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Accounting for taste: conversation, categorisation and certification in the sensory assessment of craft brewing

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date07/2014
Number of pages278
Awarding Institution
Award date13/11/2014
Place of PublicationLancaster
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The recent rapid growth of “craft beer” has led to a search for definitions and categorisation of that sector with “beer style” used as one criterion. This thesis explores the origins of these style definitions and how they act as a technology of classification which affects how sensory judgments are formed and expressed in practice, and how judges are examined and certified.
The investigation draws on actor-network theory and ethnomethodology to trace how taste descriptions are assembled and translated into test items in an online exam. The material orderings and classification practices which assemble competition judging are then explored ethnographically by following the trajectory of a beer through these situated actions. The magnification is increased through developing original methods utilising digital pens, and draws on principles from conversation analysis to explore the sequential and categorial aspects of judging talk and its co-ordination with writing and form-filling. Finally, auto-ethnographic and material-semiotic explorations are used to explore how a blind beer tasting exam is assembled, and the models of learning and assessment it enacts.
The historical construction of the contemporary language of sensory assessment supports the construction of the style guides. Once assembled into an information infrastructure the style guide is extended to act in multiple different ways: its propositions are translated into testable facts with multiple choices, it functions as a technology of material ordering and coordination, as a regulatory technology placing limits on how taste judgements can and cannot be expressed or recorded, and as a re-enactment and materialisation of individual cognitivist models of assessment.
Through exploring the ways a classification system is assembled, translated and made authoritative this thesis extends the conceptualisation of what is considered a technology in technology enhanced learning, and extends the dialogue between that disciplinary field and scholarship in science and technology studies.