Funded PhD opportunity – Bloomsbury Scholarships (UK)

The Food Practices of Young Children at Home and in Daycare: A Cross Context Approach in a Multiethnic London Region

Principal Supervisor: Professor Harry West (SOAS)

Co-Supervisor: Dr Rebecca O’Connell (UCL IOE)

Whilst much UK research on children’s food in nurseries has focussed on its nutritional qualities, anthropological and sociological approaches provide a lens to examine the contextual meanings of ‘food use’, the embodiment of food practices, and their embeddedness in the interconnected spheres of children’s lives in home and daycare (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). The successful candidate will take a multi-sited approach to the study of young children’s food practices in nurseries and in the home that takes account of children’s agency. Adopting a sociological/ anthropological/ social policy perspective, this study will complement current and recently completed research by the supervisors.

Research Questions: How do parents and nurseries together provide for children’s food requirements? In particular, how do nurseries and parents’ employment commitments, occupations and socio-economic circumstances facilitate and constrain food provisioning for young children? How do children’s food practices and preferences shape and how are they shaped by cultures around food and meals in each environment? How consistent are children in their eating practices across contexts? What ideas, beliefs and practices do children bring to each environment from the other? (How) do parents and daycare institutions encourage children to eat healthy diets and what do they see as the challenges and opportunities of feeding children in these intersecting environments?

The limited research conducted to date on food in UK daycare has relied heavily on questionnaires to study staff attitudes to healthy eating as well as on the analysis of menus, which cannot give a good indication of children’s food consumption. Because of the types of research questions and the different groups to be studied, this project will adopt a mix of methods to generate complementary data (Greene et al. 1989): surveys of nurseries and parents in a particular multi-ethnic London area and an ethnographic approach to explore food practices, uses and meanings in daycare and, where possible, family homes.

The overarching aims of the research are to:

  1. Theorise connections between children’s and parents’ food practices and beliefs and broader social processes relating to structural and spatial characteristics of nursery, family and local contexts; it will do this by drawing on a mix of disciplines and subdisciplinary areas including the sociology of childhood, the sociology/ anthropology of food and contemporary childcare research.
  2. Advance methods for exploring the ways in which food is implicated in children’s ‘interactive reproduction’ (Corsaro, 2005) of their cultures in both daycare and at home.
  3. Address and inform local and national public policy concerning children’s food practices across home and childcare contexts.

The project objectives are to:

  • Examine food provision in nurseries in one London Local Authority (LA) through characterising the range of mealtime provision.
  • Contextualise the study through reporting findings of published studies and data to describe local demography and trends relating to food, health and childcare and relate these to the national level.
  • Use ethnographic research techniques to create ‘micro ethnographies’ of the food practices of young children (aged 2-5) and their carers in a small number of selected nurseries and, where possible, their homes.
  • Explore, via these ethnographies, the meaning, symbolism and materiality of food in children’s and parents’ lives and the ways in which ‘health’ and ‘nutrition’ figure in these.
  • Examine young children’s agency and preferences in respect of food practices across the sites of home and daycare and how they intersect.
  • Explore parents’ views/experiences of children’s food provisioning in different contexts.
  • Produce a thesis that provides a core foundation for later publication

Candidate requirements

The successful candidate will have a previous first class or strong upper second class degree in anthropology (or in a closely related discipline, as well as familiarity with anthropological theory and methodology). The student’s principal affiliation will be with the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at SOAS, where he/she will attend the weekly Research Training Seminar and the Research Methods course and have access to other training provided by SOAS and the Bloomsbury Doctoral Training Centre. The student will also audit the postgraduate course in the Anthropology of Food at SOAS. Additionally, the student will audit postgraduate courses at the Institute of Education in the Sociology of Childhood. The student will also have a desk at the IoE’s Thomas Coram Research Unit, facilitating close collaboration with the co-supervisor and colleagues there.

Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed.  Interviews will be held at SOAS or via skype during the week of 16/20 March 2015.

The studentship is for a duration of 3 years and will cover course fees (at the usual level for UK and EU studentships) and a student stipend.

Applicants from non-EU countries may apply for this project but will be required to meet the additional costs of overseas fees from other sources.

Key references

  • Bronfenbrenner,U. (1979). Contexts of child rearing: Problems and prospects. American Psychologist, (34): 844–850.
  • Clark, A. (2005). Beyond listening: children’s perspectives on early childhood services. Policy.
  • Corsaro, W. E. A. (2005). The Sociology of Childhood. 2nd Edition. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage.
  • Greene, J.C., Caracelli, V. J. and Graham, W. F (1989). Toward a conceptual framework for mixed-method evaluation design. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 11(3): 255-74.
  • Newson, J. and Newson, E. (1963). Patterns of Infant Care. London: Penguin.

Further details about the project may be obtained from:

Principal supervisor: Harry G. West,

Co-supervisor: Rebecca O’Connell,

Further information about PhDs at SOAS is available from:

How to apply:

Applicants should follow two steps:

  • STEP 1:  Apply for the MPhil/PhD Anthropology and Sociology

Applicants must submit a COMPLETE on-line application for admission to the MPhil/PhD Anthropology and Sociology .  Please state in your on-line application for admission your intention to also apply for the Bloomsbury Scholarship under Professor West’s supervision.   In your research proposal, please include your reasons for applying for this project and any ideas you have for how you might approach the research.

Applicants must have an offer of admission BEFORE the closing date for scholarship applications.  A complete application for admission includes transcripts, an explanation of the grading system for any degrees obtained outside of the UK, two references, CV, research proposal and a personal statement. The panel will be considering your scholarship application TOGETHER with your online application for admission.  Please note that your complete application for admission can take up to 4 weeks to be considered by the Department, although this may vary depending on the time of year.  You should be prepared to wait up to 6 weeks during busy periods.

  • STEP 2:  Apply for the scholarship

You must apply for this scholarship via the on-line scholarship application form (

For any queries regarding the studentship application procedure, please email

For any academic enquiries, please email the Research Tutor, Department of Anthropology and Sociology: Professor Trevor H J Marchand

Closing date for applications is 17:00 (UK time), Monday 23 February 2015