Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown in Africa: Cultural Brokerage, “Going Native,” and Colonial Nostalgia

Téwodros W. Workneh, H. Leslie Steeves


CNN’s award-winning Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown has captured the interest of American and global audiences, and Bourdain has been praised for his humanizing storytelling and diverse culinary itinerary. This study draws on postcolonial theory to question whether celebrations of Bourdain’s representations of sub-Saharan Africa are warranted. Specifically, we explore cultural brokerage as an instrument of African agency, assess Bourdain’s “going-native” approach against evidence of self-reflexivity, and probe traces of colonial nostalgia in the episodes. We propose a three-category conceptualization of cultural brokers: immersed, hybrid, and inherent brokers. We commend Bourdain’s deployment of hybrid and inherent cultural brokers, his actively self-reflexive going-native style, and his efforts to historicize and contextualize African locations. However, we argue that some of Bourdain’s narrative choices—uses of immersed brokers, reduced self-reflexivity in challenging sites, and evidence of colonial nostalgia—trap the show in clichéd representations of Africa reminiscent of a colonial gaze.


alterity, Africa, Anthony Bourdain, food studies, postcolonial theory, reality television

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