Where Did “Tex-Mex” Come From?: The Divisive Emergence of a Social Category

Where Did “Tex-Mex” Come From?: The Divisive Emergence of a Social Category

By
Dennis Ray Wheaton, Glenn R. Carroll
Research in Organizational Behavior.
2017, Vol. 37, Pages 143-166

Research on social categories has become one of the more active lines of research on organizations. Much of this research presumes the pre-existence of at least the “seed” of the category and then proceeds to study and explain how the category developed and became institutionalized. By contrast, this study joins several recent others in attempting to identify and explain why a previously non-existent social category emerged in the first place. Empirically, we examine the emergence of the Tex-Mex social category for food and cuisine. In studying Tex-Mex food, we present a brief analytical social history of the cuisine starting in Old Mexico and continuing up to contemporary times. We juxtapose the social facts that we report with prevailing theoretical ideas (social-activist theorization and similarity clustering) about category emergence drawn from organization theory. While insightful, we find current theoretical accounts to be incomplete in explaining why Tex-Mex emerged. By contrast, our analysis directs attention to the status dynamics of ethnic majority/minority populations, early inexpensive mass industrialization of the food and certain geographic factors. Casual comparisons to other ethnic food categories appear to support the speculative argument we advance.