In today’s world, eating out is serious business. And Christel Lane’s new book, The Cultivation of Taste, is a serious—and engaging—scholarly investigation into the business of the culinary industry. Broadly, her comparative analysis of the world of fine-dining chefs and top restaurants in Britain and Germany is a study of the contemporary social organization and business of taste. It unites arguments from organizational theory, the sociology of culture, and economic sociology. Lane, a sociologist, takes the reader on a behind-the-scenes tour, spanning organizational and industry structures, the occupational careers and attitudes of elite chefs, and the taste-making power of gastronomic guides, namely the prestigious Michelin Guide. Her choice of Britain and Germany as case studies was a purposeful one; both are newcomers to fine dining and equally smaller than the French sector. Yet, despite lacking rich histories of haute cuisine, both have seen stratospheric public interest in home-grown fine dining—and all that neo–fine-dining entails in the 21st century—in the last few decades.
In theorizing the differences between the development of fine dining in the two countries, Lane offers both a macro-level study of institutional change within the field of European gastronomy and a meso-level investigation of organizational logics and repertoires of action among the chefs who inhabit this unique social world. This will likely be relevant for neo-institutionalists in regard to logics and inhabited institutionalism, as well as speak to organizational ecologists interested in category spanning. Lane relies primarily on Boltanski and Thevenot’s (2006) forms of “worth,” principles of evaluation that define what is appropriate, or not, in different realms of social life. Many of these conceptions of value are in conflict with one another here, such as tensions between creativity and profit. While it does not break much new theoretical ground for organization scholars, the book offers an in-depth look at how diversity in logics structures organizational entities and competing orders of worth in a hot cultural industry.
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