Identity and Group Dynamics in Urban Food Systems
In this commentary I argue that access to food and nutrition systems, instead of being uniformly distributed among the urban poor, is a group phenomenon, that is, the shared situation of a group of individuals sharing similar identities, where a group may be defined horizontally in terms of gender, caste, religion, location, and so on. Drawing upon earlier field work in the city of Mumbai in India, I observe that due to identity-driven factors there are certain groups that remain disadvantaged within the food system, while there are groups that are able to attain intergenerational or intertemporal upward mobility despite having similar initial endowments. This happens due to differences between groups in the entitlement relations or due to the relationship between a group's endowment and its exchange options, which in turn is mediated by group members' religious or locational identity. Thus the factor of group dynamics is necessarily inherent within urban food systems, and this can be analyzed through operationalization of the entitlement approach, as proposed by Amartya Sen (1981). The entitlement approach has much potential as a technique for illustrating the power dynamics underlying identity-based group differential in access to urban food systems. In fact, any policy intervention designed to expand individual capabilities, such as nutrition security, would need to be preceded by an analysis of his or her entitlements, including in relation to group affiliations.
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