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Morgan Centre for Research into Everyday Lives

The poetics and politics of the table

Practices of theorising and intimate life

  • Date: Wednesday, 13 May 2015
  • Location: Room A202, Samuel Alexander Building, University of Manchester

Aimed at an interdisciplinary group of scholars, this half-day seminar seeks to broadly explore the multifunctional character of the table and the various cultural and intimate practices that are enacted around it. Despite the exploratory nature of the event, we hope to generate a lively debate to bring to fore the role of the table in the everyday. Confirmed speakers include Prof David Morgan and Dr Sophie Woodward.

The seminar aims to investigate the poetics and politics of the table both in the mundane and as an intellectual tool in doing research. The table is a multifunctional object.

As an object, the table is often understood and imagined as a symbol of democratic relationships, as it is so well portrayed in the biblical parable of the Last Supper and the heroic legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

Also, it is where food is prepared and eaten at home or outside but it is also where food is prepared and eaten at home or outside but it is also where people tend to have significant and meaningful conversations. Such conversations are not only about intimacy but can also be about the breakdown of intimate and social bonds.

Hence, the table becomes both a trigger of narration, emotions, memories, intellectual construction and creative thinking with kin, significant others and friends across time and cultures.

During this event, we are also keen in exploring the table as tool, of and for, intellectual inquiry.

Research space often takes a back stage, especially in writing. However, the table may transform into a central place during our research, from gathering and analysing the data to writing it up.

Therefore, we ask, how does the table inform and enable our research as social scientists - where is research conducted and where do we form bonds with our collaborators and key participants?


Table manners: Tables, intimates and acquaintances - David Morgan

Tables are everyday items which enter into personal life and family practices in all kinds of complex and un-recognised ways. In the home, the biographies of tables enter into, overlap with, the lives of family members and their fluctuating compositions over time. They are often, for example, at the heart of family displays. Outside these more or less intimate circles, tables also enter into the construction of acquaintances through such devices as ‘the member’s table’ or seating plans. I also look at some questions of etiquette (such as elbows on the table and leaving the table) and some everyday expressions such as ‘getting your feet under the table’.

I conclude that my earlier discussions of ‘family practices’ did not pay sufficient attention to material objects such as tables but that these considerations could be profitably incorporated into the analysis.

Unseen and forgotten about: how tables in domestic spaces frame everyday life - Sophie Woodward

To suggest that something as bulky as a table can be unseen or forgotten does not imply that they are unimportant but rather the opposite. Adopting Miller’s suggestion that the more important things are in ‘framing’ everyday life (Miller, 1987), the more we do not notice them, this paper will explore how tables, often covered with table cloths, as a stand for a TV or littered with papers, help frame and organise everyday life. Within domestic spaces, tables have different materialities ranging from what they are made of, their size, design and the intended function; drawing upon an ongoing research project into dormant things – things people keep but are not currently using – I will consider how these different materialities entail particular practices and relationalities. The kitchen table as a place for eating, preparing food and children playing, also becomes a space for the accumulation of clutter, and the necessary practices of sorting.  The table, as a piece of furniture, accumulates other things. In the process of doing my interviews, I realised how often that it is the kitchen table that is the locus for doing interviews. The presence of a researcher and recording device shifts the relations around the tables yet also entails a continuity around the sociability of the table. Although tables are often forgotten about, it is when they become problematic that they assert their presence and need to be reflected upon, as their size can make moving and storing them makes them visible and problematic.