SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Anthropology of Food: Politics, Place and Mobility

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 2

Contemporary food economies and food cultures are often characterised as being marked by growing mobilties of peoples, tastes and goods. Food systems, we are told, have become increasingly delocalised as processes of food consumption are divorced from processes of food production. Food preparation and eating, the story goes, are increasingly happening beyond the home; cooking skills and the close connection between cuisines and local agroecosystems are being lost in the process. Rather than building connections between people, it is argued, more and more food is implicated in processes of labour alienation and 'gastro-anomie'. At the same time, however, food has become the locus for ethical actions aimed at (re)connecting producers and consumers. It has become an intense site for the politics of belonging, cultural ownership and place. Far from being marked by some boundless mobility, foods and tastes are restricted by pandemics, border controls and migration laws and are implicated in social practices of exclusion on the basis of race, class and gender. In this module we explore the complex and often paradoxical relationship between place, mobilities and food. We critically interrogate claims made about food system 'delocalisation', 'deskilling' and 'gastro-anomie'. We examine food markets, street foods and restaurants as sites of both cultural production and labour exploitation, of social interaction, cosmopolitanism and open debate, and of social control, surveillance and spatial cleansing. We explore contempprary forms of ethical food activism, including in the digital realm, and consider the complex role of food in migration.


  • Students enrol via the online Module Sign-Up system.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

Learning Outcomes:
  1. Analyse Fair Trade and related ethical sourcing schemes.
  2. Appreciate the role of digital infrastructures in human-food relationships.
  3. Understand the emergence of national cuisines and the role of food in nationalisms.
  4. Critically analyse movements advocating food system relocalisation
  5. Appreciate the role of food markets and street foods in local food cultures and livelihoods.
  6. Analyse restaurants as social spaces and places of work.
  7. Understand the processes through which food knowledge and skills are transmitted.
  8. Understand and deploy the concept of 'culinary field'.
  9. Assess the role of cuisine in social differentiation and exclusion.
  10. Appreciate the role of food in migration.


One hour lecture and one hour tutorial per week.

Scope and syllabus

Topics to be covered on the course:

  • Fair Trade and Ethical Sourcing: History,Theory and Practice
  • Food Politics in the Digital Realm
  • Culinary Nationalism
  • Local Foods
  • Food Markets and Street Foods
  • Cooking Skills and Knowledge Transmission
  • Eating Out: Sociality and Control
  • Culinary Fields and Restaurant Work
  • Cuisine and the Politics of Class, Ethnicity and Race
  • Food, Memory and Migration

Method of assessment

  • AS1: x2 Reading response paper (500 words) - 20% 
  • AS2: x2 Reading response paper (500 words) - 20%
  • AS3: x1 Essay (2000 words) - 50%
  • Seminar participation - 10%

Suggested reading

Dolan, C. 2010. Virtual moralities: the mainstreaming of Fairtrade in Kenyan tea fields. Geoforum, 41(1): 33-43.

Caldwell, Melissa. 2018. Hacking the food system: Re-making technologies of food and justice. In Digital Food Activism, Tanja Schneider, Karin Eli, Catherine Dolan, Stanley Ulijaszek (eds.). London: Taylor and Francis.

DeLind, Laura B. (2003) ‘Considerably more than vegetables, a lot less than community: the dilemma of Community Supported Agriculture’, in J. Adams (ed.), Fighting for the Farm: Rural America Transformed. The Pennsylvania State University Press, pp. 192-206.

Leong-Salobir, Cecilia, Krishnendu Ray and Jaclyn Rohel (eds) (2016) ‘Rescuing Taste from the Nation’, Special Issue of Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies 16 (1).

Appadurai, Arjun (1988) ‘How to make a national cuisine: cookbooks in contemporary India’, Comparative Studies in Society and History 30 (1): 3-24.

Sutton, David E. (2014) Secrets from the Greek Kitchen: Cooking, Skill, and Everyday Life on an Aegean Island. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Ray, Krishnendu (2020) 'Rethinking food vending' (SOAS Food Studies Centre Distinguished Lecture), Gastronomica 20 (1): 1-15.

Ray, Krishnendu (2016) The Ethnic Restaurateur. London: Bloomsbury.

Fukutomi, Satomi (2014) ‘Bottom-up food: making rāmen a gourmet food in Tokyo’, Food & Foodways, 22 (1-2): 65-89.

hooks, bell (1992) ‘Eating the Other’, in bell hooks, Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South End Press, pp. 21-39.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules