Future-making in the City of Gastronomy: Food Heritage and the Narrative Commons

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In December 2015, Tucson, Arizona was designated a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy. It joined the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Creative Cities Network, a program that helps cities use cultural heritage for economic development. This dissertation undertakes an ethnography of Tucson as a City of Gastronomy, examining how this designation has inflamed tensions around the kinds of stories that are told about Tucson, to whom, and to what end. Drawing on extended fieldwork in Tucson, ethnographic methods of interviewing and participant-observation, and archival research, this dissertation explores the dissonance that emerges when stories of the past, present, and future are tapped for use by new actors to new ends. Welding together theoretical approaches based in commons scholarship and Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of capital, this study presents the concept of the food heritage narrative commons, a socio-political space within which overarching narratives built upon food heritage objects, practices, and stories are contested, reconciled, subordinated, or come into co-existence. I argue that caring for the narrative commons is important for encouraging polyvocality, challenging received thought, imagining different ways of being, and maintaining space for productive dialogue. This dissertation examines an enclosure of the narrative commons in the wake of and facilitated by the UNESCO designation. I argue that the UNESCO designation introduced a specific form of symbolic capital as elaborated by Bourdieu that I call gastronomic capital, the value of being associated with the designation. This gastronomic capital empowered ‘Tucson’s Food Story,’ one particular narrative associated with the designation, to drown out others, enclosing the narrative commons, and facilitating economic gain for those able to wield gastronomic capital. Pushback against this process from communities (re)producing alternative narratives, however, points towards models for better governance of the narrative commons, structured by what I call an ethic of careful difference. In examining the interactions between ideas of heritage, narratives, and commons, this dissertation demonstrates the role that fostering a diversity of narratives, each building upon the past, plays in engaging multiple, diverse experiences and ways of being in the world in productive tension towards building different, transformative futures.