Private spaces and hiding places: talk at the Nordic Geographers Meeting

Photo: Abigail KnightPhoto: Abigail Knight
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This week Dr Abigail Knight will give a presentation at the Nordic Geographers Meeting, Stockholm University, Sweden, as part of the stream on ‘Austerities, Economic Crises and Neoliberalisms: Experiences of children, young people and families’. Abigail’s talk, ‘Private spaces and hiding places’, will discuss  secrecy and concealment in the experiences of children and young people living in food poverty in the UK. 

In the context of European austerity, food poverty has become an important topic for researchers in recent years but children’s and young people’s experiences of food in low income households remain neglected. Furthermore, although studies about the experience of poverty have examined issues of secrecy and stigma, these have tended to focus on the experiences of adults and few have taken food as their focus.

This paper draws on early UK findings from a mixed methods, European Research Council funded study of ‘Families and Food in Hard Times’ that examines food poverty among young people aged 11-15 years and their families in the UK, Portugal and Norway. In all three countries qualitative interviews are being carried out with 45 young people and their parents or carers in two contrasting areas of social deprivation, alongside visual methods with a subsample of families.

Initial analysis of the interviews with young people in the UK finds that privacy and secrecy are strikingly central to many of their food and eating experiences. The data include accounts of hiding at school lunchtimes to avoid experiences of social exclusion, fabricating stories and excuses to conceal living in economic hardship and being unable to join in social activities outside school that involve food and eating. Whilst some young people suggest the government should ensure children and families can eat well on a low income, a strong neoliberal discourse of individual responsibility for food and health pervades their accounts of feeling stigma and shame.

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