Cutlery: Objects of Anxiety, Cultural Hegemony, and Identity in the Nineteenth Century

Katherine Jackson

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This thesis investigates the role of cutlery in nineteenth-century England, exploring how these items function as repositories for identity, power, and anxiety. While this work sits in the field of thing theory, it is does not adhere to a classically historicist approach, seeking instead to examine how cutlery objects are used to channel cultural ideas. This thesis falls into three sections; Cutlery and Class, Cutlery and Masculine Identities, and Cutlery and the Limits of Civilisation. Part one addresses the technological advances that made cutlery an consumer product, before turning to discuss how cutlery can be used to trace a cultural hegemony generated by etiquette and manners (a discussion informed by the views of critics such as Gramsci and Bourdieu). The use of the cutlery can be understood as the site of anxious inspection, reflecting a person’s social status and reputation. Part two traces the semiotic fusion of cutlery and the human, examining how masculine fantasies of the self were constructed through fear of social ostracisation. These cutlery-identities signal intense anxieties about the masculine role in the home and indicate a wider anxiety concerning good and bad domestic practice. Part three draws together ideas that have run throughout the thesis, relating to how cutlery is used as as a conduit for a cultural anxiety concerning savagery and civilisation, and the human/non-human divide. Anxiety about civilisation’s limits are examined in Lewis Carroll’s involvement in the antivivisection movement and a discussion of the Franklin cutlery relics which became inextricably linked with cannibalism. This section draws on criticism from the fields of thing theory, animal studies, and the post-human. Fundamentally, cutlery is used to channel deeply ingrained anxieties of this period, whether that be in relation to the place of the poor, masculinity, or the idea of civilisation itself.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • John, Juliet, Supervisor
  • Hamlett, Jane, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Dec 2022
Publication statusUnpublished - 2023


  • Victorian
  • Nineteenth century
  • cutlery
  • Dickens
  • anxiety
  • thing theory
  • nineteenth century objects
  • cultural hegemony

Cite this