A Comparative Study of Conviviality and Family Mealtime Experiences in Spain and the UK
This study explores experiences of conviviality and family mealtimes in 10 Spanish families and 10 families in the UK. Although there has been sociological interest in the concepts of commensality (the act of eating together) and the family meal, there is a paucity of literature that investigates the concept of conviviality (the act of enjoying eating together) in the context of domestic dining. Mealtimes are examined in Spain because rhetoric on regional food culture implies that sociable, enjoyable meals are embedded in family life. The practices of Spanish families are compared with those in the UK where paeans to Mediterranean ways of eating are disseminated through public health models and popular discourse. An ethnographic approach, using multiple methods, is adopted in order to investigate the complexities and contradictions in narratives on mealtimes, whilst creating opportunities for all family members, including children, to voice their ideas. The theoretical framework of the study employs Bourdieu’s conceptual tools of social distinction, habitus and forms of capital. This is the first known empirical study that compares familial conviviality in two cultural settings. The original research contribution lies in a number of key areas. For the first time, conviviality is conceptualised as a symbol of cultural capital and a marker of social distinction. The study emphasizes that social divergence is less apparent in Spain and devises the term cultural habitus to explicate collective, uniform practices. It outlines the tensions involved in creating a convivial meal and identifies the features of a habitus that facilitate this process. It also highlights how cross-cultural differences in children’s mealtime socialisation influence enjoyment for all family members. The study establishes, that in both countries, challenges to conviviality are perpetuated by ideals that are not always culturally accessible or do not reflect the multifaceted nature of family life. These findings make a significant contribution to the sociology of food but are also useful in the development of public health models that promote ways of eating.
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