Food allergy and food intolerance: towards a sociological agenda

Sarah Nettleton, Brian Woods, Roger Burrows, Anne Kerr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article asks what sociological insights an analysis of food allergy and food intolerance might afford. We outline the parameters of debates around food allergy and food intolerance in the immunological, clinical and epidemiological literatures in order to identify analytic strands which might illuminate our sociological understanding of the supposed increase in both. Food allergy and food intolerance are contested and contingent terms and it is salient that the term true food allergy is replete throughout medico-scientific, epidemiological and popular discourses in order to rebuff spurious or 'nonallergic' claims of food-related symptoms. Complexity theory is introduced as a means of gaining analytic purchase on the food allergy debate. The article concludes that the use of this perspective provides a contemporary example of the 'double hermeneutic', in that the meanings and interpretations of contemporary explanations of food allergy are both permeated by, and can be made sense of, through recourse to complexity thinking.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)647-664
Number of pages18
JournalHealth: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health,Illness and Medicine
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2009


  • complexity
  • food allergy
  • food intolerance
  • sociology

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