Consumer Citizenship, Food Practices and Social Aspirations

Centre of Global South Asian Studies is pleased to invite you to the first public lecture in the Autumn 2014 series.

Amita Baviskar, Institute of Economic Growth, University of Delhi


The point of departure for my paper is the idea of the ‘nation-as-imagined-economy’. In the post-colonial context, this concept has primarily been used to study planned interventions by the developmental state with a view to expanding production. Less attention has been paid to the simultaneous expansion of commodity circulation, especially of industrially manufactured consumer goods, as an equally important mode of constituting citizenship. The spread of these goods has, however, only grown in significance in the post-liberalization period as the developmental discourse of austerity and deferred consumption has been replaced by a celebration of consumerist gratification.

Within the widening circuits of consumption, processed food commodities demand analysis because of their ubiquity (they form an increasing part of diets across India) and distinctiveness (they appear ‘neutral’ in a cultural matrix renowned for the formidable complexity of its dietary rules). The consumption practices they engender are productive sites for imagining citizenship cutting across social hierarchies, creating new identities and diluting stigmatized ones. Even as poor Indians struggle to secure access to basic food, they also attempt to include more processed foods in their diets – a tendency that shows the significance of these commodities in the politics of social inclusion and exclusion. My paper will focus on the role of processed foods, specifically instant noodles, in the political and cultural imagination of Indians across regions, classes, and the rural-urban continuum.


Amita Baviskar is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi. Her research focuses on the cultural politics of environment and development. Her first book In the Belly of the River: Tribal Conflicts over Development in the Narmada Valley (Oxford University Press) discussed the struggle for survival by adivasis in central India against a large dam. Her subsequent work further explores the themes of resource rights, subaltern resistance and cultural identity. More recently, she has focused on urban environmental politics, especially bourgeois environmentalism and spatial restructuring in the context of economic liberalization in Delhi. Her latest research examines changing food practices in western India in relation to the transformation of agrarian environments.

Amita Baviskar has edited Waterlines: The Penguin Book of River Writings (Penguin India); Waterscapes: The Cultural Politics of a Natural Resource (Permanent Black); Contested Grounds: Essays on Nature, Culture and Power (Oxford University Press); and Elite and Everyman: The Cultural Politics of the Indian Middle Classes (with Raka Ray, Routledge). She has taught at the University of Delhi, and has been a visiting scholar at Stanford, Cornell, Yale, SciencesPo and the University of California at Berkeley. She was awarded the 2005 Malcolm Adiseshiah Award for Distinguished Contributions to Development Studies, the 2008 VKRV Rao Prize for Social Science Research, and the 2010 Infosys Prize for Social Sciences.

Date: 4th September 2014
Time: 13.00-15.00
Venue: KUA 2, 15A.0.13