Food labels as boundary objects: How consumers make sense of organic and functional foods

Department of Geography, University of Hull, Hull, UK.
Public Understanding of Science (Impact Factor: 1.87). 03/2011; 20(2):179-94. DOI: 10.1177/0963662509336714
Source: PubMed


This paper considers how consumers make sense of food labeling, drawing on a qualitative, empirical study in England. I look in detail at two examples of labeling: 1) food certified as produced by organic methods and 2) functional food claimed to be beneficial for human health, especially probiotic and cholesterol-lowering products. I use the concept of "boundary objects" to demonstrate how such labels are intended to work between the worlds of food producers and food consumers and to show how information is not merely transferred as a "knowledge fix" to consumer ignorance. Rather, consumers drew on a binary of "raw" and "processed" food and familiarity with marketing in today's consumer culture to make sense of such labeling.

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    • "She criticizes the belief in labels as a " knowledge fix " (Eden et al. 2008:1) and proposes conceptualizing organic labels as " boundary objects " (Eden 2011:179) that intermediate between producers and consumers. Labels tend to be reduced to a vehicle for marketing and for transmitting information (Chen 2007, Roitner-Schobesberger et al. 2008, Eden 2011, Hjelmar 2011, Akaichi et al. 2012). However, qualitative research shows that consumers perceive organic labels as advertisements, not neutral intermediaries, and many respondents therefore approach labels with critical reflection perceiving them as not credible (Cook et al. 2009, Finnemann et al. 2012, Povlsen 2015). "
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    ABSTRACT: ABSTRACT. Our purpose was to qualify the relations between trust, credibility, and the field of organics by way of creating a dialogue between two independent Organic Research, Development and Demonstration Programme “MultiTrust” subprojects. Both projects explore the explanatory value of trust and credibility for the success of organic labels in the fields of management research and media research. Our key objectives were to critically scrutinize the trust and credibility constructs applied in each of these two fields, to reflect on their explanatory value in the performance of organics from both a management and media perspective, and to set out an agenda for future interdisciplinary research. We conclude that relations between organic products, labels, and consumers are still poorly understood, that the belief in organic labels’ direct impact on consumer choices in favor of organic food purchase cannot be supported, and that the explanatory value of trust for the success of organic production remains unproven. We propose for future research to investigate the relevance of credibility and trust for organics in multidisciplinary mixed-methods studies that focus on the emergence of trust, as well as on other social factors impacting the success of organic production. This would best be achieved through interdisciplinary work.
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2015 · ECOLOGY AND SOCIETY
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    • "Latour (2005) described the role of boundary objects similar to two-way translators or mediators exchanging meaning amongst various social worlds. Different actors could exchange information between their worlds and put their knowledge to work (Eden, 2011). Bucchi and Lorenzet (2008) were the first to apply the idea of boundary objects in an analysis of the role of pop music in science communication. "
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    ABSTRACT: Previous research showed that pop music bands in the Western world have sometimes included science imagery in their lyrics. Their songs could potentially be helpful facilitators for science communication and public engagement purposes. However, so far no systematic research has been conducted for investigating science in popular music in Eastern cultures. This study explores whether science has been regarded as an element in the creation of popular mainstream music, and examines the content and quantity of distribution through an analysis of mainstream music lyrics, to reflect on the conditions of the absorption of science into popular culture. The results indicate that expressions related to astronomy and space science feature very prominently. Most of the lyrics are connected to emotional states and mood expressions and they are only very rarely related to actual issues of science. The implications for science communication and further research are discussed in the final section.
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2015 · Public Understanding of Science
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    • "The problem was framed as one of public " knowledge deficit " (see e.g. Eden, 2011), where electricity users could not make rational decisions because they were in the dark regarding their own consumption. "
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    ABSTRACT: This paper analyzes a ten-year long technology debate, which dealt with the so-called advanced electricity meters in Norway (1998–2008). The debate circled around one central question: should the implementation of this technology be forced through with regulations or should the market decide on pace and character of implementation? In 2008 it was decided that it was best to regulate the implementation. Throughout these 10 years, the debate largely concerned how the future would look with or without regulation. This paper is inspired by “the sociology of expectation”, which assumes that futures are performative. This means that when the future is evoked or imagined, it influences present action and navigation. With this in mind, the paper analyzes future visions and expectations as they were formulated in the technology debate, and traces the role of these futures in the policy debate and for the policy outcome. The paper identifies two modes of future performativity: translative and transformative futures. Translative futures are often mobilized as spokespersons for desired technology or policy trajectories. Here, they work as (a) stagestting devices: sparking debate, enrolling new actors in the debate and generating interest. Further, they work as (b) regulative tools: establishing the need for political decisions, either to realize the content of future visions, or to avoid the contents of alternative futures. Transformative futures do more subtle and gradual work, shifting the practical, symbolic and cognitive meaning of “what” the technology in question might become in the future. As an example, the significance of the advanced electricity meters discussed in this paper changed from being a device filling the knowledge gaps of electricity consumers, to being a central hub in households delivering a range of potential services and being available for a number of different users. In this paper, I describe the gradual shift in understanding of what advanced electricity meters could be as a virtual domestication trajectory.
    Full-text · Article · Nov 2014 · Futures
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