Culinary Citizenship: Ethnic Food, Racial Agency, and Cultural Politics in Neoliberal Times

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Project Director(s): 

Charles T. Lee, Assistant Professor, Justice and Social Inquiry, School of Social Transformation

Building on recent work on the agency of matter and things by neo-materialist theorists such as Jane Bennett and Sara Ahmed, this project investigates the ways in which the cultural object of ethnic food can be understood as playing a crucial role in aiding U.S. immigrants’ informal but de facto acquisition of democratic citizenship. Such a nonstandard way of claiming citizenship is achieved not through conventional juridical-political channels, but through the everyday practices of immigrant entrepreneurship, racialized labor, and ethnic consumption in the culinary production of ethnic food. I call this ensemble “culinary citizenship,” suggesting an improvisational but de facto citizen-making. Combining theoretical analysis with ethnographic fieldwork, this project uses a triangulated framework of entrepreneurship-labor-consumerism to examine alternative formations of citizenship in the global food economy, with the aim to open new intellectual horizons of agency, governance, and social change.

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