RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2016


238 Doing food research: method, transdisciplinarity and reflexivity (2): The Researcher’s Role: Ethics, reflexivity and positionality
Affiliation Food Geographies Working Group
Convenor(s) Charlie Spring (University of Salford, UK)
Rebecca St. Clair (University of Salford, UK)
Chair(s) Charlie Spring (University of Salford, UK)
Rebecca St. Clair (University of Salford, UK)
Timetable Thursday 01 September 2016, Session 4 (16:50 - 18:30)
Session abstract Food researchers grapple with questions of climate change, systems complexity, power and justice, where the macro collapses into the micro. The researcher’s role (or search for one) often blurs into the research context, where reflexive awareness can shed light on the importance of interpersonal relationships, emotion and registers of identity/difference/privilege in negotiating ‘the field’. This can be especially the case for those aiming at participatory, action-focussed work that considers the ethics of engagement and impact, and the politics of knowledge beyond ‘policy relevance’. Furthermore, the multi-disciplinary backgrounds of many food geographers bring a wealth of methodological tools to the discipline. The process of 'borrowing' methodological tools and adapting them to fit a particular research purpose deserves its own consideration and a discussion of the potential merits and pitfalls of a transdisciplinary approach. The (incomplete) turn towards reflexivity, complexity and transdisciplinarity has opened up a rich seam of reflection for academic method and theory. These sessions will provide a safe and gentle space for such reflection. We will begin with 5-minute provocations from researchers, especially PG and ECR, to stimulate questioning and discussion of the ‘doing’ of research: topics include collaboration, participatory/action research, institutional challenges, activist scholarship and so on…
Linked Sessions Doing food research: method, transdisciplinarity and reflexivity (1): The Researcher’s Role: Innovative methods, participation and transdisciplinarity
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2016@rgs.org
Exploring the role of the practitioner/researcher – the distant critical friend
Sam Ramsden (University of Hull, UK)
I will explore some benefits, challenges and tensions of conducting PhD research through my role of conducting monitoring and evaluation (M&E) for an active project. There are many positives of combining research and M&E including: access to field work, feeding information into practice, and getting ongoing feedback back from the project to help improve my research. However, there are challenges balancing the requirements of the project and PhD: Do journal articles and conferences benefit the project? Can I balance rich qualitative research with demands for faster quantitative information? Can I produce reports for the project while coming into the writing phase of my PhD? More critical challenges are also in sharper focus now the project is finished and looking for further funding. There are questions on how critical and/or supportive I should be with potential tensions between internal critical feedback and more externally focused reporting. I am paid by the project for my PhD and want to maintain positive relationships with project managers. I have become friends with project staff coming to the end of their contracts but who want to continue their work and jobs. I have (more distant) relationships with volunteers who rely on the project for social inclusion and support. Developing friendships also means people have told me things in confidence, but when do I turn my recorder off? If I know relevant information, how challenging should I be in more formal interviews? I am working through these challenges and looking forward to discuss others experiences.
'Not trying to fix it'; Reflections on moving from practice to academia
Veronica Barry (Birmingham City University, UK)
A criticism of some of the academic literature within food policy and urban agriculture is that it often comes from an 'advocacy attitude' (Tornaghi 2014:5) and lacks critical insight. This brief session will reflect on experience of leaving a long period of engaged practice within the community food growing movement, to taking on a role as researcher within the field. Using personal narrative, and theoretical insight, it will explore how experiences of grounded practice have affected the subsequent choice of research approach. It will explore the factors which led the researcher to move away from previous 'participatory action research' approaches towards a more distanced view, whilst kindling a new level of engagement in the field (Kemmis et al. 2014). Through a reflexive view, it will explore the blurred boundaries between research, practice and policy making, and how researcher experience can help or hinder the impact of research, and challenge world view.

Challenging power relations and positionality in participatory action research
Stephanie Denning (University of Bristol, UK)
This paper is concerned with challenging and being challenged by power relations and positionality in research. This is specifically in reference to "fieldwork" in running a project through the national social franchise 'MakeLunch' (makelunch.org.uk). MakeLunch projects provide children with free lunches in the school holidays as for some children the lack of a free school meal in the school holidays will mean they suffer from holiday hunger. I give a snapshot of one such project that does not aim to be representative of MakeLunch as an organisation but rather explores ephemeral moments at one project: this statement alone is significant in doing participatory research. In running the project the research has combined elements of participatory geographies, action research, and ethnography. I have therefore had multiple identities being both a researcher and research participant. This has both challenged and presented challenges around power, positionality and trust. To explore these issues I refer to examples of my relative privilege having never experienced food poverty, and secondly the challenge of addressing power and trust amongst the volunteer team. In conclusion I question that power and privilege are limiting factors to research and rather advocate that these can be approached as opportunities.
Understanding consumer attitudes to dietary change: methodological reflections
David McBey (University of Aberdeen, UK)
There is growing consensus that levels of meat consumption are problematic from both environmental and public health perspectives. However, changing consumption patterns in the general population is a complex and difficult endeavour. When considering the special status of meat in society, this task becomes more daunting still. This paper reflects on qualitative research carried out with a view to ascertaining the barriers and opportunities for reducing meat consumption in Scotland. Broad methodological issues are discussed, particularly those surrounding recruitment of participants, researcher identity, and emotion.
Food and identity in Catalonia: insights from an anthropological perspective
Venetia Congdon (University of Oxford, UK)
I recently completed my doctorate in Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Oxford, where the title of my thesis was 'Nourishing the Nation: Manifestations of Catalan national identity through food'. In my research I sought to demonstrate how food is used as an expression of national identity in Catalonia, northeast Spain, in the context of the rise of the pro-independence movement. I decided to focus on food as it repeatedly appeared in Catalan ethnography, but almost never as a focus of study. In terms of methodology, I saw food as both a means and an end in my research: it was both the topic of study, but also a means of entering the field and developing connections. Unlike more controversial subjects such as politics or language, food in Catalonia is an un-threatening, comforting, familiar topic that most Catalans discuss openly. Through talking about food, I was able to get to deeper ideas about national identity, politics and memory. Food is a powerful social object, through its everyday nature, but also malleable associations. As Jeremy MacClancey has said, "turning foodstuffs and dishes into bearers of national identity is a down-to-earth way to make an otherwise abstract ideology more familiar, domestic, even palatable" (MacClancy 2007: 68). I would like to contribute my ideas and experiences of food research from a social anthropology/ethnography perspective to this session.

Ethnographers' mixed loyalties in welfare settings: ethical considerations in food bank research
Andrew Williams (Cardiff University, UK)
This paper develops the concept of "mixed loyalties" to focus critical attention on the distinct ethical dilemmas researchers face when participating as a volunteer or staff member in a welfare organisation. Ethnographic engagement in welfare organisations will inextricably position the researcher in a series of unclear, uncomfortable, and potentially exclusionary situations, particularly when the researcher, by nature of their participation, is required to conform to certain values, practices and procedures that may contradict their own personal ethics. This paper draws upon an 18 month long ethnography in a Trussell Trust Foodbank in the South of England. My aim is to illuminate the hidden struggles welfare ethnographers face working in foodbank settings, paying particular attention to situations where the role of volunteer involves the exercise (or passive observation) of varying degrees of social control, discipline and surveillance. It considers the complex power-dynamics entailed in conducting interviews inside Foodbank settings. This paper highlights the importance for geographers to carefully reflect on the ways we are implicated in the field. It also outlines ways in which situations of mixed loyalties can be approached more strategically to reveal the unwritten moral and political codes that underpin welfare organisations.
Investigating an institution-led Urban Agriculture project: Reflexivity, perceptions and impact
Rebecca St. Clair (University of Salford, UK)
The rise of institution-led Urban Agriculture projects across the UK has led to a surge of interest in the efficacy and social implications of these interventions from a wide range of institutions including academia, local government and NGOs. The reception of such interventions by the communities upon which they have been imposed can be gauged through participatory research, inviting necessary reflection of the researcher's role. This includes the way in which the researcher is perceived, the acknowledgement of a position of privilege (in the sense that research is extractive) and the impact of their own presence - whether the outcomes of the research serve to assist the extension of these activities or limit their future success by casting doubts over their societal value.
Doing fieldwork on gendered aspects of alternative agriculture in India – positionality, criticality and tensions
Regina Hansda (University of Cambridge)
The alternativeness of alternative agriculture practice emerge because of its ability to question the dominant agrarian paradigm in more ways than one. Difficulties arise when in that questioning and praxis certain contentious elements of the dominant paradigm are paid inadequate attention to or are engaged in an uncritical manner. Difficulties also emerge when there is a conflict between discourse and practice, the material and the ideational including the possibility of opening the essentialist and non-essentialist debates on gender and food security. This paper is a reflection of some of these questions and tensions based on a yearlong fieldwork in India.