When routine becomes pandemic ritual: Family dinner disrupted and reformed

Teresa Davis, David Marshall

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

Abstract / Description of output

Consumer culture work has chosen to ignore everyday family food routines in favour of key festive or celebratory ritual settings such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, Birthdays and weddings (Belk et. al. 1989, Miller 1993, Otnes 2007, Otnes & McGrath 1994, Pleck 2000, Rook 1985, Rossano 2012, Wallendorf & Arnould 1991). Rituals, routines, habits and shifts in processes around everyday consumption practices of family life, like eating dinner, remain relatively unexplored (Bacon 2018, Cappellini & Parsons 2012, Cappellini et. al. 2016, Epp & Price 2012, 2018, Marshall 2005, 2018, Mosio et al. 2004, Tinson & Nuttall 2022, Wilk 2010). Where routines are ‘endangered or disrupted’, as in the pandemic, these are likely to take on a new significance (Eisenstadt 1982:169). Given the relative frequency, consistency and importance of family dinner in everyday life, food consumption and the market more generally, this seems a good place to examine associated routines and rituals (Cappellini et. al. 2016, Gronow & Warde 2001, Mosio et al. 2004, Marshall 2005, Tinson & Nuttall 2022).

However, the distinction between these concepts is not always clear and there appears to be considerable overlap. The common theme centres on the episodic sequence of events in a recognised and fixed sequence. Tetreault and Kline (1990) argue that rituals primarily aim to accomplish status transition and social maintenance ‘instantaneously’ through public enactment in a socially prescribed manner constrained by social mores. Routines, they suggest, involve different degrees of conscious processing depending on the individual or situation and are more amenable to modification or extinction. Moreover, routines are often seen as …individual, less meaningful and tend not to prompt behavioural responses from others’ (Tinson & Nuttall 2022). Not all routines involve rituals and social rituals do not necessarily become routine or habitual (Rook 1985: 252). The purpose of this paper is to look at these differences in the private context of the midweek family dinner both before and during the pandemic lockdown. We begin by revisiting Rook’s (1985) definition of ritual and consider the role of eating routines. After outlining the research method we report on findings from a qualitative study with British and Australian families before and during the pandemic. We discuss the importance of routine food practices and how they transform into key daily rituals that help families manage time and space boundaries during times of extreme disruption.

The paper highlights the blurred distinction between private family routines and domestic rituals and the contribution of these ‘taken-for-granted practices that form the rhythm of everyday life’ (Phipps & Ozanne 2017: 361). The paper contributes to our understanding of the complex integrated and interrelated nature of food consumption practices that determine how the continuity of the routines of the contemporary dinner ‘table’ are held, transformed and maintained through severe disjuncture. Moreover, it maps the processes by which routines surrounding this most ‘ordinary’ of events, the family dinner, become ritualised to preserve the ‘extra-ordinary’ continuity in practice while simultaneously accommodating extreme changes in contemporary family life. Finally, it considers the marketing implications of understanding how more mundane aspects of food consumption in ‘normal’ everyday daily life are imbued with greater symbolic and ritualised meaning during the pandemic disruption when all other routines has been upturned or distorted.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAcademy of Marketing Conference 2023
Subtitle of host publicationFrom Revolution to Revolutions: Proceedings Book
EditorsFinola Kerrigan
PublisherAcademy of Marketing
Number of pages2
ISBN (Electronic)9781399958042
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2023
EventAcademy of Marketing Conference: From Revolution to Revolutions - Birmingham, United Kingdom
Duration: 3 Jul 20236 Jul 2023


ConferenceAcademy of Marketing Conference
Abbreviated titleAM2023
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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