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Six— Aesthetic Constraints

图书名称:Kitchens:The Culture of Restaurant Work
图书作者:Gary Alan Fine    ISBN:
出版社:Berkeley: University of California Press    出版日期:1996年

De gustibus non disputandum.
—Latin proverb


In view of workers' demands for autonomy and organizational constraints on that autonomy, how is "good" work possible? Sociologists of work have been little concerned with questions of how work gets done, as that doing relates to questions of style and form: the aesthetics of work. The conditions that produce "quality" have been ignored, while the technical, functional, and goal-directed doings of workers and workers' attempts to undercut authority in the workplace have been emphasized (Fantasia 1988; Hodson 1991). This approach treats work worlds as instrumental systems, downplaying that what is useful to the management or consumer may or may not be elegant to the workers. How do organizations facilitate and restrain occupational aesthetics?

During the past two decades sociologists have attempted to understand the creation of cultural products through a "production of culture" approach (Peterson 1979; Becker 1982) that analyzes cultural production through the same tools as "industrial" work. This perspective emphasizes that: (1) issues of quality are central to production, and that process involves "aesthetic choices"; (2) aesthetic choices are a form of organizational decision making, can be negotiated, and are not fully reducible to organization demands; (3) organizational features encourage, channel, and limit aesthetic choices; and (4) organizations can define their own aesthetics, taking into consideration their placement within a market niche and clients' definitions. In contrast, I wish to demonstrate how options and constraints produce the expressive form of work products: what might be termed the culture of production. Organizational, market, and client constraints affect the qualities of work products.

In speaking of the expressive side of production, I select the slippery term "aesthetics" to refer to the sensory component of production.[1] Why aesthetics? This concept is the broadest of a cluster of terms that involve the sensory qualities of experience and objects: beauty, creativity, elegance, goodness, and the like. An aesthetic object, or act, is intended to produce a sensory response in an audience (Shepard 1987; Wolff 1983). No special brief exists for this definition other than its utility and general reasonableness. It captures the cognitive ("satisfaction") and affective ("sensory") components of aesthetic judgments and includes the intentional quality of human action. Aesthetics emphasizes that these choices are distinct from purely instrumental and efficient choices: that workers care about "style," not only about technical quality. Although form and function are typically intertwined, aesthetics refers specifically to the production of form, not only function. Attempts to produce "good work" often involve an intimate linkage between form and function, and functionally perfect objects may be seen as having perfect form. Judgments of quality derive from both, although my focus here is on the former. In cooking, and other work arenas, the sensory characteristics of objects and services have a special standing among workers and the public.[2]

The practical creation of industrial objects is a fundamentally social enterprise, constructed through interaction and organizational constraint.[3] As a result, the feeling for form or creative impulse, and its limitations, needs to be emphasized in theorizing on the structure of work and occupations. Not doing so gives a distorted picture of the workplace, making it alternatively seem too instrumental, denying a sense of identity and craft to workers, or filled with conflict, emphasizing how workers are separated from their work and their supervisors. Work matters to workers, and workers have craft standards by which they judge work products and performance that transcend the narrow goals of producing things efficiently and to bureaucratic specification. This connection between the worker and the work is central to the occupational identity of workers. Craft is a part of all work life (Forrest 1988).

First, cooking, like all occupations, involves an aesthetic concern that takes its form from decisions about the sensory components of food. Second, the practical doing of cooking is an everyday accomplishment and is negotiated in practice by workers. Third, culinary production is channeled by social and economic constraints and by occupational segmentation.

Doing Aesthetics

All work is socially situated and constrained environmentally and organizationally. No matter how idealistic the worker, in fact, goals are embedded in the negotiated compromises of work. Aesthetics is activity, rather than a doctrine (Becker 1982, p. 131)—it is an everyday accomplishment. Theory only flickers around the edges of the consciousness of workers. Following from this, most workers are not explicit about (or even conscious of) their aesthetic decisions. They desire to produce objects or services that are pleasing sensually, but typically their awareness of the basis for this desire is vague. For example, a hotel cook told me: "When I make my soup . . . I try to make it look as nice as possible, and to taste. I feel I take a lot of pride in it. When other people make soup it doesn't always look like mine" (Field notes, Blakemore Hotel). This worker has a generalized sense of "niceness" that includes looks and taste, but the analysis does not transcend this partially inarticulate sentiment.

The content of this sensibility varies in each cook and restaurant, and is further complicated by the realization that cooking involves situated choices. Still, all cooks hope to present dishes of which they are proud—food that will appeal to their customers' senses, not merely food that will satiate them or make them healthy, the functional characteristics of food. This culinary evaluation involves numerous senses. The head chef at La Pomme de Terre responded when I asked what he liked best about cooking:

Making something that I think is just the greatest. I did a bouillabaisse . . . and I thought it was just the greatest. . . . It had a lot of seafood in it, a lot of shellfish, shrimp, lobster, mussels, clams, and about six other seafood items in it, and the sauce was a somewhat thin, primarily lobster-based sauce, lots of butter, and very, very rich, and the thing that was best about it was everything was made to where, typically if you have bouillabaisse, you have to hold onto something with the tongs and dig meat out of the shell and stuff like that, but I prepared it so that everything was done for you. . . . It was not only tasty and unusually fantastic as far as flavor, smell, and sight; it was easy to eat.
(Personal interview, La Pomme de Terre)

The range of senses is invoked in this cook's sense of his culinary triumph.[4] Lest one believe that this sensory concern applies only to tony restaurants, where some might claim the cooks really are artists, it applies to the steakhouse as well. The chef at the steakhouse responded to my question about what a piece of baked salmon should be: "It should be just very lightly, you should see a tinge of brown on the outside, but it shouldn't be overcooked. It should be just done. Nice and moist" (Personal interview, Stan's). Again, a range of sensory modalities affects the evaluation of food, even where one might assume that such interest is limited.

An aesthetic evaluation may involve more than the production of appealing products: it may also derive from the doing—an experience of "flow" (Csikszentmihalyi 1975). Some cooks speak of themselves as artists through their actions (Clark 1975, p. 33), making cooking a performance art. For some the criteria for quality labor are primarily in the product: the sight, feel, taste, or smell; for others they are in the performance; but for each the work has a style, a sense of form, an aesthetic.

Ideally this evaluation should be grounded within the occupation—although products are typically also judged by clients and on occasion performance is as well, as in demonstration kitchens. The evaluation of production is not only a result of demands of customers and managers but also of cooks' independent standards of judgment. Certainly these independent standards cannot radically vary from customer demands, even for elite chefs (Kimball 1985, p. 18), and there are critical situations in which clients' demands take precedence, but cooks have their own judgments that are not reducible to organizational requirements. Management and customers do demand aesthetic production and, so, are in sympathy with the goals of the cooks, but the constraints from these demands and standards of aesthetics may limit what cooks are able to produce. All parties value "good work," but the meanings and the external considerations differ.

The salience of evaluations by cooks are evident when workers are creating "unique" items. This follows from the observation that the more unique the product and the less routine the task, the less an organization can rely on formal rules, and the greater the autonomy that must be given to workers (e.g., Woodward 1965; Faulkner 1971; Coser, Kadushin, and Powell 1982). Individualized production technologies lead to choices but simultaneously can lead to a recognition of the lack of autonomy because of constraints. When cooks can create without pressure, they do and are proud of the results. For example, one cook preparing a wedding dinner carved a pair of birds of paradise from apples and sent them to the bride and groom as his gift for their marriage (Robert Pankin 1987, personal communication). Likewise, after making a chocolate cake, the pastry chef at La Pomme de Terre added four raspberries and drizzled chocolate sauce over them, commenting "I'll put some fruit on here so it looks a little more abstract" (Field notes, La Pomme de Terre). Although she was expected to create "beautiful" desserts, her touch was not a result of management policy; rather, her standards developed from a sense of what it meant to be a competent pastry chef and an artistically literate person.

Although cooks have some control over the sensory characteristics of the food they prepare, the doing of this aesthetic work is a daily achievement, not merely grounded in theoretical choices. The production of "high quality" items, as defined by cooks, depends on a balance of culinary ideals (e.g., using natural ingredients, adding delicate garnishes) and of production constraints. The ends direct production choices, as in two discussions of the color of a sauce:

The head chef at the Owl's Nest pours a considerable amount of Gravy Bouquet in his brown sauce to make it "richer." He then adds white pepper and stirs the sauce. He explains: "Black pepper shows up and looks like mouse turds. Little black specks. So I use white pepper." White pepper is also added to the restaurant's mashed potatoes.
(Field notes, Owl's Nest)

The head day cook is preparing cheese sauce, using powdered cheese. He adds a capful of orange food color to the pot, saying that this makes the sauce look more like cheese, and, if you were actually to add cheese, "It gets too sandy."
(Field notes, Owl's Nest)

These cooks are making decisions in practice. They believe, correctly, that the visual appeal of the food, the first thing that both cooks and customers notice, affects the way the dish tastes—sensory realms are interconnected (e.g., Moir 1936; Pangborn 1960).

Cooks can be admiring or critical toward what they prepare, depending on their evaluation of the outcomes, both in terms of sales and customer appreciation and in terms of occupational standards. This evaluation implies a realm of objects that do not meet the criterion of ideal or acceptable objects. No occupational world can long survive if participants judge everything equal to everything else.

For collective judgment, differentiation in the evaluation of produced objects is essential.[5] In cooking, this judgment may involve any of the relevant senses. For example, one cook criticized a bunch of grapes as having "bad lines." An outsider might wonder how grapes can have bad lines, until it is learned that the ideal of a bunch of grapes is a pyramid, and that other bunches better meet this criterion. Crepes can be described as "lopsided," implying agreement that crepes should be circular. A more detailed example is the condemnation of a dish that "doesn't work": "Howie and Tim taste the beet fettucini that they planned to serve with a tomato sauce—an orange-red sauce on top of a crimson pasta. Tim says to Howie: 'There's something that didn't work. It looks like puke.' Howie adds: 'It tastes like Chef Boyardee. It tastes like SpaghettiOs. It tastes like snot rag.' They decide not to add the sauce" (Field notes, La Pomme de Terre). This judgment is predicated on their view of what constitutes proper food presentation—which colors go together, and what the taste and texture of a properly made sauce should be. Such standards, while tied to occupational standards, must be echoed by customers. Although the judgments of cooks should never be far from their sense of the customers in their market niche, when being creative, they use themselves as guides:

You have the idea in your mind of how something should come out and you have to use your hands and eyes and taste and nose. You have to make it come out the way . . . you want it.
(Personal interview, Stan's)

The thing is to just have the guts to go in and do it. Just try it. Not worry about, Is this thing going to work or not. . . . It's color, flavor, texture, smell. It's all those things put together, and somehow I have a sense of organizing these things and putting them together.
(Personal interview, La Pomme de Terre)

Cooks do not discuss these judgments in terms of their customers, but in terms of what they believe "works," even if they lack a formal theory of the activity (Sclafani 1979). A set of aesthetic conventions exists that is based on occupational standards (Becker 1982), separable from organizational demands, but which must be fitted into the constraints imposed or believed to be imposed by external sources and by the structure of the occupation itself. Occupations struggle to gain control over criteria for judgment from regulators, employers, and clients. Although the recognition of this struggle has been a staple of the analysis of "professions" and other occupations, it applies equally to control of aesthetic choices at work.

Constraints and Negotiations

With claims of independence within an occupation on the one hand and structural limits on the other, how do workers produce objects that they consider satisfying and of high quality? What are the dimensions that channel how workers do good work? Three forces external to occupational autonomy limit production choices, leading workers to cope with these constraints. In cooking, as elsewhere, organizational constraints determine not only the products but also shape the values of workers. On some occasions, cooks chafe under the restrictions of the workplace, but often these restrictions are taken for granted and treated as merely an occupational reality.

Cooking, like all occupations, is grounded in negotiation and compromise. Cooks strive to control the means and circumstances of production, both to make their day passably pleasant and to permit them to be satisfied with what they produce. The proximal source of constraints is a restaurant management that depends on the loyalty of its customers, and this pressure is filtered through the head chef, who is given an annual or monthly budget with which to work. Management supports and encourages aesthetic presentations as long as good work remains profitable. To satisfy management the chef must manipulate the staff to make a profit (and receive a bonus) and to produce good food. Control is furthered by most cooks' internalized acceptance of these economic and temporal constraints.

The most difficult dilemma for cooks is the recognition that often they must serve "bad food"—food that they believe is not up to their own standards of quality, but they have no choice.[6] It is difficult to propose a set of rules that will predict when "poorly prepared" food will be recooked: the cost of the food, the time for cooking, the pressure in the kitchen, the status of the customer, the conscientiousness and mood of the cooks, what is wrong (and if it can be partially corrected without recooking), and the status of the restaurant—all affect the decision. These decisions are negotiated among the kitchen staff and with management on the spot, but all cooks must recognize that they must serve food that they know is not up to their standards. Cooks shrugged when they sent substandard food to unknowing customers and responded sarcastically when, at times, servers announced that they had been complimented on these dishes.

One cook described her frustration with a rack of lamb: "I've racked some lamb. . . . that was just an abortion. It was just awful; I rolled the pastry too thin, and the lamb was overcooked, and . . . it came out looking not like it was supposed to. That makes me feel bad, even though that's fine, and you have to use it. You can't throw it away, but I feel really bad" (Personal interview, La Pomme de Terre). Cooks are dismayed when they have made food of poor quality, and like so many workers they deny that they really care by turning the offensive food into a sick joke, engraving role distance in their performances: "The watercress sauce created for the salmon appetizer has separated. Tim, the head chef, says sarcastically: 'Oh, well, they all look like shit. We don't have to worry.' Gerry, his co-worker, jokes: 'The room's dark'" (Field notes, La Pomme de Terre). Such joking is legitimate in that cooks have other occupational rhetorics besides that of artist to rely upon; for that moment they can constitute themselves as manual laborers, as alienated as any. In occupations such as cooking that can draw upon several occupational rhetorics, workers can strategically employ these to preserve their self-integrity. They identify with the food they produce and see a reflection of their inner qualities in the outcome. When the food does not meet their standards, they must use techniques for backing away from the linkage of self and product. The strategic use of occupationally acceptable rhetoric is a means by which workers can cope with the personal tensions of presentation of self.

Recognizing the constraints in preparing high-quality dishes, I examine three processes that limit cooks from achieving their occupational ideals: customer taste (client demands), time (organizational efficiency), and the economics of the restaurant industry (the resource base of the occupation). These factors cause cooks to compromise their own taste.

Client Demands

The restaurant cook prepares food for an audience that does not belong to his or her occupation, and that may not have the same standards or even be aware of their existence. Yet, cooks and customers agree that restaurant food should be aesthetic, whether or not they agree on what is meant in practice by this term.

Because of market demands, autonomy is yielded to the expectations of the audience (Arian 1971). As a result of the loss of autonomy, workers may resent those who do not have their standards of quality and competence—not just bosses, whose sin is cynicism, but clients, who are seen as culpably ignorant.

Unlike occupations (e.g., beauticians, housepainters, plastic surgeons) in which workers negotiate directly with those who ultimately judge them, cooks rely upon a typification of the audience, derived from their understanding of the restaurant's market niche.[7] Their evaluation is mediated through managers and servers. Those standing beyond the output boundary are not easily known (see Hirsch 1972; Dimaggio 1977): they are absent others. Dishes are cooked for typifications, not persons; yet, persons have the option to complain. Customers judge the dish, whereas cooks have difficulty judging the customer.

As a consequence, cooks develop techniques for dealing with the vagaries of customer taste. At the steakhouse and the continental restaurant cooks routinely undercooked beef. This allowed for correction if the customer wanted the meat more well done. Steaks can never be cooked less. Still, these cooks became annoyed when customers insisted on eating steaks well done. One Friday night at Stan's a large number of steaks were sent back to the cooks' frustration: "One waitress says to the head chef, referring to the customers: 'Are those steaks burnt up enough?' The chef responds: 'I hope so. I don't want them.' Later another cook comments about the evening: 'Bunch of assholes out there. They don't know what they want.' He means that they don't want what he wishes to serve them" (Field notes, Stan's). This problem is equally relevant at La Pomme de Terre, where the canons of nouvelle cuisine emphasize not overcooking food to preserve its "natural" taste. These cooks, too, became annoyed when their "perfectly" cooked dishes (pink duck breast, translucent fish) are returned for additional work. The cook's ability is not only questioned by the customer, but also cooks believe that by accepting the motto The Customer is Always Right, they are prostituting themselves,[8] even though they hope that they may eventually educate their customers (viz., Becker 1963, pp. 79–100). By pleasing the customer, they deny the validity of their own standards. The legitimacy of their aesthetic standards are invalidated by external demands.

Spices and condiments pose a similar problem. The head chef at the Owl's Nest notes: "You season things but not completely seasoned. The first thing the customer does is see the salt and sprinkle it on, pepper and etc. Takes a bite and puts it down and says this has too much salt on it, and take it back. He was the one who put the salt on it; we didn't. So we underseason things. You have to think for the customer. . . . You have to think of everybody's taste" (Personal interview). Even if cooks feel that some foods are unappetizing, they must serve them to customers who enjoy them. Further, even though they personally feel that some foods taste "bad" (e.g., fried liver, spinach), they must learn how to cook them so that the customer who likes them will know that they are cooked correctly, that they represent the best professional practice. They must role-play their clients. This concern for customer taste, and its limits on cooks, is evident at La Pomme de Terre in the selection of fish specials: "I ask Tim how they select the two fish specials each night. Tim tells me: 'We try to have variety. If we have an unusual one, like with perch, we'll have a conventional one, like the monkfish'" (Field notes, La Pomme de Terre). Customer taste is always taken into account, often explicitly by cooks. This differentiates them from contemporary practitioners of the fine arts, who, rhetorically at least, deny obeisance to client demands, which is considered subversive to occupational standing.

Organizational Efficiency

Organizations are expected to produce a certain number of products or services in a set time period (Lauer 1981). As a result, as described in chapter 2, temporal demands constrain production decisions in restaurant kitchens. Customers will wait only so long for any dish, and cooks have limited time in which they can prepare, given the size of the staff, affecting what can be served. These temporal constraints suggest why, discomforting as it may be, when food falls on a dirty counter or floor after it has been cooked, cooks will wipe or rinse it, and then serve it, the customer being none the wiser. The illusion of quality demands hidden affronts. Since cooking is a backstage occupation, innumerable depredations to the foodstuffs are possible (e.g., Orwell 1933, pp. 80–81). A steak that takes thirty minutes to cook must be served because of customers' temporal expectations; customers would never wait for a "second try." Likewise, if a fillet of fish breaks while removing it from the pan to the plate, cooks rearrange it as nicely as possible but still serve it. The production features of the kitchen and, ironically, the demands of the client permit no alternative.

Time also affects specific tasks in the kitchen, which, although they would make the food more appealing, cannot be tried because of time constraints. One cook explained that he wishes to do a "French cut" on a rack of lamb but added, "I'd never have the time to do it" (Interview, Blakemore Hotel). On another occasion, while rushing to make a cherry cobbler, the head chef told one of his cooks to use shortening rather than butter in part because of preparation time (Field notes, Blakemore Hotel). Likewise, cooks do not have the time to improve poor-quality produce: "Martha, the day cook, says to Doug, the head chef: 'The radishes are bad, but I don't have time to clean them up. . . . These look awful.' They are dirty, discolored, and misshapen. Doug sorts through them and throws out a few of the worst ones, and they serve the others" (Field notes, Stan's). The problem of timing was particularly acute at Stan's, which serves more customers than the other three restaurants. Often plates were not wiped off if sauce spilled. As one cook joked on a busy evening, "I'm going for numbers, not for quality." Although this is not always true, it is often true under less than ideal circumstances. Production is a necessity, but quality production is a luxury.

Time constraints apply not only to particular dishes but also to the creation of more elaborate food presentations. As one cook remarked: "To be creative you need time. You can't always have a deadline behind you. Because when you do, you're in a rush. And then when you're in a rush you tend to fail with the creativity. 'I need this by such and such a time,' and then you start getting out the same old thing" (Personal interview, Blakemore Hotel). The head chef at La Pomme de Terre had learned the day before that he must prepare a large press party for his employer. The chef confided to me that despite an impressive menu (sole turban, smoked goose breast with port wine and fruit, goose liver mousse, and duck galantine): "It's not going to be as good as I'd like. I only learned about it today. I'd like to make a grandiose first impression. . . . It's a matter of pride. The artist's pride is at stake" (Field notes, La Pomme de Terre). Ideas for a large display with fresh lobsters and a lobster mousse had to be shelved for lack of time. Although the owner felt that the party was a great success, the head chef was disappointed because it didn't measure up to the quality of which he felt they were capable. While the organization was technically efficient—it did produce something —it was not sufficiently aesthetically productive, by the standards of the chef. Indeed, the demand for organizational efficiency led to a disaster with one of the dishes: a sole turban, whose mousse filling didn't set properly:[9]

Howie tells me that the problem with the sole turban was that "the mousse wasn't made correctly. We could have corrected the problem, but there just wasn't enough time." Throughout the afternoon, while preparing for the buffet, there is joking about the failed dish—joking reflecting an underlying tension. Half-joking, Howie says to Tim: "I put the fish on the outside. Look how perfect that is." Tim comments: "This isn't life or death." Dane, a waiter, jokes: "It's just your job." Howie adds, kidding: "Your reputation is on the line. . . . I hope you make it back [from the reception]. . . . I hope they don't lynch you. I'd wear a neck brace if I were you."
(Field notes, La Pomme de Terre)

All those involved recognize that a mistake had been made, and through their jokes, they are attempting to "process the tragedy." Yet, such processing is not as easy as it might appear, because the failure speaks directly to their sense of themselves as competent professionals and artists (Bosk 1979). Only the reality that the reception must begin with whatever food is available ends the jokes. Even so, and even though the owner considers the reception to be a succès d'estime, the failure of the turban becomes a part of the culture of the kitchen.

Resource Base

The final constraint is the cost of materials. Cooks must not forget that in fact they are part of corporate capitalism. In few other market segments does a free market operate as clearly as in the restaurant industry.

Price and quality combine to determine restaurant success, as judged by external publics. Restaurants are known directly by clients who learn about them through advertising, experience, word of mouth, organizational publicity, and institutionalized gatekeepers such as critics and journalists. On a basic level, price and quality conflict, and the manager and head chef must decide to which market niche to appeal, taking into consideration their perception of the organizational ecology. It is the rare restaurant of which one can report that: "One has no feeling of anything being measured or cost-accounted. Mounds of butter, jugs of thick cream and bottles of wine are everywhere and seem to be added to everything in unlimited quantities" (De Groot 1972, p. 116). Or in which a chef could report: "Sometimes we have to remake a dish three or four times until it is just right. Last week one of my assistants prepared a gratin des langoustes . The sauce was 'short,' too thick and not clear enough. The client might have been satisfied. I wasn't. I made him remake it three times. You cut down on your profits, but you can't run a good restaurant by keeping an eye on the cash register" (Wechsberg 1985, p. 204). Not living in the rarified precincts of French haute cuisine, the head chef at the Owl's Nest recognized the need for economic trade-offs: "We always have variables. The compromise in your mind is using the best you can use and still putting it into an affordable level for the average customer" (Personal interview, Owl's Nest). As decisions are locally situated, despite their structural implications, this trade-off involves specific decisions about particular products, rather than an absolute rule of thumb: "In theory the head chef of the Owl's Nest believes in using the best that is available. He explains: 'The customer may not be able to tell in the finished product. The finished product might taste the same, but it should be made that way.' However, when I ask later why he adds cheap American cooking wine to sauces, rather than expensive French wine, he claims: 'People can't tell the difference'" (Field notes, Owl's Nest). The question is always: Best for what? Imported truffles, beluga caviar, and Château Margaux add enormously to the cost but only slightly to the taste. For this chef, adding these expensive ingredients is not even considered until a sociologist brings them up. The economic reality of food preparation affects his aesthetic vision.

According to the staff at La Pomme de Terre, what distinguishes it from elite American restaurants is not the quality of the preparations but "the touches"—those extra garnishes that restaurants can afford to add if they have a large staff and a loyal clientele. They compare their restaurant to others and find themselves wanting: "The owner confides to me that one of the Twin Cities restaurant critics said that La Pomme de Terre was the best restaurant in the Twin Cities but not as good as Le Perroquet (Chicago) or Lutèce (New York). The owner explains: 'I asked [the critic] why. He said, "The touches." . . . They have more people in the kitchen. The difference is volume. They can count on being sold out every night of the week. We can't'" (Field notes, La Pomme de Terre). Timing, customer taste, and resources merge to prevent this restaurant from reaching its "potential," as judged by the owner's estimation of the local restaurant market. A year later he opened a more expensive and formal restaurant, which included "the touches." It failed; the market did not exist. Cultural products have different price elasticity, even within particular niches. Some food prices are simply considered "obscene." An obdurate reality prevents unconstrained aesthetic activity.

The skill in running a profitable organization is to provide goods or services that clients desire, and that appear to be worth more than they cost. Some foods seem expensive but are not. When the head chef at La Pomme de Terre created saffron pasta with lobster sauce, he noted that the food cost "is not all that high." Likewise, the head chef at the Blakemore explained that salami horns filled with cream cheese look elegant but are inexpensive.

A worker's ability to compromise on quality when his or her judgments conflict with the economics of the organization is crucial for advancement. The head chef at La Pomme de Terre had planned to promote his head day cook to sous chef but decided against it:

Because he's such a renegade. I can't rely on him to do what I want him to do. . . . As an example, last week he's been doing that veal special that he came up with, and it's a real beautiful dish. He takes the veal roulade, and he puts prosciutto ham and goat's cheese with herbs and folds it over and sautés it and serves it with tomato sauce. It's a good dish. He had a couple in there that were getting a little bit dark. The veal starts to get a sort of gray when it gets old, but they were fine; they were just starting to turn gray. I looked at them, and I said they're fine. . . . and he was putting up a couple of veal specials, and I went in the walk-in, and those suckers were sitting there . . . I called him in and said, "What is that, for your mother or what? Come on and get moving. This is a restaurant." He's got such a paranoid pride over being criticized for something that he just took it upon himself to do it. . . . He doesn't have the concept that we're in business. He just thinks it's one big happy deal.
(Personal interview, La Pomme de Terre)

This cook placed his standards of quality—standards with which in theory his head chef agrees—above the production needs of the organization and, being unwilling to negotiate, lost his opportunity for promotion.[10] Cooks must keep one eye on the stove and the other on the marketplace, balancing their sensibilities with what the hospitality industry will permit. While chefs and cooks negotiate, and chefs negotiate with managers about the boundaries of their decision making and their commitment to quantity and quality (e.g., the number of scallops to serve or the time at which food begins to be "off"), an economic imperative channels the kitchen staff's ability to produce.

The Segmentation of Aesthetic Work

Although each occupation is concerned with the expressive quality of production, comparative analysis demonstrates that this concern is variable, not absolute; it is expressed in different forms that may be more or less central to the doing of work. Some outcomes and performances are seen by workers as having more value than others. Further, a determination of what constitutes quality is not absolute within an occupational or art world. No single "aesthetic" sense or unified set of conventions exists. Painters do not paint alike, and they do not believe that they should. The task itself influences one's orientation to work and the role that aesthetic or sensory concerns should have in production. Occupations are socially segmented (Bucher 1962). Cooking as an occupation is segmented on several dimensions; three of the most prominent are the status of the restaurant, the cook's career stage, and the work task—reflecting differences among organizations, actors, and events.

Restaurant Status

Cooks have different working environments—the types of restaurants for which they cook. Freeman and Hannon (1983), detailing the importance of market niche in organizational ecology, focused on the restaurant industry. As I noted in the introduction, restaurants are competitive small businesses in a segmented environment. In this free market, product differentiation is crucial. Restaurants and cooks have different standings and variable amounts of cultural capital,[11] due to the market niche to which the restaurant aspires and the cook's relationship to that niche (his or her habitus), producing variable amounts of cultural differentiation (Bourdieu 1984). When the cook and restaurant management do not share a cultural orientation, the cook must cook "up" or "down" to the level of the restaurant: the display of cultural capital involves impression management.

Some managers expect cooks to reveal a sharp sense of sensory or aesthetic concern: to be aware of the subtle permutations of smell, taste, texture, and looks, and to use these culinary senses autonomously. Cooks at La Pomme de Terre were more overtly concerned with individual choices than were cooks at the other restaurants, and they were given more leeway, since they were expected to be creative. These cooks did not cook from recipes; they created new dishes or cooked using accepted practice. Employees of the hotel kitchen and the steakhouse were less self-consciously concerned with aesthetic quality although they made creative decisions and felt pride in the appearance and taste of their food. Time and motivation in these establishments sometimes led to food being served that might not have been served elsewhere (e.g., onion rings with breading falling off)—they didn't have the time and resources for elegant and creative production.

The self-image and market niche of a restaurant affects how workers view the sensory qualities of their production. Although McDonald's and Lutèce have aesthetics associated with their work, the cooks at the latter have more autonomy, and their aesthetic decisions are more subtle and consequential. McDonald's maintains corporate aesthetic standards for the "design" of their food, set by a central office (Leidner 1993). Worker "aesthetics" at McDonald's involves problem solving of immediate production needs: following preset rules for style, care, efficiency, and routinely coping with customer demands.

Career Stage

A concern with aesthetic issues has different salience at different stages of a cook's career. These stages often correlate with organizational position. Workers advance in the restaurant hierarchy as they demonstrate competency. Jobs change as individuals mature and achieve higher status. Different values, goals, and opportunities influence how aesthetic preferences affect production decisions.

Entry-level cooks are often required to perform routine manual labor, unlikely to be defined in terms of aesthetic choices. They may be asked to chop onions, peel potatoes, or de-string celery. As they progress, they are given more responsibility, and with it comes the authority to know—that is, to be allowed to prepare and later to create complex dishes (Mukerji 1976). This responsibility emerges when the cook demonstrates talent, competence, and conscientiousness to his or her supervisors. I asked a junior cook at La Pomme de Terre whether she had created any dishes:

DIANE: I haven't been allowed the freedom to. I think I will.

GAF: Is there any dish you want to try?

DIANE: Yeah. I did a rainbow trout stuffed with spinach and mushrooms and chopped spinach with cream sauce [at home]; the trout is completely boned and stuffed inside it, and it's wrapped in puff pastry and baked and served with a beurre blanc or vin blanc sauce. It's really a beautiful dish 'cause you make little puff-pastry fish, and I'd like to try that.

GAF: Have you spoken to [the chef] about that?

DIANE: No. I'm just waiting.
(Personal interview, La Pomme de Terre)

The more experienced chef and sous chef are routinely expected to create dishes. Even when cooks are permitted to innovate, they usually check with their supervisors. I once asked the head day cook at La Pomme de Terre about dishes that had failed. He indicated that this doesn't often happen because "we play it pretty safe. If it's outlandish, we ask [the head chef]" (Field notes, La Pomme de Terre). Inexperienced cooks, with less autonomy, must acquiesce to the dictates of those higher up: "Bruce, a regular evening cook at the Owl's Nest, complains about how the head chef makes him cook asparagus: 'I hate lemon on asparagus. . . . It's all right, but it's not my taste, but it's what Paul likes. He puts a whole rind in [while it's cooking], and it falls apart and goes all over the asparagus'" (Field notes, Owl's Nest). Status and role direct the locus of aesthetic decision making. The objects of production reinforce authority relations. Occupational segmentation means that all do not have equal opportunity to participate in aesthetic choices. Although a possibility exists for negotiation within the kitchen, or at least a questioning of authority, a power structure determines what is served.

Work Task

Within any job tasks vary. Some tasks involve a greater consciousness of the sensory dimension of production than others. Painting the background of a portrait is less aesthetically demanding than painting the figure, even though some aesthetic sensibility adheres to both. Some surgery is routine, while other surgery requires a light touch. Buffets and platter work often involve close attention to appearances, while at other times present aesthetic choices affect the work. One hotel cook distinguished between creativity involved in working the line (preparing food to order) and planning a banquet plate: "A line has no creativity to it at all. As far as working in the back, I think you must have creativity because you always have to think up something creative to garnish up your plate with or to make your food look nice" (Personal interview, Blakemore Hotel). Within an occupational routine, tasks differ in the attention given them, in part a function of the degree to which the cook has control over what will be on the plate or platter, and how it is arranged.

In many restaurants cooks have interchangeable jobs. They switch tasks depending on immediate needs; they are not specialists. Yet, specialty areas exist: notably pastry work, where the visual appeal of the dish is central. The pastry chef at La Pomme de Terre defined the difference between cooking and pastry work as the difference between two art worlds: "I think people that get into pastry really heavily and do a lot of fancy decorating, and that's an art like painting. Whereas cooking has more artistic talent in preparing it to the proper degree of doneness and, plus, its arrangement on a plate, so it's a little bit more like photography" (Personal interview, La Pomme de Terre). The great nineteenth-century French chef Carème linked pastry and architecture as one of the five fine arts (Revel 1982, p. 68). Pastry work, with more unpressured time for preparation and planning, permits more thoughtful attention to aesthetic concerns than "line" cooking.

The concern with the sensory qualities of products is a variable characteristic of occupations. While aesthetics is always present, its form and prominence differs. The status and market niche of an organization, the stage of one's career, and the particular task that must be completed each influence how workers address their aesthetic concerns. These choices cannot be reduced to organizational demands but are channeled and specified by organizational and occupational characteristics.

Beyond the Kitchen

A concern with the sensory qualities of products and production applies to all work life, not just restaurants. Much of what we mean by "quality" has this sensory, or aesthetic, dimension; the object or performance transcends functional requirements. Even when unself-conscious about stylistic components, workers still care about what and how they produce. In this, all work has the components of artistic endeavors. House painters, portrait painters, and abstract expressionists have an aesthetic sensibility—a belief that the sensory characteristics of their products matter and that, ideally, the basis of evaluation should be from within the group.

This does not deny the power of constraints. Structural constraints mute an aesthetic centrality. The constraints may derive from one's position, from one's clients, from production dynamics, or from the organization's resource base. Art is like work and work is like art.

Examining aesthetic choices and constraints expands a production-of-culture model. Production decisions are socially organized but are not merely a function of this organization; aesthetic choices and decisions about quality are partly independent from production. This generalizes to other occupations, even though details differ. Most occupations confront demands of client control, organizational efficiency, resource management, and segmentation.

Client Control

Practitioners realize that they labor for those outside of the occupation (Hughes 1971, p. 321). Even though clients rarely make explicit demands of the workers, the occasional complaint and the typification of the client constrain action. Lawyers, as well as their clients, are judged by juries; law clerks attempt to write beautiful briefs, barely read by put-upon judges (Riesman 1951). Dental patients care little about the dentists' standards for elegant fillings as long as they do not feel pain and think they look good. Jazz musicians must put up with the frustrating ignorance of their audiences and shape their notes accordingly (Becker 1963, pp. 91–95). Ministers realize that God is not the only one judging their sermons (Kleinman 1984). In these cases explicit demands are not made of workers, but messages filter through. After production is complete, evaluation begins, and the existence of audiences with different or ambiguous standards shapes activity. For some occupations clients continually judge subjects in which the worker has a greater expertise (e.g., cooking, hairstyling, selling dresses), and this affects whether they return; for others the client is unconcerned or ignorant about the aesthetics of the work, provided the outcome and cost is satisfactory (e.g., plumbing, surgery).

Clients act on judgments when they consider the sensory appeal of the product or performance, and use that as a basis for further patronage. This is particularly evident in cases where clients receive quick and complete information such as food preparation, as opposed to other services that are judged many miles down the road, such as auto repair. When aesthetic choices matter to clients, workers' decisions must address their taste; when clients do not care, these decisions are fettered by costs and efficiency. A crucial goal of "professionalization" is to insure that the primary source of occupational evaluation is internal, rather than external, and that clients accept this.[12]

Organizational Efficiency

The conditions of work, particularly temporal conditions, determine how much and what kind of things can be produced. Workers on an assembly line realize that the line keeps moving. One has a limited time to do it "right."Doing it right may be sacrificed to just doing it. Writers have a cynical rule: "Don't get it right; get it writ." Court dates and judges' limits on closing statements impose restrictions on attorneys. Patients can stand only so much anesthesia, and parishioners need to leave church to attend Sunday dinners.

Some nuances of a task may be sacrificed because of clients' lack of patience or because of the constraints on labor costs. The clock is a stern master, although the real master stands behind the clock. Workers in many venues negotiate to extend the time for completing work. While differences exist among occupations and segments of occupations, temporality has both a phenomenological and obdurate reality.

Resource Management

The cost of materials sets a membrane around production. Ingredients, tools, and environments determine what can be done. The furniture upholsterer is at the mercy of the fabrics, the hairdresser at the mercy of the dyes, the sculptor depends on the quality of the marble, and the drill-press operator is limited by the machine. The quality of these resources is often out of the hands of the worker but is decided upon by someone else with separate goals. Work is set within a market. The fit between resources and organizational environment limits aesthetic choices.

Occupational Segmentation

Although all occupations must deal with the challenges posed by the constraints described above, differences within occupations also affect the doing of work. What you pay contributes to what you get. Hospitals, repair shops, architectural firms, and universities differ in the style of their product and the competence with which it is produced. In offices and organizations some are newer to the job, some have more autonomy, some care more, and some have positions that demand more conscious care: home painters are more conscious of the sensory effects of their work than industrial painters, surgeons more than anesthesiologists, and jockeys more than stablehands. Occupations are socially segmented, and segments rely on different standards of judgment.

While aesthetic choice is a regular part of the doing of work, it is variable, not absolute. The centrality and amplitude of aesthetic interest coexist with retaining one's job, keeping it tolerably easy, and gaining self-esteem and material rewards. While each occupation has areas in which expressive choices are relevant, few totally lack such concerns. In contrast, no occupation is so devoted to the pursuit of form over function that social constraints do not exist. Factory work has a creative component (Bell 1984), just as the work of fine artists shows constraints of market and control systems that affect the doing of ostensibly "purely" creative work.

The Culture of Production

Management and labor are in firm agreement that work quality is crucial. Aesthetic production must be consistent with organizational goals and not subvert them. Yet, the intersection of the expression of quality with efficiency may produce friction. Workers wish they had more time, co-workers, and resources, so they can be unhurried and untrammeled. Management is likely to emphasize greater efficiency. Good work is profitable to a point, and this point is connected to market niche and price elasticity. Management has the direct problem of profitability, whereas for workers profitability is only an indirect concern. As a result, value consensus may devolve into conflict or frustration.

To the extent that workers have and can maintain a craft orientation, they can extend their zone of discretion in production decisions. To the extent that they are connected to a bureaucratic organization, management makes the choices, solidified into rules and practices, that workers carry out. A strain exists between the craft organization of work, which vests authority in the members of the occupation, and the bureaucratic organization of work, where decisions result from authority hierarchies and formal procedures. Occupations in which each object is uniquely prepared reinforce the craft orientation; jobs that emphasize consistency and efficiency tend to be found in bureaucratic organizations (Stinchcombe 1959). Even in the latter arenas, management may tolerate, even encourage, some worker discretion, although it may not maximize profits, if it reduces labor discontent and allows for a predictable flow of production (Burawoy 1979). The role of discretion is indicated by the willingness of management to permit cooks to take extended breaks, change positions, and choose which dishes to recook. The effects of this light hand are seen in cooks' willingness to work overtime or arrive early, fill in for absent others, and make special dishes for important customers—each beyond the limits of formal job requirements. Further, when worker aesthetics are congruent with that of management, some flexibility on material and labor costs may be tolerated and passed on to the customer as the inevitable expense of "quality."

Producers, consumers, and managers—all value "good work" within the imperatives of monetary or psychic costs. When the system works, each will accede at critical points. The challenge for management, especially evident at La Pomme de Terre, the most explicitly "artistic" of the sites, is to have workers accept management's vision of material constraints as a given and to work within those constraints. Since a trade-off exists between quality and its cost, mediated by customer evaluation, the choices are not objective. Organizational success in expressive production involves a moving dynamic: to be good enough and cheap enough that one's targeted customers will return and recruit others.

While it is true that art is like all work, the questions are where, when, and how aesthetic autonomy and social control interpenetrate, and how they are negotiated? Under which circumstances are workers concerned about the sensory quality of their products and services, and when are they permitted control over this quality? The answer is shaped by the articulation of workplace negotiation and by the reality and typification of the market.




Notes:

1. The study of aesthetics has been filled with conflicting assumptions and opinions. Philosophers rarely choose to examine situations in which aesthetic decisions are made in the messy reality of everyday life, and they suggest that aesthetic judgments transcend the production of an aesthetic object and its socially situated character (e.g., Diffey 1984; Hincks 1984). These explanations, which focus on qualities of mind (Aldrich 1966; Stolnitz 1960) or the qualities of an object (Beardsley 1958) that produce the recognition that one has had an aesthetic experience (Wolff 1983; Shepard 1987), downplay the sociological interest in the interactional, relational, or institutional features of aesthetic evaluation (see Dickie 1974; Danto 1981).

2. Wishing to see how such choices are constrained and utilized, I bracket the origin of aesthetic choices. My concern is not to trace the dynamics by continue which particular judgments become seen as "aesthetic" but to examine only those choices that have been accepted by a group of workers. Nor am I concerned with the qualities of the object involved. Griswold (1986) argues that the aesthetic involves both elegance and beauty to produce a response. While I use Griswold's distinction to focus on the characteristics of objects, my definition emphasizes the relationship between actors and objects.

3. Sociologists of aesthetics interested in comparative research must confront two basic presuppositions: (1) that all occupations have aesthetic components, and that sensory issues are a part of all work; and (2) that occupations vary in the consciousness and centrality of these aesthetic issues to the work. Because my research is grounded on a single occupational case study, I can do no more than suggest the plausibility of these claims.

4. "Occupational triumphs" consist of occasions in which workers feel that they have operated to the limits of their jobs--they are "pushing the envelope." Working within the rules, they have transcended them, demonstrating in their own minds at least that they are not "mere" workers but "true artists," "true professionals," or the like. They have produced, not just an object, but a memory that they can narrate to convince others of their virtues, even under a set of constraints and normal operating procedures.

5. My argument is that Kant's idea of free judgments of taste is unlikely to be made in most practical aesthetic worlds; rather, aesthetic judgments have a relational character. We judge things in relationship or in comparison to other objects. At some level we are deciding not whether something is "good," but whether it is good for its kind (Kant 1952; Shepard 1987).

6. Comparative data indicate that this is not unique to this scene; for example, Walker and Guest (1951, p. 60) describe the similar attitudes of auto workers.

7. Market niches are in part a function of conscious decisions by managers and chefs to capture audiences. In this they create an establishment that will provide an experience that appeals to a potential pool of clients. Some niches are carved by customers who discover establishments; then managers must insure that they continue to meet the desires of these clients.

8. This is a problem faced by portrait painters who give up their artistic autonomy to the client. The client feels that he or she has the right to determine his or her personal likeness (see Stewart 1988; Wisely 1992).

9. The sole turban, as prepared at La Pomme de Terre, is essentially a fishy charlotte russe. Layers of sole are placed on the edge of a circular mold, with the inner part filled with a fish mousse.

10. For those with a sentimental attachment to happy endings, within a few years this young man had become head chef at an outstanding, creative restaurant in the Twin Cities. By then he had learned to control his employer's costs.

11. Pierre Bourdieu (1984) uses food consumption in France as an indication of the cultural capital of the eater, but it is also true that food production is an indicator of the cultural capital of the cook. We are known by what we eat, but we are also known by what we cook. The more sophisticated cooks--better trained, raised in more "sophisticated" homes, or driven by the goals of continue their restaurant--are more attuned to the dishes that represent "haute cuisine" and demonstrate the existence of cultural capital.

12. We have no equivalent term for crafts, but the occupational autonomy among craftsworkers points to the same issue.

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