Practicing conviviality: Notes from the experimental spaces of ‘pay-what-you-can’ restaurants

Authors: Regan Koch*, Queen Mary University of London
Topics: Urban Geography, Cultural Geography
Keywords: pragmatism, public life, conviviality, community cafes
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Galerie 3, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Urban public life is in many ways defined by creative experiments and adaptations that aim to reshape how we live and relate to one another. Critical scholarship is often attuned to such developments, but analysis typically comes in the form of critique whereby foundational principles are used to interpret changes, connect them to abstract processes and evidence concerns about the state of our cities. In contrast, philosophical pragmatism offers an approach to knowledge production more open to contingency and conducive to social hope. Research praxis is less about demonstrating realities behind appearances and instead seeks to join conversations about desired forms of collective life and the means to achieve them. To this end, this paper provides an account of inquiries into the practices of ‘pay-what-you-can’ restaurants. These novel spaces eschew having set prices on their menus to open up a wider set of possibilities than a restaurant or community center typically affords. What started with an experiment in one kitchen in 2001 now comprises a loose network of more than sixty such restaurants across the US aiming to promote food security, neighbourhood sociability and community engagement. Those who successfully manage these enterprises are remarkable for their ability to maintain an inclusive atmosphere, while simultaneously upholding standards of accountability needed to sustain their operations. In noting some of the practical knowledge and ongoing conversations that go into these spaces, my hope is to provide a modest contribution to the creation of more convivial forms of public culture.

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