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Textures of food: diffracting eating relationships in an early years setting

Anastasiou, Thekla (2018) Textures of food: diffracting eating relationships in an early years setting. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This thesis interrogates young children’s embodied engagements with food and aims to augment knowledge around food and eating. The study is based in a nursery in an area of Manchester, England, known to have high levels of poverty and offers free places to ‘disadvantaged’ two-year-olds. Moving away from more familiar narratives of healthy eating and promoting a balanced diet in the early years, this research closely examines powerful stories around food, which are usually silenced or overlooked by practitioners or/and the researchers. This work seeks to foreground the affective relationships children have with food in order to understand why some children enjoy eating, whilst for others, it is a situation that is fraught with tension, anxiety and frustration. Drawing from Actor Network Theory, New Materialisms (NM) and Post-humanism, the study turns to the post-humanities, which offer new opportunities, as well as produce particular challenges, in relation to ways of ‘being’ and ‘knowing’ in research (Lather and St Pierre, 2013). In the process of assembling two generally quite routinised moments that puncture the nursery day: meal and snack times, my improvised form of ‘networked’ fieldnotes became attuned to the variety of heterogeneous elements contributing to these complex events, such as chairs, smells, saliva, cutlery, plates, human bodies, ideas, policies, rules, food, video clips, scribbled notes, theoretical and methodological frameworks and my own attempts to engage with food and eating in the nursery. Thus, while thinking relationally and acknowledging the agency of both subjects and objects, attention has been paid to the vast array of entities in circulation and in intra-action in human, more-than- and other-than-human worlds. In this research project, the data, nursery, participants, food, and research processes are all made of, and unmade by matter, materials and discourse, which necessitated a New Materialist methodology. In this post-qualitative study of young children’s relationships with food, particular attention is paid to the ways events are produced both in, and from, the relations between subjects and objects in non-stable nursery and other environments. Drawing on a complex network of literature around food and eating, the diffractive analysis of a meal and snack time in a nursery opens up to the ways so many, varied entities, are implicated in a world of symbiosis and becoming, generating interesting opportunities for rethinking early years eating practices.

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