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Who Owns the Co-op? Race, Class, and Symbolic Boundaries at a Food Co-operative

Sat, August 12, 10:30am to 12:10pm, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Floor: Level 5, 512C

Abstract

Rising public interest in alternative agrifood systems like farmers’ markets and food cooperatives, has led to studies examining the stratification of access to and engagement with these movements. Some scholars conclude that many urban food spaces ultimately appeal to white elites. However, there is a gap in the literature examining the micro-processes that contribute to racially and economically homogenous consumers. This ethnographic case-study draws up ten months of participant/observation and in-depth interviews with members of a food co-operative in a large, Northeastern city to understand the mechanisms which reproduce a majority white and middle-class clientele in a majority black and mixed-income neighborhood. The study found that symbolic boundaries are deployed institutionally, materially, and interpersonally to privilege access and experience of white, middle-class shoppers. These findings suggest that inattention to symbolic and material racialized dynamics will result in exclusion of marginalized groups.

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