Houses, hearths and memories: Food sharing and ambivalent belonging among diaspora Tamil women in Singapore
(National University of Singapore)
Paper short abstract:
This paper brings an ethnographic focus to the practices of cooking and food sharing in the houses of Tamil diaspora women in Singapore. The processes of food sharing among Tamil women reveal a relationship to the house based on gendered tensions between movement and ambivalent belonging.
Paper long abstract:
This paper brings an ethnographic focus to the practices of cooking and food sharing in the houses of Tamil diaspora women in Singapore. Recipes, tools for preparing food and the visceral experience of cooking, serving and eating are a gateway to diverse articulations of women's sense of cultural identity and underlying ideologies organising social and spatial relations in the multi-cultural and racialised context of Singapore. This paper adopts Carsten and Hugh-Jones (1995) dynamic conceptualisation, the 'house as process', through which the house comes to have a vitality of its own, departing from previous formulations where the notion of the house is static. Carsten and Hugh-Jones establish emphatically the entwinement of processes of kinship and house by demonstrating that the house is constitutive of social relations within and beyond it. The 'house' of Tamil women encompasses multiple temporalities including memories of ancestral mobilities, rhythms of daily living, and intergenerational relations set against the overarching historical arcs of Tamil migration to Singapore since British colonial rule. The focus upon food sharing through an ethnographic lens unravels memories of loss, experiences of alienation, and material artefacts passed through generations. I demonstrate that food sharing is a crucial link for the relationship between the material and the social in the context of migrant cartographies and multiple houses inhabited. The processes of food sharing among Tamil women do not suggest the house as an extension of a person (Bourdieu 1977, Carsten 1995), but reveal a relationship based on gendered tensions between movement and ambivalent belonging.
Houses and domestic space in the diaspora: materiality, senses and temporalities in migrants' dwellings