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Spaces of difference, spaces of possibility?: An exploration of Alternative Food Networks (AFNs) in the austerity foodscape of the United Kingdom

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date2018
Number of pages328
Awarding Institution
Thesis sponsors
  • ESRC - North West Doctoral Training Centre
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The primary, original contribution to knowledge of this thesis lies in understanding Alternative Food Networks (AFNs) as central in the ongoing reconfiguration of ‘civil society’ in the enduring period of austerity following the 2007-8 global financial crisis. Drawing on a qualitative research study in Lancashire, I show how the conceptual ‘austerity foodscape’ of the United Kingdom that has developed following the financial crisis plays host to complex geographies of food, with organisations within AFNs positioned in relation to capitalist political economy, as well as the interrelated entrenchment of austerity, in diverse ways. The theoretical framework underpinning this thesis therefore draws primarily on the diverse economies approach of J.K. Gibson- Graham (2006b; 2006a), developing a productive dialogue with Marxian ‘food regime’ theory (see, notably, Friedmann and McMichael, 1989). Whilst these two approaches have often shared little in terms of dialogue, I suggest that taken together they help us to make sense of the varied aims of AFNs. As attempts to ‘do’ food differently (Dowler et al., 2010) when contrasted against the mainstream, many accounts continue to narrowly interpret AFNs, painting them simply as oppositional and reactive against hegemonic political-economic structures. A more contextually-aware interpretation (following Calvário and Kallis, 2017) helps us to understand the ways in which AFNs are not merely ‘against’ capitalism and/or austerity, but themselves generative of diverse economic logics and practices, altering wider relationships to food. These are theoretical and empirical gaps that, both within the United Kingdom context and AFN research more broadly, remain underexplored. Given these complex geographies, I argue that whilst some organisations within AFNs have been conditioned by austerity, they retain a generative capacity. Consequently, I broaden the understanding of ‘alternative’ to capture a wide range of food provisioning models that have proliferated from within ‘civil society’ post-2008, most notably in practices of food banking and food waste initiatives. I argue that this broader conceptualisation of alternatives within a contextually-aware analysis reveals the powerful role that AFNs can play in articulating more positive relationships to food, and with it wider reconfigurations of both civil society and the foodscape beyond the austere here-and-now.