By Prof Desiree Lewis

Much of my work on food has focused on how it is spoken about and discursively constructed – both in everyday discourses as well as in specialised knowledge in the academy. This paper critically focuses on the conceptual and theoretical frames that dominate influential strands in food studies. It goes on to make a case for neglected areas within critical transdisciplinary (rather than “interdisciplinary”) food studies that emerge out of humanities work.

Three questions will be explored:

  • Despite claims about interdisciplinarity, how do dominant models of food studies reinforce familiar sites and forms of research?
  • Which disciplines are privileged and how does this buttress a global neoliberal knowledge economy and dominant western-centric epistemologies?
  • How can attention to “affect” and transdisciplinarity enrich food studies?

Much has been said (including statements and discussions at this conference) about the value of interdisciplinarity in food studies. Food studies are often seen to straddle disciplines in ways that encourage epistemological innovation; in other words, the interdisciplinarity of food studies is believed to generate fresh perspectives on our everyday world and broader social and political issues. Interdisciplinary food studies often involve connections among disciplines. But much of it does not really generate new epistemological work.

In the contexts whose work I am familiar with – Africa, India, the United States, cross-disciplinary research and writing often involves consolidating neoliberal paradigms and reinforcing post-enlightenment ideas about logic and reason that privilege, amongst other things, western-centric science, positivist arguments and methodologies, and singular and linear explanations and solutions.

I’m presenting my overall argument very bluntly here, so bear with me as I outline my reasons for saying this.

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