Kitchenspace: gendered spaces for cultural reproduction, or, nature in the everyday lives of ordinary women in central Mexico
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The goal of this research was to understand how ordinary women in three semi-urban communities in central Mexico—Xochimilco, Ocotepec, and Tetecala—experienced nature in their everyday lives. I explored the gendered spaces associated with food gathering and preparation, where women have unquestionable authority and responsibility in my region of study, using three people-centered, qualitative methodologies: participant-observation, ethnographic interviews, and maps of women’s kitchens drawn by informants. My research took place primarily in kitchenspace, which I define as the place where food is prepared, whether indoors or outdoors—usually a combination of both—and including activity associated with everyday routines as well as ritual celebrations. The boundaries of kitchenspace are defined by social activity and gendered relationships rather than by physical structures. This and other gendered spaces are often neglected in academic research, in part because of their inaccessibility to male researchers. The resulting lack of understanding obscures issues, and cultural and physical spaces of importance to society as a whole. Kitchenspace it is at once the center of the household, and—in times of traditional celebrations—the center of community life, and a vital space from which women establish and maintain social reciprocity networks. It has little to do with the notion of domesticity and social isolation often associated with the suburban housewife. It is a privileged and gendered site of cultural reproduction, where a society’s relationship with nature is inscribed in the patterns of everyday life and ritual celebrations. It is a site of adaptation and innovation where gendered subjects work within the parameters of cultural boundaries to accommodate changes in the natural and social landscapes. Territoriality and hierarchies within kitchenspace reflect its vital importance to the reproduction of social relations within and beyond the household, its value as a living cultural archive and laboratory, and that it is a source of power for many women in my region of study. Gendered and embodied knowledge including when and how to prepare certain foods is selectively transmitted to individual women from one generation to the next along with the grandmother’s mole recipe and many beliefs and rituals unique to kitchenspace.