This book takes a fragment of social life, dining out in restaurants, and uses it to examine the nature and meaning of manners and social relations in the modern world. It is necessary to eat to maintain the body, but eating out transforms this act into a public event full of social significance. Dining out is a performance, a highly mannered and stylised event subject to bourgeois fashions and patterns of conspicuous consumption. How has the pursuit of private pleasure become part of the public arena? Why is dining out so popular today? How does the individual decide that dining out is a pleasure, that it will satisfy his or her desires and that it is a past-time worth pursuing? In order to answer these questions, Finkelstein retraces the social history of the restaurant and examines the different types of restaurant which are prevalent today. Drawing on the seminal work of Norbert Elias, she focuses on the nature and development of manners and their relation to customs, fashions and the formation of personal identity. She argues that the modern habit of dining out demonstrates a lack of civility in modern social relations: consumer culture, with its conspicuous consumption, has encouraged the development of a social milieu in which interpersonal exchanges are commodified.
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