Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Award: The Role of Food in Establishing Social Solidarity

  • Kintigh, Keith (PI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


PROJECT SUMMARY The proposed research investigates the relationships between household foodways and the different underlying political, social, and economic transformations that are associated with population aggregation and social coalescence. While food is widely considered a fundamental part of social life and relationships, the interplay between daily food practices with broader social processes of social coalescence and integration have received little attention. To investigate the role of food in contexts marked by rapid demographic and social change, the proposed synthetic, comparative analysis of foods, food technologies, and their spatial contexts will examine how foodways developed, change, or persist in settlement areas characterized by different degrees of social heterogeneity and paces of change. Drawing together archaeological data from two sub-regions of the Zuni/Cibola region of the U.S. Southwest in a period of regional and local population aggregation and migration (13th century A.D.), the proposed research develops methods to examine changes in two important social dimensions of food: (1) cuisine, the cultural logics and traditions of food practices and, (2) commensality, or the social and political dynamics of shared meals. The proposed comparative analysis of cuisine and commensality will address how differences in the scale and pace of aggregation may have influenced cuisine diversity and the scale of commensal activities, and will provide new insights into the social importance of food systems and daily food practices in periods of social and political change. The proposed study will proceed in two stages. (1) Establishing the spatial foundation and the broader social and historical context for evaluating and interpreting continuity and change in foodways within contrasting settlement sub-regions. This step will draw on extensive regional settlement data and previous work on settlement reorganization, population aggregation, and social transformations at individual settlements in different parts of the Cibola region over time. (2) Evaluating changes in cuisine diversity and scales of commensality to investigate changes in household economies and the role of food in social integration and cooperation. This stage will involve the synthesis and additional analysis of foods, food technologies, and food production and consumption activities in settlements across the Cibola region at multiple scales. These analyses will entail studies of the plant and animal resources, technologies, and locations of food activities, and will draw upon macrobotanical studies and databases of excavated faunal, ceramic, and groundstone materials as well as recorded cooking and storage features. Intellectual Merits: The proposed study will provide a detailed, multi-scalar view of the foodways and social dynamics surrounding household and communal food practices in the Cibola region in the 13th and 14th centuries AD. By addressing and synthesizing multiple lines of archaeological data, this study will develop methods to operationalize cuisine and commensality and contribute to further studies and methodological developments in regional and comparative examinations of the social and political importance of food in everyday life. While settlement patterns and other more obvious manifestations of aggregation have been studied frequently, this examination of foodways in periods of aggregation and coalescence will provide new insights into the micro-scalar processes of social transformation, integration, and economic intensification associated with increases in settlement size, density, and social diversity. More specifically, this study will consider social drivers of food change in the past and provide a comparative case for considering the role of food and food practices in social transformations in small-scale societies. Broader Impacts: This research will improve and contribute to long-term histories of cuisine and traditional food practices of ancestral peoples of contemporary Western Puebloan communities (i.e., Acoma, Zuni, Hopi). Meetings with a cultural expert from Zuni will inform this analysis and disseminate information back to the community. The collection of this data will provide training and research experience for several undergraduate students in multiple archaeological analytical methods at Arizona State University. The data produced by this research will be digitally curated and made available to other researchers in publications, professional meetings, and online through the Digital Archaeology Record (tDAR).
Effective start/end date11/15/1610/31/19


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $10,840.00


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