The research project explores the meaning and significance of food, eating practices and health for modern societies from the nineteenth century to the present. By bringing together health sciences, sociology, and history, we will analyze how health developed into a most powerful regulating ideal in liberal societies, which are built upon a productive, efficient, self-reliant and fit population. In what has been called the “biopolitics” of modern societies, food and eating practices have become a crucial means for shaping individual wellbeing as well as collective stability, development, and fitness. Thus, the interdependences of food, eating practices and health make a key issue for the understanding of modern societies. This is shown by the current panic about body fat and the so-called “obesity crisis,” which, at the same time, correlates with a health and fitness boom. What might appear as contradictory at first glance, turns out to mark the spectrum of a society and culture that builds on efficient, self-reliant, healthy, and fit citizens, whose potential is seen as being represented by their body shape. Therefore, bodies point to the fragility of this order, as they are taken as physical expression of the success or failure in the efforts of self-management.
The interdependences of food, eating practices, and health also constitute a field with substantial potential for the further interdisciplinary development of theoretical and methodological approaches to the analysis of the history and sociology of modern societies.
The project ties into existing and innovative research fields such as the study of the body, dis/ability studies, and governmentality studies. Yet it also broadens their approach and contributes to the further development of interdisciplinary tools and methodologies by bringing together scholars from the health sciences, sociology and history. The analysis of subject formations will be tied to the analysis of the practices and opinions of historical and contemporary actors in their everyday life. More precisely, the project will scrutinize the discursive formation of knowledge on food, eating, health, and fitness since the nineteenth century, while at the same time inquiring into related institutional transformations, opinion building and stigmatization processes and into their impact on practices in everyday life. It will also analyze the complex relations of health, food and eating practices from an intersectional perspective and consider their power effects across a society structured by race, class, gender, etc.
Key issues of this kind demand the consideration of global patterns and transnational interdependences and at the same time of national, regional, and local particularities. Taking a transatlantic perspective, the project will focus on Germany and the U.S. in particular. Yet it will also take interrelations with other world regions into consideration, which will serve to “provincialize” the outcome of our work and put into a global perspective.