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Speaking the unspeakable : disgust as assessment in family mealtime interaction

Wiggins, Sally (2011) Speaking the unspeakable : disgust as assessment in family mealtime interaction. In: International Pragmatics Association Conference, 2011-07-03 - 2011-07-08. (Unpublished)

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As with other evaluative expressions, assessments of food, taste and flavour (e.g. ‘I love cheese’; ‘this ice-cream is delicious’) and expressions of bodily sensations (e.g. gustatory ‘mmms’) are analysable in terms of their recipient design. That is, we might treat them as situated, embodied practices as well as putative individual (or ‘internal’) experiences. This paper applies this theoretical stance to the concept of disgust, utilising a discursive psychological approach. The data are taken from video and audio recordings of family mealtimes in England and Scotland, with English as the native language. The analysis focuses on those situations where a speaker utters ‘yuck’ or ‘eugh’ or expresses distaste in some way. The study contributes to the rich theoretical debates in this area by examining the social and interactional contexts within which disgust responses are produced. The work builds on discursive psychology and conversation analytic work on embodied practices (e.g. Goodwin, 2000; Heath, 2002; Wiggins, 2002, 2004). In particular, it discusses the role of disgust responses in blurring the boundary between the subject and object: the consumer and the food. Analysing the sequential positioning of these responses, their prosody and the recipient response, we can begin to understand their role in enacting the eating body. Embodiment, therefore, might be seen as being produced in these brief utterances; it is in these moments that we become consumers and sensory beings. The analysis will also consider the role of disgust responses in managing food as an object. Food and taste are socially managed objects; speakers must claim their rights to ‘know’ the (correct) taste of food. As with other types of food assessment, disgust responses particularly tread on moral ground, as to reject a food is to reject, in part, the cultural or social practices involved in the production of the food. The paper will therefore address both taste as subject (the eating body) and object (the object to be eaten).