The scientific lives of chicha: The production of a fermented beverage and the making of expert knowledge in bogotá, 1889–1939

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From the end of the nineteenth century into the first decades of the twentieth, Colombian chicha (a fermented beverage made from maize) was at one and the same time alcohol and food, a product produced and consumed on a large scale in an urban setting, and an object of intense scientific scrutiny, with multiple meanings and transformations. In this article, I argue that industrial chicha production, local scientific practices, and food policies and regulations crossed paths in Colombia, influencing each other. I explore the situated and diverse practices of knowledge production about the relationship between chicha, bodies, and society, as well as their actual implications in, and mutual effects with, matters of food governance. In laboratories and hospitals, but also in the places of production and consumption of chicha, Colombian scientists produced toxicological, physiological, nutritional, and statistical knowledge about this beverage, shaping diverse racialized perceptions of local poor populations and their capacities to achieve national progress. In turn, the material transformations in the production of chicha (related to modern urban configurations), the industrial producers of this beverage, as well as the emerging practices of governance over chicha and the bodies of its consumers, influenced the making and use of knowledge claims about this same food product. With this case study, I call attention to some insights that history of science and medicine can offer to the fields of biopolitics and food history, and their interconnections. In methodological terms, I propose a biographical approach that follows some of the multiple historical lives of chicha, both as an object of science and as a commodity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)204-227
Number of pages24
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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