This chapter argues for the need to build an economic sociology/political economy of demand that goes from micro-individual through to macro-structural features. It develops an ‘instituted economic process’ approach to the study of demand and innovation to account for processes of institutionalisation and deinstitutionalisation. Within this framework, the concept of a ‘production—distribution—retail—consumption’ configuration is seen as shaping innovation. The empirical investigations of this chapter involve analysis of how retail markets link demand with supply, and how that link is a structured one: the interface facing both ways. The chapter explores three empirical cases. The first involves the near disappearance of wholesale markets for fresh fruit and vegetables to retail markets, and the particular questions raised in terms of range and quality of products that flow through them. The second deals with an equally significant reconfiguration of the retail—distribution—production configuration reflected in the emergence of supermarket own-label products. The third raises the question of how the organisation of retail markets, and their transformation, alters the way demand is instituted between end consumers and retailers.
A challenge to the new economic sociology is that central economic processes should become the focus of theoretical and empirical sociological analysis. This chapter argues that competition processes are co-instituted with markets, and that market processes are in turn co-instituted with industrial divisions of labour. It begins with an examination of some of the few empirically based studies of competition, suggesting that they often are developed for overtly normative or prescriptive purposes. The chapter then returns to analyse some of the early Weberian conceptions of competition, upon which to build an economic sociology of competitive processes. It provides an exemplification of the analytical framework through a schematic analysis of changing forms of competition in the historical development of UK food supermarkets. The conclusion drawn from this analysis is that competitive processes are a result of processes of transformation wider than intra-market dynamics.
This book explores the new applications of established theories or adapts theoretical approaches in order to illuminate behaviour in the field of food. It focuses on social processes at the downstream end of the food chain, processes of distribution and consumption. The book reviews the existing disciplinary approaches to understanding judgements about food taste. It suggests that the quality 'halal' is the result of a social and economic consensus between the different generations and cultures of migrant Muslims as distinct from the non-Muslim majority. Food quality is to be viewed in terms of emergent cognitive paradigms sustained within food product networks that encompass a wide range of social actors with a wide variety of intermediaries, professional and governmental. The creation of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) occurred at a juncture when perceptions of policy failure were acknowledged at United Kingdom and European Union governmental levels. The book presents a case study of retailer-led food governance in the UK to examine how different 'quality logics' actually collide in the competitive world of food consumption and production. It argues that concerns around food safety were provoked by the emergence of a new food aesthetic based on 'relationalism' and 'embeddedness'. The book also argues that the study of the arguments and discourses deployed to criticise or otherwise qualify consumption is important to the political morality of consumption.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book focuses on highly contentious issue, that of the use of the intriguing concept of quality. It explores new applications of established theories and adapts theoretical approaches in order to illuminate behaviour in the field of food. The book presents existing disciplinary approaches to understand judgements about taste. It also presents economists' approaches to quality and demand with a view to providing a more adequate and persuasive account. The book shows how complex, and also how almost whimsical, are the social processes involved in convincing people that a product about to be purchased has a particular desired attribute. It considers a form of challenge, orchestrated primarily by groups of agricultural producers, to the conventional industrial food system.
This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on concepts discussed in the preceding chapters of this book. The book describes that quality is inevitably about controversy over standards, and presents a set of diverse and detailed observations. It analyses of what it is to make a claim that something is of better quality than something else. The book focuses on a number of contrasting approaches to quality of food. It describes that different quality attributes could also have included contributions from sensory studies, biology, toxicology, psychology and others. It illustrates some of the ways in which the duty of interpretation may be conducted, suggesting a number of different ways to handle the quandaries of judgement. The book examines quality in the consumption sphere, several of the contributions have tacitly recognised links to commercial considerations.