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Title:Consuming capitalism: food, migration and urban life in twentieth-century Kenya
Author(s):Smart, Devin
Director of Research:Brennan, James R.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Brennan, James R.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Burton, Antoinette; Barnes, Teresa; Hoganson, Kristin; Meier, Prita
Department / Program:History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Urban history
Abstract:This dissertation examines how capitalism, migration and urbanization changed the ways in which East Africans provisioned, prepared and consumed their food during the twentieth century. This study explores these themes through the experiences of Africans from the interior of the region who migrated to the coastal city of Mombasa, where they created a new, working-class food system. At the beginning of the twentieth century, these migrants came from rural food systems in which food was acquired within the kinship group, the labor being done primarily by women who agriculturally worked the land and who then cooked the meals consumed by their immediate and extended families. However, wage-labor migration precipitated the commercialization of these comestible practices. It replaced a system of gendered food labor visibly tied to the natural world with one in which food was commodified and its production mystified through less visible capitalist supply chains in which mostly male urban workers accessed their food with cash or through rations and, especially during the colonial period, prepared it themselves. Through the analysis of the experiences of these migrants, as well as of the men who worked as street-food vendors in the city, this study revises the scholarly assumption that food remained a domain of knowledge and practice marked nearly exclusively as feminine during the twentieth century in Africa. This dissertation also offers a lens into a central point of tension in cities across Africa and the global south: the contradiction between the bio-medical and aesthetic visions of urban modernity promoted by development on the one hand, and the strategies that poor urban residents have used to survive in cities not otherwise built to include them on the other. I explore how the vendors who sold prepared food to Mombasa’s working classes, operating from roadside structures, in restaurants out of their homes and as itinerant hawkers, struggled in a political context in which their livelihoods were rendered as “insanitary” and “ugly.” Especially since the 1950s when urban development became institutionalized in Mombasa, their businesses have been targeted for removal from the city’s landscape through harassment, prosecutions and demolitions. The final three chapters follow how these tactics of late-colonial urban governance survived decolonization, but also were challenged by vendors and hawkers in the city. I explore these themes by examining the gains made by vendors during the early-independence period, the reinvigoration of prosecutions and demolitions when cholera became endemic in East Africa during the 1970s, and the last chapter considers how the politics of multi-partyism during the late twentieth century provided both new opportunities and increasingly exposed vendors to state violence. I conclude my dissertation by reflecting on the present and future of food in Kenya and the world.
Issue Date:2017-04-17
Rights Information:Copyright 2017 Devin Smart
Date Available in IDEALS:2017-08-10
Date Deposited:2017-05

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