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Title: The Stinky King - A Social and Cultural History of the Durian
Keywords: durian, colonialism, singapore, singularisation, taste, postcolonial
Issue Date: 21-Jan-2011
Citation: ANDREA MONTANARI (2011-01-21). The Stinky King - A Social and Cultural History of the Durian. ScholarBank@NUS Repository.
Abstract: This thesis explores the attitudes towards the durian, a fruit which famously arouses emotions as divergent as enticement and revulsion. The main argument is that such feelings are historical phenomena: they are not innate, but take shape and develop under specific sociocultural circumstances. In the Preface, I present my subject and reflect upon the importance, in writing the histories of food, of borrowing frameworks and methodologies from the social sciences. By looking at the accounts of the fruit left by early travellers and settlers, chapter 2 explores the attitudes towards the durian which emerged during the early colonial era. I suggest that for understanding the Western colonial attitudes towards the fruit, we have to go beyond the Western fascination with the Southeast Asian environment, and look at the social and cultural contexts where Westerners found themselves in direct contact with the durian. Chapter 3 follows the development of Western attitudes into the 19th and 20th centuries. By focussing on the context of British Malaya, I highlight two simultaneous processes: the diversion of the durian from the public sphere of the colonial elite; and the emergence of patterns of private consumption. I argue that different social and cultural meanings of the places where the durian was encountered influenced significantly the sensory responses recorded in the colonial accounts. The fourth chapter turns to the specific context of colonial Singapore, a growing urban centre where the durian `fever¿ presented significant environmental problems, namely nuisances related to littering, traffic, and irregular hawking. Governmental attempts at regulating the trade through strategies such as licensing and relocation of stalls are also explored. In the last chapter, I look at contemporary durian consumption in Singapore. I analyse changes that occurred in the last three decades which are still occurring today. I argue that since the 1980s the durian has undergone a process of `commoditisation¿, that is, it has become a full commodity, today commonly available in Singapore throughout the year, and consumed in a more controlled way as well as with less disruptive impact on the urban environment. I suggest that simultaneously the durian started undergoing what I describe as a process of refinement of taste, a process whereby further knowledge is attached to its consumption and the durian enters into the gastronomic discourse. The last part attempts to explain this latter process by framing it as an instance of `singularisation¿, i.e. the effort by cultures of remaking unique what economies have commoditised.
Appears in Collections:Master's Theses (Open)

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