Nicolas van Puymbroeck

2017 Civil Society Fellow

Fellows Cosmopolis Centre for Urban Research Social & Cultural Food Studies (FOST)
  • Current position 2017 Civil Society Fellow

Ferment / Bread from Brussels /2017

Nicolas Van Puymbroeck and Eva Samyn are two of the driving forces behind Ferment. This dynamic research platform examines overlaps between the history of food culture and contemporary identity formation in highly diverse urban arrival neighborhoods. The fellows combine their respective knowledge about the urban sociology of migration with a practical experience in group dynamics derived from social pedagogy to enable challenging types of action-research. For this project, they will explore their joint passion about bread and its daily practices.

Starting point of the project is the assumption that bread constitutes more than a nutritional aspect in people’s lives. The types of bread people eat, how they eat it, with whom, and where they buy it, contribute to more encompassing processes of identity construction, especially in a constantly changing urban environment. The neighbourhood of Laken constitutes a perfect laboratory to examine the social functions of bread both for newcomers and established inhabitants. Over the past century, subsequent migratory waves from Italy, Morocco and Turkey, and Eastern Europe, have caused a noticeable demographic transformation. This is reflected in the economic infrastructure of bakeries and the (semi-)informal baking and sharing practices.

To unravel processes of identity construction, two distinct methodological routes will be explored. On the one hand, archival research combined with in-depth interviews with former and contemporary bakers examine the professional bakeries through time. On the other hand, the aim is to understand identity formation in practice through closely engaging with inhabitants and participatory observation around communal ovens. The project brings professional and home bakers together to enter a joint discussion about the larger significance of bread as an element of culinary citizenship. The ultimate ambition of the project is to co-create a bread which belongs and expresses the identity of Brussels.

Throughout the project, the fellows will entertain an ongoing and collaborative exchange with the members of Cosmopolis and FOST about the methodological and theoretical challenges and opportunities of historically inspired action-research on food culture. Alternative ways to disseminate research output in the form of neighborhood walks and culinary products will also be investigated.