Food, talk, and knitting: Mutually constitutive elements in a process of adult language socialization Presentation by cassidy shields

What is language socialization?

It is the process by which individuals acquire the knowledge, skills, orientations, and practices that enable him or her to participate in the social life of a particular community.

Purpose and Argument

This paper looks at the process by which some people, while learning to knit, are also socialized into identity as a "knitter", a process marked and facilitated by shared food consumption.

The author argues that food and language are mutually constitutive of the socialization experience for knitters. Food and language directly index ideologies, which underpin different knitting identities.

Data and Processes at Play

The author drew from 2 data sources: Participant observation at knitting circle at a local yarn store (LYS) and a week long retreat offered at an institute that offers classes in garment design, spinning, weaving, and dyeing. Online survey on knitting, knitting identities, and knitting communities.

While observing these communities, she focused on two processes at play: acquisition of the skill of knitting as well as the vocab and discourse rules and acquisition of an identity of a knitter. She then sought to understand how food influenced and shaped these processes.

Local Yarn Store (LYS)

  • Met twice a month, but also on most Wed evenings and Friday afternoons
  • 15 people or less
  • Wide skill range
  • Ages 13 - mid 70's
  • White, middle class, well-educated and spoke English
  • Focused on knitting for others
  • Knit for the purpose of bringing people together as a community
  • Not set turns to bring food, but it rotated pretty evenly
  • Talk about food parallels talk about knitting projects


  • Week long in San Fran Bay Area of CA
  • Dorm style lodging, 3 shared meals a day
  • Ages 30 - mid 60's
  • All but one were women
  • Many made their living through fiber related arts
  • Purpose was to increase skills and techniques
  • Mostly liberal, white, middle class, and well-educated
  • Viewed their work as art, rather than a hobby and only used the best tools and materials
  • Food was not brought to share, but convos about food were often political


Knitted items for each group symbolized something different: For the LYS group knitted items of love are made tangible while for knitters at the institute they represent creativity, learning, artistic drive, and ability.

Food is similarly represented: LYS view food as something to be shared. It helps form the bonds of friendship and develop community. Women at the institute see food as representing something political and women should demand the best food for themselves, in the same way that their knitting demonstrates their artistry and self-care.


In the end, we see discourse patterns reflect the ideologies of each group. The LYS avoids potentially controversial topics because they value community above all. Their food reflects this because snacks are brought to be shared and are always able to be eaten by all.

The women at the retreat love to debate a variety of topics, even if they are controversial. They see their work as art and only the best tools/materials should be used. Their food reflects this because they do not share their food and insist on eating the "best" (organic, locally grown, etc).

Discussion Q's

  1. What were your initial thoughts about this article? Did you agree with her argument and conclusion? Why or why not?
  2. What are examples of language socialization in your own life?
  3. The author says, "the sharing of food is an activity that promotes the experience of belonging to a particular social group. Do you agree? How have you seen this to be true?


Created with images by elizajanecurtis - "knitting" • j thorn explains it all - "colour" • AdrianLack - "thaw rope ship traffic jams" • SilviaStoedter - "wool bändchengarn thread" • SilviaStoedter - "needle knit hand labor" • SilviaStoedter - "wool bändchengarn hand labor" • matryosha - "circle scarf in the making"

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