University of Rochester

Anthropologist Studies Culture Through Soft Drinks

October 19, 1999

Robert J. Foster, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Rochester, is researching how people from New York to New Guinea interpret and use everyday global commodities like Coke and Pepsi.

Foster has received a $30,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to research both the global marketing of soft drinks and the relatively new consumption of soft drinks in Papua New Guinea, largest of the independent Pacific island states. He plans to use this research as a means to analyze the larger cultural and economic processes associated with globalization.

"My overall goal is to do multi-sited research that links the lives of people who are ordinarily thought of as worlds apart," Foster said. "My writing will emphasize the world historical circumstances that are making it possible if not necessary for Papua New Guineans to change their food habits, as well as describe the emergence of new consumption needs and patterns."

Foster's interest in this region of the world began as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago where he also wrote a doctoral dissertation based on anthropological fieldwork in rural Papua New Guinea. He has since received foundation and grant support to expand his study of Melanesian societies and cultures. Foster's most recent award was among more than $8.7 million in grants and fellowships given to 173 individual scholars and 10 colleges and universities by NEH.

During his fellowship year, which begins in January, Foster will do field research in Papua New Guinea and begin writing a book tentatively titled Candy Water: Anthropological Perspectives on Globalization.

Foster has written widely on issues of media, consumption, and the formation of national cultures. He has taught in the University's Department of Anthropology for nine years.