Research & Teaching

Food Territories: The Political Economy of Food Systems and its Effects on the Built Environment

Case Study Egypt
Doctoral advisors: Prof.Dr. Marc Angélil, Dr. Cary Siress, Prof. Dr. Basil Kamel
Nominated for ETH Silver Medal for Best Dissertation
Research Fellowship at Future Cities Laboratory Singapore 2012-2013

This dissertation investigates the relationships between food systems and the built environment through the lens of political economy, focusing on the case of Egypt. It argues that food systems as well as the factors that influence them at social, economic, and political levels also affect architecture, urban form, and territorial organization. In order to assess specifically how food systems contribute to the architecture of territory, the study identifies, describes, and explicates material interrelations between grain commodity trade and the development of the built environment in Egypt.

First by examining a host of operations of the global commodity chain, political and economic machinations of the international food order are precisely articulated, and interconnections between food systems, the grain chain, and spatial organization at the geographical scale of the world are identified. Consequently, the specific treatment of the three case studies deals with examples of acute conditions of spatial transformation in correlation with segments of the food system: 1) food subsidies and urban space in Alexandria, 2) food production and informal urbanization in Cairo, and 3) food security and infrastructure with the Toshka Project in Upper Egypt. Egypt is thus examined as to how food systems operating a various scales—trans-national, national, and local—transform socio-spatial territories and how those systems are reciprocally transformed by ongoing changes in territorial relations.

By investigating the spatializing dynamics of food systems, the work seeks to better comprehend how political, economic, and spatial practices interact to produce specific territorial conditions of our world. The hypothesis foregrounded is that the vital resource of food is determinate of territorial organization. Yet, this work argues that it is not only possible to address political economy through architecture and urban forms, but also that commodity protocols directed by political and economic policy-making in fact determine the production of space. The co-constitutive relationships between political economy of space and the territorial relations is addressed with the notion of territorial reciprocity, and by placing the study of the built environment in conversation with Michel Foucault’s biopolitical concepts. Ultimately, through spatial analyses of architectural form, urbanization processes, and the political economy of food, this work attempts to extend discourse on the formation of territory by linking distinct spatial outcomes to systems typically considered to operate beyond the purview of design disciplines and spatial practices.

ETH Zurich Research Collection: Embargoed until 2022 for publication.

Gleem Bakery, Alexandria


A Yemeni anti-government protestor holds a loaf of local bread with arabic slogan "Leave" in 2011.


Mariutoyah area, competition between agrarian land and urban informal planning
Informal urbanization over agrarian land

(Housing Cairo, Ruby Press, 2016)

Mubarak Pumping Station, Toshka

(Photo Corbis)

Diagram of major Nile Projects

(H.E. Hurst, The Nile, 1952)