Reclaiming Good Food: Striving for Normal Living in Post-Revolutionary Tunisia

  • Sara Pozzi

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis is based on extensive ethnographic research with families in their busy lives around food in Zaghouan, a predominantly rural region in Northeast Tunisia. A decade after the revolution, it is a complex transitional time for the country. Observing people's struggles around producing, processing, trading, and consuming food led me to investigate how their mundane claims for normal lives (hayat adiyya) still echoed previous revolutionary claims for bread and dignity. Upholding food as an ethnographic locus of analysis, the thesis addresses the complexity of the relationship between the material and existential struggles for livelihoods around food matters and imaginaries of a life worth living. Specifically, the project argues that, especially among my low-income informants, normal living was often understood as living free from the threat of material deprivation, balancing one's family's wellbeing with the wider community's. Moral personhood was similarly constructed on the basis of care for one's family through honest and hard work, while also contributing to their social group and to the country more widely. Further, participating in my interlocutors' struggles around their food affairs revealed important insights concerning people's relations to each other and to their worlds. In their attempts to attain a normal life, I observed how people relied heavily on what I call 'networks of proximity' around food, supporting each other in times of need. Following the construction of such networks of proximity at different scales revealed 1) how my interlocutors' social reproduction strategies emerged from their ethical navigations, which blended personal interests and situated constraints with local systems of values and norms; and 2) the limited and partial reach of these networks. Embedded in local hierarchies and situated power configurations, such networks often failed to perform support, instead contributing to recreating existing hierarchies and re-positioning social actors in the same (unequal) positions they had attempted to move away from. My approach hence demonstrates the complexity surrounding change in a rural region, where social dynamics around food contributed to (re)constructing situated social spaces and people's positions within them: their families, their neighbourhoods, the food trade in town, smallholder farms, and the state. The thesis further argues that my interlocutors' claims, prompted by unstable relations with their worlds, pushed against dispossession and social political marginalisation across different scales, demanding full social inclusion that would enable them to live normal, good lives (hayat adiyya). Contributing significantly to the anthropology of food, the thesis, a partial account of post-revolutionary Tunisia at complex times, also contributes to the study of social transformation in the region following the Arab Spring. Further, attending with ethnographic rigour to the multiple 'social lives of food' allows me to add through individual chapters to anthropological discussions on several transversal themes: kinship and gender, food heritagisation, the economies of favours, masculinities and femininities, agro-ecological challenges in the region, and the productive work of care.
Date of Award1 Aug 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMaia Green (Supervisor) & Michelle Obeid (Supervisor)


  • Economies of favours
  • Masculinities & Femininities
  • Care
  • Heritagisation
  • Gender
  • Food
  • Kinship

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