Doctoral Dissertation Research Schortman: The Social and Political-Economic Dynamics of Foodways in Peri-Urban Honduras

Grants and Contracts Details


Project Summary: Problem Statement: Macro-level analyses demonstrate that contemporary, unprecedented levels of urbanization, departure from agrarian livelihoods, & industrialization in developing nations are linked to post-WWII policies favoring farm consolidation, agricultural "modernization", & agro-export production (over food self-sufficiency). While contemporary neoliberal policies perpetuate these trends, Hondurans (like residents of other developing nations) face a growing "food crisis" & a global economic slowdown that threatens recent, limited industrial gains. Despite growing concern & a proliferation of macro-level analyses, much remains unknown about the niicro-leve~-individual, household, & community-dynamics of contemporary agro-economic change, particularly among non-indigenous peoples in Latin America. The proposed ethnographic, political-economic investigation of foodways in Petoa, an industrializing, pen- urban mestizo community in northern Honduras, offers theoretical & practical insight on these micro-level dynamics of agro-economic change. This investigation explores the social, cultural, & political-economic dimensions of food use & acquisition among those on the front lines of the agrarian transition (including families who rely on some subsistence production & those who have ceased to do so); it focuses, in particular, on how food use, consumption, & acquisition practices in Petos relate to social & political- economic forces in Honduras, Latin America, & the globe. Method and Analysis: This ethnographic study employs observation, focus groups, case studies, & semistructured interviews with specialized informants (e.g. farmers, food vendors) & all adult members of 30 households (selected through purposive sampling to represent differing socioeconomic statuses, demographic compositions, & levels of reliance on subsistence farming). Semistnsctured interviews provide data on how food is used, consumed, & acquired in Petoa, & by households & individuals with different characteristics; household case studies supplement interviews by providing data on intra- household dynamics & daily food-related behaviors and attitudes. Focus groups, along with daily participant observation, help elucidate the dynamics of interpersonal interactions, "ongoing social discourse[s}," & "collective meaning making" not present in one-on-one interview settings (Kamberelis & Dimitriadis 2005:902). Both direct observation of food retailers & participant observation furnish details about community dynamics & food-related behaviors &, thus, context for the analysis. Intellectual Merit: Taking food as a lens of analysis, this study contributes to advancing social science knowledge on agro-economic change & urbanization/industrialization in developing nations. In anthropology, this study represents a much-needed move beyond analyses that focus solely on food production or consumption (Lien 2004b, Phillips 2006); it moves beyond analyses that see people in the developing world as food producers, & those in the developed world as consumers (see Phillips 2006). In focusing on the various ways food is acquired-through farming/gardening, as a purchased commodity, though gifts, barter, or other exchange-this study recognizes food as an item which is both a product of local production and a market commodity. It also explores food practices in a community facing radical changes in food acquisition, production, & consumption options associated with agro-economic change. Broader Impacts: This study contributes to the education of a female graduate student who will pursue a career in higher education in the US. Moreover, it investigates how relatively impoverished Honduran mestizos, or Iadinos, an understudied group, negotiate foodways (& related socio-economic changes) in their daily lives. All results will be returned to the community (in the form of Spanish-language reports & presentations) & will be presented widely in Honduras & the United States; professional contacts with the Honduran Institute of Anthropology & History & US anthropological associations will facilitate this process. The project has practical value for those seeking to craft responsive social, agricultural, & economic policies & programs. The project moves beyond macro-level analyses that attend to economic & demographic dimensions of agro-economic change by providing information on the social, symbolic, & political-economic dimensions of food use & acquisition. The researcher will give back to Petoa by donating project supplies to the school & clinic (upon project completion) & by offering free English classes, a scarce educational resource.
Effective start/end date4/1/103/31/11


  • National Science Foundation: $10,500.00