American Ethnological Society
Oral Presentation Session
Food sharing in Dakar creates two opposed kinds of relationship: one so close as to create felt consubstantiality between people, the other, radical alienation strong enough to cause people and objects to vanish. These practices build two models of the city simultaneously: one of interior spaces connected by women’s movements and governed by generosity and obligation, one of streets bustling with the nameless bodies of other people’s children. Movements of food create the city as a system of intimate knowledge shielded, like a woman’s veiled body, from outsiders, but also the city as space of stranger sociability fueled by the unknowable intentions of others. Locating them in women’s management of household economies, I examine these practices as fundamentally semiotic, and consequently epistemological. Following food prepared and passed between households reveals a social world in which ties of bodily belonging and tenuous connection are built, sustained, and negotiated. Building ties of shared substance -- while at the same time defining the an ‘inside’ of social life -- movements of bowls instantiate a carefully curated system of linked spaces of intimate material dependency and affect. Against this web of artfully curated and neatly contained circulation, almsgiving creates an opportunity to ‘cast out’ problems by giving to beggars who stand at the limits of society. By giving alms to beggars, women mark out a social world outside of, and opposed to, their spheres of intimate influence and control: asserting the existence of another social order in the city, one populated by strangers.