Food austerity from an historical perspective

Old photo of people queuing for foodOld photo of people queuing for food
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A recent article for Discover Society by some of the study’s researchers discusses the inappropriateness of the contemporary ‘austerity culture’ that draws an analogy between the current period of post-recessionary deficit-cutting and an earlier era of post-war austerity in Britain.

The article is based on an ESRC funded study that conducted secondary analysis of oral histories, archival data and other sources to examine everyday family food practices in different historical periods. This has included analysing data from the Mass Observation (MO) archive, including diaries, directives and a published MO Survey, all from 1950-51, in addition to other ‘contextual’ sources such as ephemera (menus and leaflets) and recipe books. Our research questions included what light MO data shed on everyday food practices during the period of austerity in post-war Britain and what we could learn about the process of using and reusing archived qualitative data. In a contemporary climate in which some families are struggling to feed themselves, and the context of launching the current project, we were alerted to a number of key differences between the period of post war austerity and the contemporary context. The article discusses these and how they make the analogous use of the post war period inappropriate as a model for food practices today. A peer reviewed paper discussing the secondary analyses in further detail is forthcoming in Sociological Research Online.

‘Families and Food: Methodological Innovations for studying habitual practices’ was a sub-project of the NCRM Node, Novella: narratives of everyday lives and linked approaches based at the Thomas Coram Research Unit, UCL Institute of Education, University College London.

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