Globalization from Below: Towards an Analytics of Fun and a New Kind of Collaborative Critique

A man cooking street food in Delhi

Prof. Krishnendu Ray

February 25, 2020 - 16:00 to 17:30

U of T St George campus, Jackman Humanities Building, room JHB100

In Delhi, as in Toronto and New York, street-food is served mostly by non-natives, migrants from the country to the city, and from city to city. The pleasure of urban street food provides an opening into the politics and poetics of vernacular taste. It can disrupt presumptions of good taste with cultural domination. Mazaa in cheap viands such as chaat, kebab, vada pao has the potential to decolonize the palatal and philosophical expectations of gastronomy that are dominant today. Viewed from the bottom up, much of street food is a study of mazaa and poor peoples’ livelihoods, in a matrix of cross-class interests. This presentation takes the case of popular urban food cultures – based on a large transnational collaborative project -- to explore questions of liveliness of cities and epistemologies of fun. What are the best ways to register the bottom-up, sensuous materiality and sociability in theory, without falling into the gourmand’s trap of pure apolitical pleasure? It seeks new grounds for a critique of a global hierarchy of taste and globalization from above, and indicates how mazaa can press us towards social justice from below, by seeking better alliances for livelier cities.

Keywords: taste, fun, mazaa, street food, vending, sociology, material culture, ordinary aesthetics, global city, transnationalism, immigration, hierarchy of taste.

The talk is co-sponsored by the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies and Culinaria Research Centre.