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Volume 34, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 1466-0407
  • E-ISSN: 1758-9118



This article analyses the way in which il caffè sospeso, an old Italian tradition of giving needy people a free coffee, has become ‘suspended coffee’, a current trend in the United States. This study explains the Italian phenomenon through Bourdieu’s ‘classic’ theory linked to food as provider of social distinction, distance from reality and culinary capital. To explain the new American model, this article builds on Bourdieu’s later work on neo-liberalism. This double theoretical approach enables a double methodological approach. The old Italian practice is investigated through Bourdieu’s historical field analysis. The American, neo-liberal model is studied through political economy analysis of websites owned by the companies supporting suspended coffee. The results show that in Italy il caffè sospeso was an opportunity for the donor to gain social distinction thanks to distance from reality, not providing the poor with something more necessary than a coffee. In the United States, private companies have taken hold of this tradition and altered the old relationship between donor and receiver. Giving is no longer spontaneous. Companies advise/force their clients to donate and confer culinary capital to ‘elected’ customers on their websites, with texts aiming to advertise rather than to inform. In conclusion, neo-liberalism exploits old traditions for commercial reasons.


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