SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Zoë Goodman

MA Anthropological Research Methods MA Social Anthropology BA Politics and Social Anthropology
  • Overview


Staff Silhouette
Ms Zoë Goodman
Email address:
Thesis title:
'Asian' spaces in an 'African' city: an ethnography of postcolonial Mombasa
Year of Study:
Internal Supervisors

PhD Research

Mombasa, Kenya’s second city and East Africa’s largest port, has been at the heart of Indian Ocean trading networks for over a thousand years. Evidence of the city’s longstanding littoral connections are everywhere, and no more so than in cuisine. In some ways, cooking and eating practices suggest commonality amongst Mombasa’s diverse inhabitants: chapattis are a component of almost every meal, and no one would miss pillau on Friday. But food divides more than it unites. What is the ‘correct’ way of preparing bhajiyas (a popular snack made of deep fried dhal)? Should food be served in places of worship or not? Which customers have to be kept happy with channa bhateta (a chickpea and potato dish) and who only comes in for a samosa?   

Each of these questions is indicative of on-going struggles relating to race, place, class, gender and belief that shape everyday eating in Mombasa. Focussing on certain Muslim sects that form part of the highly variegated ‘Asian’ population, my PhD research asks what food can reveal about individuals’ cognisance of difference in Mombasa, as well as the ways in which food might be involved in their strategies for negotiating the city’s diversity.

‘Asians’, most of whom migrated to Mombasa from Gujarat in western India in the 19th and early 20th centuries, are a small but highly visible part of the city’s social, architectural, economic and culinary tapestry. Despite having resided here for generations, Asians are often referred to as wageni (foreigners or guests) or ‘paper citizens’ by others, and remain largely absent from the Kenyan national imaginary. By unpacking the politics around food shopping, preparation, selling and commensality, my aim is to investigate cotemporary relations between this understudied postcolonial minority and wider Mombasa society.  

Food also offers a medium for investigating the links between the material and the metaphysical in a city where belief is a defining feature of individual and collective experience. What, when and where you eat, as well from who and how you acquire food, denotes particular sorts of relation to God that in turn link individuals to webs of significance extending far beyond the borders of the metropolis. In a place often described as ‘peripheral’ within the Islamic world, and amongst Asian populations long engaged in debates about the relationship between their 'Indian' 'traditions' and contemporary notions of how Islam should be practiced, this research asks what role food plays as Asians of Muslim background strive to position themselves within and against local and global Muslim networks.

PhD Publications

  • Goodman, Z. 2014. Review of 'Pogrom in Gujarat: Hindu Nationalism and Anti-Muslim Violence in India' by Parvis Ghassem-Fachandi. Anthropos 109(1): 181-2.


Kenyatta University (Mombasa and Nairobi Campuses)