Dr Chris Kaplonski
My current research project examines the intersection of consumption, sustainability and ethics through the lens of the sense of taste. Phrased concisely, the project asks: ‘how do our beliefs about the world affect the way we taste?’ More specifically, the project looks at several types of sustainable wine-making in Austria, and how both consumers and producers negotiate the potential conflict between taste and belief.
The most radical forms of sustainable wine-making, biodynamic and natural (also known as low-intervention) wine-making often lead to wine that tastes, looks and even smells substantially different than the wine most consumers will be familiar with. This presents a unique opportunity to understand how people enact beliefs not simply when they are challenged by other beliefs, but by their own sensual experiences. If an ethical stance leads to strange, discomforting or even unsettling sensory experiences, how is this reconciled?
This project encompasses not only issues of personal taste and consumption, but also political economy more broadly. For many types of wines the ‘typical taste’ is determined by a panel of experts, and expectations of taste thus play a key role in how wine is labelled and presented to the public.
The project distinguishes itself from other work on ethical eating, such as vegetarianism, veganism, or even the Slow Food movement, insofar as these are based on including or excluding categories of items, and by extension, taste, as a result of beliefs. Anthroenology on the other hand engages directly with the sensual experience of consumption as a primary focus of research.
Some of the issues we seek to understand in this project include: If natural wine makers intend to continue to produce wines that are rejected by some consumers and even critics as bad, how might they engage with and shift current conceptions of taste? Do and can ethical appeals (to issues of sustainability) impact our perception of how a product (wine) should taste? To what degree do producers contribute to understandings of natural, biodynamic or otherwise ‘sustainable’ wines, particularly where agreed upon international standards (for sustainable and natural wines) are lacking, and, when present, certification is not always sought by producers?
Anthroenology is a joint project between Chris Kaplonski, a social anthropologist, and Julia Leijola, a photographer also trained in anthropology. They are working with a number of biodynamic and natural wine-makers in Austria, as well as with institutions concerned with sustainable agriculture and wine-making. As a collaboration between an academic and someone working outside academia, they are particularly concerned to reach a broader public through a variety of outreach activities.
The project website is www.anthroenology.org