Feasting, drinking and banqueting – University of Copenhagen

ADI Conference 2018 > Panels > Feasting, drinking and...

10th Annual International ADI Conference
Asian Dynamics Initiative, University of Copenhagen
18-20 June 2018    


Feasting, drinking and banqueting: Politics and sociality of relating in Eurasia

Convener: Oscar Salemink, Professor, Dept. of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen 

Anyone who has lived, worked, or done long-term research in Eurasia – specifically East, Southeast Asia and Central Asia, including the former Soviet territories – has experience with specific eating and drinking practices that initiate or cement relations at various moments in the relationship. Such occasions punctuated by mutual and socially mandated eating and drinking practices often take the form of feasting and banqueting in restaurants, but they might also take place in other public and semi-public venues, like bars, karaoke bars and nightclubs. Such socially mandated eating and drinking occasions – which we gloss here as feasts and banquets – may occur at different moments in the formation of a social relationship. Feasts and banquets are used as a forum for testing the waters when establishing a relationship. Feasts and banquets are important for breaking the ice in political and economic deals, but they punctuate the moment for celebrating the successful conclusion of political and economic deals (.e. not necessarily a successful outcome of a deal). Researchers will recognize the requirement for participating in or even organizing feasts and banquets as a requirement for accessing the research field (informants, gate keepers) – a methodological device that anthropologist Magnus Fiskesjö dubbed “participatory intoxication.”

In China, Vietnam and the wider Sinitic world (including Chinese diasporas), such forms of relating marked by  reciprocal (but hierarchical) exchange of material gifts – in this case of food and drink – and their common consumption has commonly been analyzed in terms of guanxi  [Chinese] and quan hê [Vietnamese]. Within and beyond that  cultural sphere, the work-related feasts and banquets in Eurasia may be analyzed as ritual event marking the transition from one stage to another in the emergent relationship, much like the feasts and banquets marking life cycle rituals such as weddings and funerals. Such ritual events create a liminal experience of communitas that, according to Victor Turner, generates the license, camaraderie and trust that formal business, political and research relations cannot forge. Unsurprisingly, feasts and banquets foster gendered (and often sexualized or sexualizing) experiences as well, seemingly licensed by copious amounts of food and – in non-Muslim environments – alcohol. We invite papers that address any of the issues described above within Eurasia (i.c. Asia and the post-socialist world) in both a playful and serious manner. We hope to make this a fun panel, but also hope for contributions that could potentially be turned into a joint publication.

18 June 2018

Feasting, drinking and banqueting: Politics and sociality of relating in Eurasia
Session 1: "Bonding through Food"

Room: 35.3.20

13:15-15:15 Oscar Salemink, University of Copenhagen
Anup Shekhar Chakraborty, Netaji Institute for Asian Studies
Ruaithre’, ‘Zai leh lam’, ‘Tleivar’, and ‘Zamoh’: Material Practices, Social networks and the Zo hnahthlak
Duy Lap Nguyen, University of Houston
Consumption and Culture in South Vietnamese Spy Fiction

Keith W. Taylor, Cornell University

A Culinary Utopia in 16th-Century Vietnam
15:15-15:30 Break
Feasting, drinking and banqueting: Politics and sociality of relating in Eurasia
Session 2:
"Distancing through Food"
Room: 35.3.20
15:30-17:30 Atreyee Sen, University of Copenhagen
‘No excess eating’: Banquet disruptions and discourses of hunger as critique of collective food exchanges in Calcutta, India
Melanie T. Uy, Vrije Universiteit
Anti-Guanxi: Social Detachment Lunch Eating Practices at Two Chinese SMEs
Manpreet K. Janeja, Leiden University
Food and Boundaries: Predicaments and Negotiations While Waiting “In The Field
Closing remarks
17:30- Reception



Session 1:  Bonding through food

Anup Shekhar Chakraborty, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science & Political Studies, Netaji Institute for Asian Studies
‘Ruaithre’, ‘Zai leh lam’, ‘Tleivar’, and ‘Zamoh’: Material Practices, Social networks and the Zo hnahthlak
The material practices and ‘social networks’ (real and also the virtual) among the Zo hnahthlak (Zo/Mizo people) in the North East Indian state of Mizoram are deeply embossed in cultural revivalism amidst the wave of proselytization and western practices. The ‘Zo Christianity’ and the ‘Cult Churches’ (2) continue to enmesh the pristine material practices into the proselytized material practices and the everyday. ‘Ruaithre’ (community feasting), ‘Zai leh lam’ (singing and dancing), ‘Tleivar’ (night vigil preferably with a bonfire) and ‘Zamoh’ (adult/sexually explicit jokes) continue to manifest the material practices and social networks at all times from marriages to practices relating to death and community mourning. The discussions in the paper attempts to chart the same and glean into the furtive ways in which such practices travel into institutionalized religious and political arrangements and practices.

(2) I am of the opinion that these ‘Clannish Cult Churches’ (3C) should not be confused with what we so often hear/read in Sociological/Theological studies as ‘Popular Religious Movements’ (PRM). Though much like PRM’s the 3C’s stress on healing, fighting evils and miracles but the similarity abruptly moves no further. The 3C’s I observe harps closer to the pulse of the clan and clannish lineages. Also, their popularity tends to be around specified zonal areas maybe a part of a village and not the entire village, a closed group phenomenon. In that sense the ‘popularity’ is much limited. The official Christian Churches do not consider these 3Cs to be Christian in any sense and sneer their practices such as polygamy, communism of wives, institution of ‘Chi thlak’ (practice of selecting a male or the leader of the cult to be the biological father or the ‘sperm donor’. The objective of such a practice is to create a reservoir of ‘pure progeny’ that can be directly linked to the cult leader and future leaders could be selected from that reservoir) etc.

Duy Lap Nguyen, Assistant Professor, Department of Modern and Classical Languages, University of Houston
Consumption and Culture in South Vietnamese Spy FictionThis presentation examines one of the most popular works belonging to the South Vietnamese culture industry that emerged during the period of the Vietnam War: Bùi Anh Tuấn’s Ian Fleming–inspired Z.28 novels. I argue that the novels are exemplary of the new “entertainment culture” or “culture for passing the time” (văn hóa tiêu khiển) that was created as unintended effect of the American military intervention. In contrast to traditional forms of cultivated consumption and leisure, associated in the colonial era with figures such as the phong lưu or Confucian gentleman, this popular culture was identified with the new forms of recreation and play (ăn chơi, literally, “eating and playing”) associated with the consumer society that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. As a vicarious figure of mass consumption, the character of the Vietnamese superspy in the Z.28 novels, I argue, can be viewed as a symptom of the commodification of Vietnamese practices of eating and drinking resulting from the American presence.

Keith W. Taylor,
Professor, Department of Asian Studies, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
A Culinary Utopia in 16th-Century Vietnam
The 185-line work in six-eight prosody entitled Đào Nguyên Hành (Story of Peach Spring), written by Phùng Khắc Khoan  (1528-1613) in the 1580s while temporarily residing in an upland valley during a time when adjacent lowlands were ravaged by warfare and famine, evokes Tao Yuanming's 5th-century Táo Hua Yuán (Peach Blossom Spring) to celebrate a cornucopian inventory of ingredients for the kitchen, including descriptions of particular dishes, which are protected by immortal beings inhabiting the local landscape. In addition to listing the plants, vegetables, and spices necessary for an opulent cuisine, this work resonates with other Vietnamese works of the 16th and early 17th century, a time of chronic warfare among warlords, that portray a utopian escape from disorder and destruction into a realm of peace and plenty. In this text, food is used as an indication of happiness and well-being, but in a utopian context separated from the real-life drama of war and famine characterizing that time and place.

This paper will examine the prosodic form and the contents of Đào Nguyên Hành and will compare it with other contemporary works as a basis for proposing aspects of social and cultural life among Vietnamese in that time.

Session 2: Distancing through food

Atreyee Sen, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, UCPH
‘No excess eating’: Banquet disruptions and discourses of hunger as critique of collective food exchanges in Calcutta, India
Everyday symbolism around eating and trust-building in the context of South Asian religious, class and caste socialities, is the crux of an emerging anthropology of food in the region (cf. Janeja 2013, Osella and Osella 2010). A chunk of this research focuses on weddings, birth and death ceremonies, large banquets marking personal and professional milestones, and subsequently the culture of food embedded in religious festivals, kitchen hierarchies, the politics of vegetarianism, and cosmopolitan encounters. Drawing on these ethnographic representations of the inner, often sensory, dynamics of food-sharing within communities, my paper will examine how forms of benevolent food-related sociality and exhibitionism can also be understood as ‘horror’ and ‘excess’. My research focuses on the experiences of former middle-class political prisoners, who were once accepting of regionally diverse cuisine cultures in India. The prisoners were captured and incarcerated in Calcutta, a city in eastern India, during the rise of a Mao-inspired violent guerrilla uprising in the 1970s. The prison inmates, who were later granted amnesty, had experienced hunger, malnutrition and poor health conditions during the course of their imprisonment. While families were keen to re-integrate once jailed kin members through invitations to food festivities, the hosts and guests faced unprecedented rebellion against excessive food consumption from these former prisoners. By offering vignettes of the disruptive presence of released inmates in large weddings, I argue that sudden rejections and ruptures in processes of sociality around collective/ritualistic eating, can produce a powerful critique of normative, affective and coercive ties that bind together food and nourishment practices within communities.

Melanie T. Uy, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam
Anti-Guanxi: Social Detachment Lunch Eating Practices at Two Chinese SMEs
Culture container categories, particularly guanxi, have become analytical barriers to studying Chinese family-owned and operated businesses. The two Chinese migration broker agencies in the study exemplify the flexible workplace, that is, a highly transient workplace environment with little job status, anticipated employee turnover, abrupt work assignments, flexible workarounds, and pronounced social detachment among employees.

My research findings show that, unlike the typical description of Chinese SMEs in business literature, personal, long-term, obligatory work and social ties of exchange (guanxi) hamper the speed of movement of money and people. Instead, impersonal, short-term, no-obligation relations ensure transaction speed, efficiency, and individual autonomy necessary in flexible firms.

This body of impersonal relations in the workplace are enforced around food and food-related detachment practices. By suspending the guanxi explanation for Chinese SMEs, I uncovered that ritual-like feasting, eating, and conversing during lunch constituted significant forms of individual disengagement from the group and the firm. Food and food-related sociality in Chinese workplaces are commonly misconstrued as practices of connecting or indicators of firm integration. However, these food-related ‘socialities’ are strategies of distancing necessary for employee separation from firm authority, job roles, and to ensure their readiness for career opportunities elsewhere. The results are destabilized and fluid networked firms embedded in international flexible business practices of migration.

This study consists of ethnographic research conducted in Qingdao, Shandong Province in 2009. I worked as an unpaid intern/agent at Qingdao Labour Agency for three months and at Sunshine Education Agency for six months.

Manpreet K. Janeja, Research Fellow, International Institute of Asian Studies (IIAS), Leiden
Food and Boundaries: Predicaments and Negotiations While Waiting “In The Field” 
Engaging in long-term ethnographic field-work on food and sociality in contemporary urban South Asia (and beyond), has brought to the fore the pivotal role that food plays in boundary-making “ín the field”. My research has examined food, meals, and eating as mediating contextual boundaries between ethnic, religious, caste, and class groups, straddling the “public” and “private” domains, and entangled in diverse norms and values that calibrate processes of continuity, transition, disruption, and crisis. Working with food in the field has also entailed negotiating predicaments, uncertainties, and boundaries as a researcher: waiting to be invited to a hospitable meal or deciding when to accept such an invite; dealing with culinary anxieties that the figure of the food ethnographer evokes in the host vis-à-vis "authentic" food, and the ambiguities that come to rest in the figure of the food anthropologist waiting to cross borders, or as a “link between cultures”; “becoming a gastronomic catalyst” for the next commensal feast and agonising over the “appropriate” restaurant/venue in keeping with the temporal character, ambivalent intimacy, and degree of trust in emergent relationships with interlocutors; coping with food anxieties, gendered and corporeal constraints, and “culinary cosmopolitanisms” as a pragmatic methodological device while waiting in the field. This paper offers ethnographic ruminations and cogitations on how boundaries are created, negotiated, and re-worked with, and through, food in South Asia. Grounded in culinary, gustatory, and  alimentary field-work in the mega-cities of Calcutta/India and Dhaka/Bangladesh, it unpacks fluid formations of the inside/outside, and the work entailed in navigating emergent forms of interiority and exteriority across scale.