Making It: Success, Mediocrity, and Failure in the Kitchen

dc.contributor.advisor Johnson, David T. Meiser, Ellen Tienwhey
dc.contributor.department Sociology 2021-07-29T23:21:00Z 2021-07-29T23:21:00Z 2021 Ph.D.
dc.subject Sociology
dc.subject Social psychology
dc.subject Social research
dc.subject Culinary industry
dc.subject Cultural capital
dc.subject Culture
dc.subject Emotions
dc.subject Mediocrity
dc.subject Success
dc.title Making It: Success, Mediocrity, and Failure in the Kitchen
dc.type Thesis
dcterms.abstract Restaurants, diners, and cafes dot every metropolis and whistle-stop in America, employing roughly 2.5 million chefs and cooks. Using in-depth interviews (n=50) and surveys (n=258) of kitchen workers and 120 hours of participant-observation of a restaurant in Anchorage, Alaska, this dissertation explores the culinary world and investigates social psychological perceptions of success, mediocrity, and failure. I ask two primary questions: what does it take to “make it” in the commercial kitchen? And how do individuals, in their attempt at “making it,” form and revise their subjective notions of success, mediocrity, and failure? This study shows that “making it” in a creative blue-collar industry hinges on the accumulation of kitchen capital, an occupation-specific form of cultural capital that displays one’s grasp of workplace culture, cooking, and an individual’s identity within the kitchen hierarchy. It is accrued through education, embodied skill, emotion management, and the domination of others’ space and person—the primary topics of the substantive chapters of this dissertation. And it is done so in hopes of success and occupational mobility within the formal “brigade system,” the common organizational structure of Western kitchens. Consequently, the process and actual accumulation of occupation-specific capital influences one’s perceptions of and ability to achieve success. As chefs and cooks try to “make it,” they actively reframe personal history to fit narratives of “success,” despite objective evidence of the contrary. Subjects from this study preferred to deny personal mediocrity and failure, an inclination scholar Daniel Gilbert (2005) has found in other populations. Thus, I conclude this dissertation with an exploration into the cognitive biases, sociological reasonings, and subjective manipulations behind such optimistic evaluations of the self. The implications of establishing kitchen capital as a concept is to expand sociological understandings of how cultural capital functions within work, and to encourage future researchers to continue examining occupation-specific capital in other industries. Exploring these forms of capital not only highlight what a profession values, but also the hierarchical structures that mediate the values and principles that guide workplace behaviors. We can use these notions of cultural capital to understand how and where workers draw their lines of distinction and cultural boundaries. This dissertation closes with an epilogue describing the impacts of COVID-19 on the culinary industry and kitchen workers. Using data from follow-up interviews, I argue that kitchen capital—a key factor of occupational success prior to the pandemic—has remained essential during these uncertain times, and will continue to long after. Data also show that stress and worry over health have depleted many individuals’ cognitive and emotional resources, and have blinded people from a long-term perspective that includes notions of success, ordinariness, and failure. Additionally, the pandemic has given privileged individuals a glimpse into the reality of the everyday trials of the disadvantaged—a state that many kitchen workers existed in prior to and during the pandemic.
dcterms.extent 295 pages
dcterms.language en
dcterms.publisher University of Hawai'i at Manoa
dcterms.rights All UHM dissertations and theses are protected by copyright. They may be viewed from this source for any purpose, but reproduction or distribution in any format is prohibited without written permission from the copyright owner.
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