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Accepted Paper:

Making the potency of sugar: agency, responsibility, and social relationships in contemporary Edinburgh  
Imogen Bevan (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

Sugar: a safe food or a (psycho)active agent? This paper draws on ethnographic fieldwork in Edinburgh to explore the changing meanings, agency and effects attributed to sugar in different spheres of everyday life. When embedded in social relationships, sugar can be made potent.

Paper long abstract:

The WHO classifies sugar as a harmful substance: a driver of obesity, diabetes and dental disease. Neuroscientific papers tentatively conclude that sucrose may activate the brain’s reward centres in the same way as psychoactive drugs, and can generate addiction in rats. In 2016, sensational headlines proliferated: “Sugar is the new crack cocaine”, “Sugar is the new tobacco”. These discourses recast sugar as an illegitimate source of energy, and a societal problem – a threat to the health and moral standards of Britain.UK policies urge citizens to make ‘good’ choices, nudging us into reducing individual sugar ‘intakes’ via new taxation measures. Amid the moral panic surrounding the dubious effects of sugar, we are informed that sugar is safe when consumed responsibly, in moderation – with the exertion of control and willpower. Sugar consumption becomes uncertain and morally irresponsible when consumed in unruly (classed?) ways. This paper draws on 12 months’ fieldwork in an Edinburgh neighbourhood, to explore the meanings and agency attributed to sugar in different spheres of life. I draw on examples from the home and the classroom to examine people’s everyday ambivalence about the moral wrongness of sugar, and the pleasures of consuming it anyway. My ethnography replaces sugar into webs of social relationships, to argue that sugar’s potency and efficiency is contextual. In Edinburgh, people (re)produce sugar’s capacity to produce energy rushes, addiction, altered agency, happiness, fatness, or nothing at all, in different times and spaces. These shared sugar practices shape contemporary notions of agency and choice in Britain.

Panel Heal06
Psychoactive agents: drugs, morality and responsibility
  Session 1 Wednesday 31 March, 2021, -