Anthropology | The University of Chicago

Student Spotlight: Ella Butler

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Ella Butler is a PhD Candidate in Anthropology at the University of Chicago, with interests in science and technology studies, food and sensory experience, and the cultural politics of commodities. Her dissertation, “Producing Taste: The Senses in American Food Science,” asks what theories of the senses scientists involved in food product design hold, and how these are emergent in their experimental techniques and in the development of foods and beverages. The research is an ethnography of food scientists, sensory scientists and flavor chemists working in the United States, with an emphasis on understanding the disciplinary practices and orientations that shape these fields as domains of knowledge. In contrast to popular narratives of “Big Food,” which depict food science as effortlessly manipulating consumers with “addictive” tasting products, her analysis ethnographically highlights the contingencies, indeterminacies, ethical quandaries, quiet enjoyments and future aspirations embedded in the sensory projects undertaken in the food industry.

Ella holds a BA in Anthropology from the University of Melbourne and an MA in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago. Her research collaborations include the interdisciplinary F.A.T. (Food, Aesthetics, Technoscience) Collective, and her work has most recently appeared in the Cultural Anthropology online series “Theorizing the Contemporary.”

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