Fifth BSA Food Study Group Conference: Food & Society 2017

What is food? And how should we study it?

26–27 June 2017
University of Westminster, London, UK

Confirmed keynotes: 

  • Corinna Hawkes, Professor of Food Policy, Director, Centre for Food Policy, City, University of London, UK - A people-centred approach to the study of food: a policy perspective
  • Anthony Winson, Professor of Sociology, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada - From Wide Angle to Zoom:  Critical Perspectives with the Food Lens

Spanning the social sciences, humanities and beyond as well as public health and nutrition, food is established as a prominent topic of interest for research. It is also of significant relevance to those outside the academy, including governments, UN agencies, NGOs, community groups and the private sector, particularly in the light of recent political events. Growing numbers of scholars and students with an interest in food and food-related issues have contributed not only to the emergence and expansion of sub-disciplines dedicated to the study of food - e.g. the sociology of food, the anthropology of food, food history, food economics, the geography of food - but also to the effervescence of an inter-disciplinary ‘food studies’. In building this body of work, researchers within and across these disciplines and sub-disciplines also contribute important knowledge to policy-makers and practitioners.

However, 'food' may not mean the same thing to all those who study or seek to influence the practices and systems which produce, sustain and consume it. Depending on disciplinary frameworks, epistemologies and domains of practice, 'food' connotes different objects of study, requiring different framings and measurement. For some, 'food' is a material substance, or a source of nutrients and means of avoiding disease.  For others, it is a commodity for economic exchange, or the basis of livelihoods, or the object of policy. For others still, 'food' is a language through which to express relationships, whether affinities or differences. These 'false cognates' may deceive us into thinking that we are addressing the same 'thing' when, in fact, we are not. Yet food remains central not only to global systems and local lives, but is a fascinating and challenging area of study precisely because it connects with so many other urgent issues; tracing these connections entails transgressing boundaries not only across different domains of human experience, but also across disciplines, requiring engagement with a range of theoretical paradigms and methodologies.

The conference thus poses the questions: what do we mean by 'food', how do we study it and to what end? Key themes are: How is 'food' conceptualized and operationalised within particular disciplinary and methodological frameworks? How is it understood in relation to its entanglement with other materials, meanings and practices? Should we 'study up' or 'study down'? What are the implications of the ways in which food is defined for contributing to knowledge, practice and informing policy? 

We seek to enrich our conversations about food and to transcend boundaries, as well as pause to consider what, exactly, we are talking about. Only then can we learn from each other how better to study 'food' and better inform policy and practice. To this end, we invite proposals for papers that not only present studies of food-related issues, but that reflect explicitly on how 'food' is delineated as an object of study and how particular theoretical frameworks and/or methods of analysis may be used to explore and understand its significance.