Research

What I study

My general research goal is to advance knowledge in the sociological study of food and consumer culture. My intellectual orientation is rooted in the discipline of sociology, but I also draw from traditions such as gender studies, political-ecology and critical geography. Within sociology, I consider my work connected to scholarly areas such as cultural sociology, gender, as well as scholarship on culture and consumption.

While my research has taken on various empirical topics (ranging from food politics to celebrity chefs to the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty), I am centrally concerned with understanding how cultural and political forces reproduce and legitimate the inequitable and unsustainable features of capitalist economies. Put differently, I seek to better understand hegemony – how it works, when it falters, how it is contested, and how counter-cultural ideals are incorporated into corporate logics.

MAJOR RESEARCH PROJECTS

#1. Gendered foodwaysFood and Femininity book cover

This research stream involves questions of gender and inequality at the intersection of food consumption and social change. It is also a deeply collaborative project – a special thanks here, goes to the amazing Kate Cairns. In my research with Kate, we engage with multiple theoretical frameworks – including theories of embodiment and performativity, feminist Foucauldian literature, and critical theories of consumer capitalism – to theorize the production and performance of “food femininities” within a neoliberal culture of individualized commodity solutions. Our goal is to make a feminist contribution to theories of neoliberal subjectivity by demonstrating how neoliberal ideologies are embedded in women’s lived experience and affect. Put in simpler language, we study gender, food choices, and the emotions surrounding food consumption. Entitled Food and Femininity, the book was published  by Bloomsbury Publishing within a new series on Contemporary Food Studies (edited by Michael Goodman and David Goodman).

RELATED PUBLICATIONS

 

#2. ETHICAL CONSUMPTION: Citizens and Consumers

Photo Credit: Anelyse Weiler

Shoppers have always balanced competing pressures of taste, economy, and health, but they are increasingly charged with the political project of ‘saving’ the world by purchasing foods like rainforest crunch ice cream and fair-trade coffee. While our grocery purchases might seem personalized and idiosyncratic, food scholars emphasize that food choices have sociological underpinnings and ethical implications. This research stream uses food as a lens to focus on the transformative potential and contradictions of consumer-based strategies for social change. It also investigates the classed and gendered nature of ethical consumption and cosmopolitan eating. The work draws on qualitative and quantitative research data. This research has received funding from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the Canadian Institute for Health Research (CIHR), and an Ontario Government Early Researcher Award (ERA). Most recently, I have been involved in a SSHRC-funded project with Emily Huddart Kennedy and John Parkins investigating the tension between citizenship and consumerism in the eat-local movement.

RELATED PUBLICATIONS

  • Baumann, Shyon, Athena Engman, and Josée Johnston. 2015. “Political consumption, conventional politics, and high cultural capital.” International Journal of Consumer Studies. 39(5): 413-421.
  • Cappeliez, Sarah and Josée Johnston. 2013. “From meat and potatoes to “real-deal” rotis: Exploring everyday culinary cosmopolitanism.” Poetics 41: 433-455. Online Aug 2013.
  • Johnston, Josée, Alexandra Rodney and Michelle Szabo. 2012. “Place, Ethics, and Everyday Eating: A Tale of Two Neighbourhoods,” Sociology. Volume 46 (6): 1091-1108.
  • Johnston, Josée, and Kate Cairns. 2012. Eating for change. In Commodity activism: Cultural resistance in neoliberal times, edited by Sarah Banet-Weiser and Roopali Muhkerjee, 219-239. New York University Press.
  • Johnston, Josée and Sarah Cappeliez. 2012. “You are what you eat: Enjoying (and Transforming) Food Culture,” In Critical Perspectives in Food Studies. (Eds.) Mustafa Koc, Jennifer Sumner, and Tony Winson. Oxford University Press. Pp. 49-64.
  • Johnston, Josée, Michelle Szabo and Alexandra Rodney. 2011. “Good Food, Good People: Understanding the Cultural Repertoire of Ethical Eating” Journal of Consumer Culture. Vol 11 (3). 293-318.
  • Johnston, Josée and Michelle Szabo. 2011. “Reflexivity and the Whole Food Market Shopper: Shopping for change, or cruising for pleasure?” Agriculture and Human Values. Vol 28: 303-319.
  • Johnston, Josée. 2008. “The citizen-consumer hybrid: Ideological tensions and the case of Whole Foods Market.” Theory and Society 37:229-270.

#3. FOODIES and GOURMET FOOD CULTURE

Foodies - Democracy and Distinction in the Gourmet FoodscapeIn this project, which has been undertaken with Shyon Baumann, we have been motivated by the following research questions: How are some foods framed as gourmet foods, suitable for fashionable, high status consumption? And what can we learn from gourmet food about the valuation and categorization of cultural products more generally? More broadly, we are deeply interested in understanding how food tastes can work to obfuscate, or naturalize various forms of social inequality. Our more recent writing and research on gourmet food involves a second edition of Foodies, which was released in 2015.

RELATED PUBLICATIONS

  • Johnston, Josée, and Shyon Baumann. 2015 [2010]. Foodies: Democracy and Distinction in the Gourmet Foodscape. New York: Routledge. Cultural Spaces Series. 2nd Edition.
  • Cairns, Kate, Josée Johnston and Shyon Baumann. 2010. Caring about food: Doing gender in the foodie kitchen. Gender & Society 24(5):591-615.
  • Johnston, Josée, Shyon Baumann, and Kate Cairns. 2010. The national and the cosmopolitan in cuisine: Constructing America through gourmet food writing. In The globalization of food, edited by David Inglis and Debra Gimlin, 161-183. London: Berg Publishers.
  • Johnston, Josée and Shyon Baumann. 2009. “Tension in the Kitchen: Explicit and Implicit Politics in the Gourmet Foodscape”. Sociologica. www.sociologica.mulino.it. Issue 1.
  • Johnston, Josée and Shyon Baumann. 2007. “Democracy versus Distinction: A Study of Omnivorousness in Gourmet Food Writing,” American Journal of Sociology. 113:165-204.