Moller, Christian (2019) ‘More Than Food’: A Critical Discourse and Dispositive Analysis of Food Charity in the UK. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Following the financial crisis of 2008 and years of subsequent austerity policies in the UK, food banks and other charities have expanded rapidly in professional networks with corporate partners and advice agencies. Despite a growing academic interest in the causes and experiences of food bank use, existing research remains largely concerned with collecting evidence without any critical engagement with the discourses, power relationships and subjectifying practices inside food banks.

Using a discursive approach, this study aimed to reconstruct how food poverty is problematised by food charities in their everyday practices with implications for the formation of new subjectivities. Combining critical discourse theory with situational analysis, it seeks to provide a critical ontology capable of challenging dominant knowledge of food charity as inevitable effect of austerity. A visual corpus of images of Neighbourhood Food Collections (NFCs) at UK supermarkets was analysed together with supporting documents and videos to explore how food poverty is made visible. Interviews were conducted with volunteers and managers at three food banks, followed by situational mapping and analysis in MAXQDA.

Analysis shows that NFCs normalise charitable giving through appeals to community and problematisations of hunger in a consumerist spectacle, while causes of poverty and the poor remain absent and excluded. Problematising not only short-term material needs but also ‘chaotic’ lives and psychological deficits, food banks increasingly mobilise behavioural interventions to transform ‘clients’ into active and responsible subjects. In the therapeutic space of food banks, ‘clients’ are required to confess their crisis, perform their worthiness and optimise their economic potential. Volunteers remain in a pastoral position of authority, negotiating and translating neoliberal discourses into situated practices.

Reflecting on the role of food charity within a larger biopolitical regime shown to localise, medicalise and psychologise poverty, the thesis concludes by calling for a re-politicisation and the decolonisation of poverty research.

FINAL THESIS - MOLLER.pdf - Accepted Version
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