Thesis opportunity: food banks as contested spaces for identity struggles

In general a person’s identity has cognitive-descriptive (C), normative-ethical (N) and affective-emotional qualities (A). Besides a person’s identity, a person can find him or herself to be in a certain position or have a certain status, and a person can have certain (un)officially assigned roles, tasks and functions. See the figure below. These three elements can ‘agree’, or be ‘in line’ with each other, but they can also diverge from each other, or be ‘in conflict’.

Plaatje fb identity

These distinctions are to a certain extent superficial: they are analytical distinctions. In that capacity they can help us discover different elements and qualities of peoples’ experiences. Moreover, a person’s identity is not once and for all a ‘given’. Identities develop and keep doing so in interaction with other people: first with primary caretakers and later with a host of significant others who also have an identity, certain roles and functions, a certain position or status, and corresponding expectations towards others.

In this MSc thesis proposal this interaction is taken to be located at the food bank where volunteers distribute food parcels among recipients. Volunteers and recipients have short or longer conversations about the food parcels and/or the reasons for being there at the food bank. In scientific literature on food banks it is an almost unquestioned assumption that the food bank is a charity organisation, very often inspired by religious ideas or values of love and kindness for fellow human beings in need, and an attitude of gratefulness and humility on the side of the recipient. A sociological understanding of charity would indeed point at these expected roles, functions and attitudes that the concept of charity implies. The general research question of this proposal is: To what extent is this general, unquestioned assumption supported by evidence?

Sub-questions are:

  • What are feelings and emotions towards, and what are normative opinions of volunteers and recipients about the existence of food banks and their activities?
  • To what extent do recipients experience discrepancies between the status in which they, (in)voluntarily, find themselves, and the way in which they see themselves or would like to see themselves? (In other words: to what extent do we see conflicts between the three elements in the figure above?)

Proposed research methods are participatory observations, interviews with volunteers and recipients, identity tests and conversation analysis. Starting literature is available.

The thesis will be supervised by Leon Pijnenburg (Philosophy) and Esther Veen (Rural Sociology). Interested? Contact Jessica de Koning: jessica.dekoning@wur.nl.

Knowledge clips reading for the social sciences

Students often ask us how they should read a scientific paper or book chapter, and what they should learn or remember from them. They may struggle with what they see to be too many readings, or express that they have difficulty understanding the main message of the articles we assign for our lectures.

In order to help students make the process of ‘reading for the social sciences’ more efficient and more targeted, Jessica Duncan and me (Esther Veen) designed four knowledge clips to pass on little tips.

The first one discusses the structure most sociological papers follow. In the second we give suggestions on how to read effectively. The third is on the different strategies you may use when you read for different purposes, and the last gives tips and tricks on how to keep track of your reading.

You can watch the clips here. You are welcom to send your feedback to jessica.duncan@wur.nl or esther.veen@wur.nl.

Thesis option: food in suburbia

The CBS (Dutch Bureau for Statistics) has shown that many young families are leaving the city, looking for more space and more affordable housing. These families often want to stay close to the city and therefore move to neighbouring towns or suburban areas. What does this mean for their food provisioning strategies? Where do these people buy most of their food and to what extent are they constrained by what is on offer locally? To what extent to they (still) use the city for their food provisioning, such as going out to dinner or visiting specialty shops? To what extent is such ‘urban food’ available in suburban areas? And how does this relate to people’s lifestyles and identities?

The urban food landscape is in constant transition, but we do not clearly know how people engage with their everyday food planning – where do they go, what choices do they make, and what practical considerations do they take into account? Answering such questions will help us better understand people’s food provisioning practices, and how to make these practices more sustainable and healthy.

We are looking for a thesis student interested in these questions, and willing to do a thesis with the Rural Sociology Group, starting spring 2018. Interested? Send a short motivation to esther.veen@wur.nl and anke.devrieze@wur.nl.

Thesis option: exploring the gentrifying foodscape

The Amsterdamsestraatweg, a street in Utrecht, is known for its kebab take-away restaurants, hairdressers and massage salons. During the last years, however, businesses along the street are changing due to gentrification. ‘Hipster bars’ and vintage furniture shops are appearing. A similar process is happening at the Javastraat in Amsterdam.

The urban food landscape is in constant transition, but we do not clearly know how people engage with their everyday food planning – where do they go, what choices do they make, and what practical considerations do they take into account? Answering such questions will help us better understand people’s food provisioning practices, and how to make these practices more sustainable and healthy.

The Rural Sociology Group is looking for a student interested in exploring one or both of the changing foodscapes (Amsterdamsestraatweg / Javastraat). What kind of people are visiting these food places? Do the same people make use of the full variety, or do the kebab places and the hipster bars (as the two extremes) attract different groups of people? Where do the customers of both types of food places live? What do their food provisioning practices look like, and what is important to them when consuming food?

We are looking for one or two thesis students interested in these questions, and willing to do a thesis with the Rural Sociology Group, starting spring 2018. Interested? Send a short motivation to esther.veen@wur.nl and anke.devrieze@wur.nl.

Thesismogelijkheid: Tuinieren voor kankerpatienten

Due to the nature of this thesis, which involves speaking to Dutch former cancer patients, this thesis is only available for Dutch speaking students.

Voor het project Healing Gardens (zie www.healinggardenswur.nl) ben ik op zoek naar een student die een thesis wil schrijven bij de leerstoelgroep Rurale Sociologie.

Healing Gardens is een samenwerking van Rurale Sociologie en Humane Voeding. Doel van het project is onderzoeken in hoeverre tuinieren bijdraagt aan de kwaliteit van leven van ex-kankerpatiënten. Tussen april en september 2017 hebben we een pilot onderzoek uitgevoerd, waarbij 6 patiënten hebben getuinierd in Almere. De pilot was onderdeel van onderzoeksprogramma’s van AMS (Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions) en de Flevocampus.

De deelnemers hebben tijdens de pilot aan drie meetronden meegedaan – aan het begin, in het midden en aan het einde. Vanuit Rurale Sociologie hebben we de deelnemers gevraagd naar hun verwachtingen, in hoeverre die uitkwamen, sociale relaties en lotgenotencontact. Ik ben nu op zoek naar een student om deze interviews te analyseren en daar een thesis over te schrijven. Daarnaast kun je zelf extra data verzamelen. Hiervoor zijn meerdere opties, afhankelijk van je eigen interesse. Voorbeelden zijn follow-up interviews met de deelnemers, of interviews met deelnemers van andere lotgenotencontact-groepen, om de verschillen tussen verscheidene vormen van lotgenotencontact te onderzoeken.

De thesis kan vanaf april beginnen. Geïnteresseerd? Stuur een korte motivatie naar esther.veen@wur.nl.

Healing gardens in a video

In an earlier post I talked about our pilot project Healing Gardens, which had just started: six (former) cancer patients were gardening under supervision of two enthusiastic volunteers, at Parkhuys (a cancer support center) in Almere. The aim of the pilot was to prepare for a larger study in which we hope to find out to what extent gardening is a useful way to increase physical activity, stimulate healthy eating patterns, and function as effective social peer support.

This pilot has now ended. It has been successful in the sense that the patients really enjoyed the activity. Almost all of them have taken up gardening at home – two of them have even rented an allotment together. Also, the pilot gave us valuable insights which we will use when starting the lager study: the gardening containers were considered too small by most participants, for instance, and it is extremely important to have access to knowledgeable garden supervisors. Currently we are analyzing our results – during the course of the pilot gardeners were interviewed three times, filled out different questionnaires and participated in various fitness tests. We expect the results early 2018.

One of our project partners, Jan Eelco Jansma, explains the aims of our study in more detail in a video. You can also visit our website for more information: www.healinggardenswur.nl. Sorry, both are in Dutch. Healing Gardens is a cooperation between Rural Sociology, Human Nutrition, and applied plant sciences, and supported by the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions and Flevocampus.

Thesis: meal sharing in everyday life

Lian Angelino, MSc student Health and Society, wrote her MSc thesis with the Rural Sociology group. In the thesis Lian discusses the sharing economy, in particular meal sharing. She studied a particular meal sharing platform, Thuisafgehaald, looking at the practices of the so-called foodies – people picking up meals cooked by their neighbours. The title of the thesis is ‘Meal sharing in people’s everyday life: An analysis of meal sharing participation from a Social practice theory perspective’.

This is a short abstract of the thesis: The sharing economy has become an increasingly popular phenomenon across society and academia. Engagement in the sharing activities has been previously studied but lacks a focus on the practical aspects of sharing activities in specific segments of the sharing economy. The aim of this study was to explore the practical aspects of meal sharing. Specifically, this research was set out to study the role of meal sharing in people’s everyday life. This was done by both exploring the practical aspects of meal sharing and motivations for participation in meal sharing. Social practice theory, which centres around the reality of everyday life, and how people shape and give meaning to that reality, has been used as theoretical lens to guide data collection and analysis. This study concerned an explorative case-study using semi-structured interviews with users of the platform, a review of social media and participant observations. Overall, it can be concluded that meal sharing plays an instrumental role in people’s everyday life: meal sharing serves a practical solution as one method for food provisioning, amongst other options, to provide an evening meal in a convenient and enjoyable way where ideological motivations do not play a prominent role.

For more information, download the thesis here: Meal sharing in everyday life-Lian Angelino.

Healing Gardens in Almere

Click here for a video and news item of Omroep Flevoland (in Dutch only).

IMG_4782

Our pilot project ‘Healing Gardens’ has finally started! From this week onwards (former) cancer patients will garden on a weekly basis at Parkhuys, a social support center for cancer patients in Almere. The participants will garden in containers (square foot gardening) from April until October, under supervision of two experienced gardeners.

As gardening is an outdoor activity that requires bending and stretching and gardeners work with fruits and vegetables, it seems a good way to get physical exercise, eat healthily, and take up vitamin D – all important aspects for people who have or are recovering from cancer. Moreover, the hypothesis is that when people like what they do –  for most people gardening is more enjoyable than visiting a gym – it will be easier to maintain such healthy behavior. Finally, people may experience social support from the peers with whom they are working, without having to join specific social support groups.

Two years ago the first seeds for this project were planted – last week Ellen Kampman, professor of Human Nutrition, elderman Rene Peeters, Henk Wolfert from AMS institue and Astrid Heijnen from Donkergroen officially opened the project during a festive event. This pilot project is the start of what will hopefully become a bigger project – if we manage to get finance, we aim to start a larger garden (or several gardens) with a larger number of participants.

Although the project in its current form is too small to measure whether gardening really makes people more fit, it will help us gain insights into what would make such a project successful (individual gardens or a communal garden, for example, or the addition of cooking workshops). We also hope to get a better understanding of the extent to which this group activity leads to social support. Moreover, we may find indications for health effects.

Healing Gardens is supported by Flevo Campus and Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS ) institute. Donkergroen sponsored the square foot gardening containers.

Call for abstracts XXVII European Society for Rural Sociology Congress

In July 2017 (24-27) the XXVII European Society for Rural Sociology Congress will be organised in Krakow, Poland. The topic of this year’s congress is ‘Uneven processes of rural change: on diversity, knowledge and justice’. The conference hosts several working groups, organised along three thematic lines: ‘Space, place and (in)equalities’, ‘Knowledges in processes of rural change’, and ‘agri-food systems and the rural’. For more information, click here. One of the working groups, part of thematic line one (Space, place and (in)equalities), concerns ‘Contested approaches to land-use: sustainability adjustments in social practices in global space’. See the call for abstracts below: Continue reading