An Exploration of Disrupted Food Practices in the Transitioning Consumptionscape of India

Rai, Meenal Sameer
Yap, Crystal
Marshall, Roger
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

Drawing from the literature on the influence of globalisation and economic liberalisation in India, which is central to the rise of consumer culture, this thesis contextualises food consumption for an emerging middle-class consumer group that is disrupted and therefore fraught with paradoxes, conflicts, tensions and ideological struggles in maintaining food-related routines. While past literature has identified the economic growth-related surge in food avenues, food consumption and dietary changes, the ways in which human agents interfere with and negotiate the changes in their socio-material environments, as well as themselves, has so far been insufficiently explored (Spaargaren et al., 2016).

The study adopts a practice theory perspective in its aim of understanding food provisioning as part of dynamic social practices embedded in the complex context of everyday life and constituted via elements of meaning, material and competency in food provisioning. The thesis focuses on the social and temporal dynamics of food provisioning as an everyday life phenomenon. Empirically, it does this by a qualitative enquiry that asks, ‘How do Indian middle-class consumers, in a transitioning consumptionscape, configure everyday food-provisioning practices and how do they manage any disruptions in their food provisioning to gain a sense of security?’ The study combines the use of projective techniques within semistructured interviews conducted with participants, along with food-related observations of their beliefs, activities and household environments.

The findings of the study indicate the endurance of traditional food practices and illustrate the influence of shared cultural scripts in the stability and diffusion of routine food-provisioning practices. Conflicts in food provisioning are found to occur when embodied dispositions about the ways of cooking, serving, eating and caring in food provisioning are challenged by changing structures of living, in families with varying intergenerational food preferences, as well as the evolving identities and role perceptions of food provisioners. This thesis discovers that in meeting the various affective, instrumental and socio-cultural meanings of food provisioning, practices are reconfigured to balance, negotiate and neutralise tensions and conflicts emerging from the opposing ideologies of practising consumption in line with tradition and modernity. Practice disruptions are met with consumers’ reflexive and transformative agency in realigning their food-provisioning practices. The food provisioners’ narratives of creatively resisting or accepting new forms of consumption in reconfiguring disrupted practices in ways that allow retention of the perceived meanings of engagement in the practice suggests the hegemony of meaning over materials and competency as practice-constituting elements.

This research uncovers the unique glocalised hybridities of food-provisioning practices that emerge from the juxtaposition of resisting/accepting new forms of consumption, contributing towards a theoretical conceptualisation of the distributed agency of practice-constituting elements. The study also contributes to an understanding of consumer agency in negotiating conflicts and tensions by maintaining the teleoaffectivity of food provisioning and food provisioners’ ontological security. Thus, the study’s findings contribute to a growing body of consumer research in social theory, consumption, disruption, identity and security. It also contributes to the demand for empirical applications of practice theory, as well as providing practical implications for consumers and marketers.

Consumer behaviour , Practice theory , Transition , Ontological security , Consumer culture , Food provisioning , Identity , Everyday consumption
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