New Books Network

Families in parts of rural Tanzania regularly face periods when they cut back on their meals because their own food stocks are running short...

Families in parts of rural Tanzania regularly face periods when they cut back on their meals because their own food stocks are running short and they cannot afford to buy food. Kristin D. Phillips‘ new book An Ethnography of Hunger: Politics, Subsistence, and the Unpredictable Grace of the Sun (Indiana University Press, 2018) provides a deeply empathetic portrait of rural life in Singida, in central Tanzania. Her study is both a memoir of rural life during a food shortage and a deeply insightful analysis of how subsistence farming and the ongoing threat of hunger structures relationships and politics. Phillips engages the work of prominent analysts of hunger and politics like James Scott, Amartya Sen, and James Ferguson, engaging their insights but also expanding upon them with her recognition of how people build and maintain relationships that protect them as they live in constant vulnerability or precarity. Her study illustrates how this precarity influences people’s participation in Tanzania’s society by making claims on somewhat impersonal rights as citizens, as opposed to more intimate relations of patronage.