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Transdisciplinary thinking through food in South Africa

The communicative, semiotic, creative and relational meanings surrounding food expand understandings of power dynamics, identity-constitution and discursive perceptions of “being human”. Using food as a lens, this project addresses gaps in the existing content and epistemological approaches within the South African humanities, and contributes to a global body of critical food studies as a fairly recent transdisciplinary field.

The aims are two-fold: at one level it engages critically with posthumanist scholars such as Rosi Braidotti and Jane Bennett. Drawing on the postcolonial knowledge of thinkers including Gloria Anzandula, Patricia Mcfadden and Juanita Sundberg, the focus is on what some recent postcolonial theorists have termed “counter-humanism”: In connecting theoretical reflections to analysis of practices, relationships and embodied knowledge, the project centres around the seemingly mundane fact that food is what we take into our bodies – requiring us to realise that we are not atomised bodies with discrete subjectivities and energies, but assemblages connected to every form of be-ing – both human and not-human.

At another level, the project focuses on ways in which experienced food memories and tastes, as well as other senses that come into play in human interactions with food, can stimulate innovative ways of exploring human “intelligence” and cognition, ways that do not automatically centre humans’ unique capacities. Efforts are made to contribute to the growing range of scholarly work – at the global level – seeking to connect the life sciences to the humanities. Edward Wilson gestures towards the importance of this in arguing that “the humanities are rootless in their explanations of sensory experience…[being] needlessly anthropocentric and weak in their ability to recognise the ultimate causation of the human condition”. (2017: 67)

Such work has become increasingly urgent in the face of ecocide and “mono-humanism”, which assume homo sapiens’ legitimate dominance in the food chain.

This project is connected to a broader one described at


Fellows involved in this project

South Africa

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Is any information on this page incorrect or outdated? Please notify Ms. Nel-Mari Loock at [email protected].