Funding: DFG GKAT
Duration: 2017 to 2021

Research Project


Food-practices and Spatial Constitutions of Convenience Stores in Impoverished US American Urban Neighborhoods

You are what you eat is a well-known phrase. Everyone eats, but everyone eats differently – different products, in various ways, differently prepared, and partly connected with customs. Food is seen as an expression of identity. These actions can be described as food-practices. However, which ascriptions to identity are hided in the practices if people seemingly consume mostly industrial processed food (convenient food) sold in convenience stores (also known as liquor stores or party stores): questions about which identity is attached to such habits have to be raised. Especially, poor urban neighborhoods in American metropolises are affected, where access to supermarkets is much worse than in the more prosperous districts. Here, an over-presence of convenience stores serving mainly snacks, convenience food, tobacco and liquor can be diagnosed. Consequently, convenience stores bear a high importance in the function as food contributor.

These aspects open up a twofold spatial dimension: on the one hand, it relates to the structural supply of food in these neighborhoods and, thus, emphasizes convenience stores as the dominant food provider. On the other hand, the meaning by people who choose such stores as a daily reference location include a practice of space constitutions: with doing so, they expand the function of food provider for further senses. In addition, the mentioned food system with a lack of supermarkets and the over-presence of convenience stores in African American neighborhoods tracts a high attention. This imbalance correlates not only with socio-economic indicators, but also with ethnicity. By considering intersectionality, it is possible to consider the dimensions of inequalities (in regard to race, class, and gender).

In this respect, the dissertation searches for the connection of food practices with practices of spatial constitutions of convenience stores. Space constitutions are understood as a process of the connection of actions by subjects; hence, it follows the praxeological theory. Practices are actions that are embedded a temporal and spatial context. They include historical and cultural dimensions, thus, the social itself, and they are framed by regulations and norms. The project is created in manner of an ethnographic research design. It includes beside the methods of intense observations in different stores in Detroit’s Eastside and Chicago’s Southside various forms of interviews as well as participation in and self-testing of food practices. Questions come to mind such as: What kind of product is bought at what time and in which settings (spatial and temporal) are these consumed? What practices do consumers associate with buying convenience food? To what extent are supermarkets in American underserved neighborhoods linked to these practices? Which other functions serve the convenience store to underserved neighborhood (e.g. meeting point for the Jetneys, an informal taxi system in Detroit; the store owner as credit grantor, lottery, and many more).

These questions go beyond the aspect of food-practices. They are also dedicated to the significance of convenience stores as social spaces in African American neighborhoods. With these questions in mind, theories about social inequalities in American inner-city neighborhoods in focus on African Americans are analyzed with a specific perspective on the everyday life of African Americans. Herewith, I add aspects to reflected and critical urban studies.

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Latest Revision: 2018-01-16
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