Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users, please click the view more button below to purchase a copy of this dissertation from Proquest.

(Some titles may also be available free of charge in our Open Access Dissertation Collection, so please check there first.)

Feeding friends and others: Boundaries of intimacy and distance in sociable meals

Alice P Julier, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This is about “eating in” with friends and others. Georg Simmel suggests that eating together is a profound intersection of the social and the individual, since what the individual eats, no one else can eat under any circumstances. This research uses qualitative interviews and participant observations to explore occasions where people inviting non-kin into their households for food and sociability. Using the work of Mary Douglas, Marjorie DeVault, and Pierre Bourdieu, I explore the concrete pleasures and labors of cooking and the discourses of food that shape the experience. When people invite friends, neighbors, or family members to partake of a meal within their household, they are engaging in forms of sociability, delineating lines of intimacy and distance. Chapters describe the events themselves, the shared meal and the sociable moments surrounding it, as well as the performances of self that are created through these everyday interactions. Narratives describe potlucks, dinner parties, buffets and barbecues as social forms that express something about the relationships being enacted. Each involves different degrees of formality, different roles and social expectations for participants, and different divisions of labor in the actual production of the food, the event, and social interactions. People choose to participate in these events as a way of constructing close relationships that are not necessarily rooted in the obligations associated with kinship. Commensality with friends and others is a key component to the ongoing construction of gender and class boundaries in contemporary America. Analyzing people's narratives along with texts like Emily Post's Etiquette and Martha Stewart's Entertaining, I suggest that domestic hospitality is a shifting social form, where an ethos of comfort and individuality often collides with more formal cultural templates of sociable meals. Among my interviewees, formal dinner parties remain important to upper middle class professionals, generally requiring invisible labor done by women, even when men cook. Others modify formality through buffets, asking guests to contribute to the meal, and using commercial foods. Potlucks are the most informal social form, with a potentially egalitarian division of labor and greater opportunities for diverse groups from different social strata to share food.

Subject Area

Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology|Social research

Recommended Citation

Julier, Alice P, "Feeding friends and others: Boundaries of intimacy and distance in sociable meals" (2002). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3056246.