to cultural identity and social status, but also how food practices nowadays exemplify the “post-class” ideologies (see Thurlow 2016) and omnivorous consumption (e.g. Khan 2014) at the heart of contemporary class formations.


Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984. Distinction: A social critique of the judgment of taste, trans. by R. Nice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Cavanaugh, Jillian and Shalini Shankar (eds). 2017. Language and materiality: Ethnographic and theoretical explorations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Eckert, Penelope and Sally McConnell-Ginet. 1992. Think practically and look locally: Language and gender as community-based practice. Annual Review of Anthropology 21: 461-490.

Karrebæk, Martha Sif and Marie Maegaard. 2017. Pigs, herring, and Bornholm on a table: A high-end restaurant’s construction of authenticity. In Jillian R. Cavanaugh and Kathleen C. Riley (eds.) Special issue of Semiotic Review 5.

Khan, Shamus R. 2014. The ease of mobility. In Thomas Birtchnell and Javier Caletrío (eds.) Elite mobilities. London: Routledge. 136-148.

Mapes, Gwynne. 2018. (De)constructing Distinction: Class inequality and elite authenticity in mediatized food discourse. Journal of Sociolinguistics 22(3): 265-287.

Thurlow, Crispin. 2016. Queering critical discourse studies or/and performing post-class ideologies. Critical Discourse Studies 13(5): 485–514.

Thurlow, Crispin and Adam Jaworski. 2017. Introducing elite discourse: The rhetorics of
status, privilege, and power. Social Semiotics 27(3): 243-254.