Academic journal article Outlines : Critical Practice Studies

The Trajectory of Food as a Symbolic Resource for International Migrants

Academic journal article Outlines : Critical Practice Studies

The Trajectory of Food as a Symbolic Resource for International Migrants

Article excerpt


To be apprehended in their complexity and dynamics, contemporary migrations demand renouncing to linear models assuming that clear-cut cultural groups simply get integrated one in the other. Rather, approaches that focus on people's multiple belonging and complex positioning invite us to consider migrants' agency and creativity. Here, we propose a sociocultural approach that examines what available cultural elements are actually identified and used as resource by people, and what is done with them (Gillespie and Zittoun 2010).

We propose here to concentrate on one type of activities: those related to food. In general, negotiation around food and eating have been shown to participate to the socialisation of children to the culture, tastes, but also, roles and linguistic skills required by their environment (Arcidiacono and Pontecorvo 2007; Pontecorvo and Fasulo 1999). When speaking about the role that food and eating practices have for migrants, it is generally acknowledged that food is at the centre of processes of negotiation of meanings, memories and identities (Gvion 2009; Chang 2010). "Nostalgic food" (Locher et al. 2005) is often linked to memories and used to maintain ethnic identity. With the time, however, food may take on shifting meanings as people's identities change in the process of migration and adaptation to new lifestyles (Sutton 2001; Laurens and Masson 2006). Within these studies, it is clear that food might play a crucial role to negotiate and construct migrants' identities.

Following this line of reasoning, we propose here to examine the trajectory of food in the life of migrants. Our working hypothesis is that how people handle food, what cultural resources they use to produce food, how they conceive food, and with whom or for whom they share food, reveals a lot of the dynamic processes of adjustment to a new place. More, we also explore if, and in what sense, food itself might be considered as a resource used for migration processes.

Studying food practices to learn about migration

Migration and the integration debate

The challenges that modern migration poses today to national states and communities have made processes of migrant integration into the host societies increasingly important (Castles and Miller 2009; Barrett, Flood and Eade 2011). On the one hand, the nexus integration-citizenship has been studied (Castles and Davidson 2000; Castles and Miller 2009). On the other hand, there are a number of studies on cultural integration and, more in general, how mobility affects social life and identity (Easthope 2009).

One of the first approaches to migrants' cultural integration is Berry's (1990) study on migrant acculturation. The main problem with this approach is that it presupposes clear- cut "cultures". Recent discussions have shown how problematic the term was, which can designate national boundaries, linguistic communities, religious systems, socio-educative background, or any combinations of these (Knott and McLoughlin 2010; Barrett, Flood and Eade 2011). Also, contrarily to what Berry suggests, migration rarely entails one so- called culture of origin and one culture of the host country. Rather, each individual is normally part of different cultural communities, and cultural identities include discontinuities and development (Hale and De Abreu 2010); thus there are virtually infinite possibilities of personal combination of cultural belongings in cases of migration and acculturation.

In addition, the situation of multiple belongings and identities is to some extent common to each and every person (Byram et al. 2009: 13). This has brought to challenge the idea that migrants belong to one single and monolithic culture and that they only encounter one culture in their destination country. Even more radically, the concepts of identity and culture have been discussed, highlighting the porousness of cultural boundaries (Duruz 2005), the hybridity of cultures and identities (Hall 1996; Easthope 2009; Ali and Sonn 2010) and the meaning of belonging and attachment to places in a mobile and globalized world (Savage, Bagnall and Longhurst 2005). …

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