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Nourishing, nurturing and controlling: exploring structure-agency interactions in children’s food practices across family and school contexts.

MacDonald, Sarah ORCID: 2015. Nourishing, nurturing and controlling: exploring structure-agency interactions in children’s food practices across family and school contexts. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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Widespread concerns about obesity and overweight, have led to a focus on children’s diets, with government responses emphasising family responsibility for the provision of healthy food and for nurturing independent food choices. In parallel, the health promoting school approach attempts to reinforce messages within communities and families. Despite the potential for promoting consistent messages across settings, understanding the interface between families and schools remains limited, with a failure to appreciate the way in which food is embedded within social relationships and contexts. This study aimed to explore the family-school interface. It focused on the recursive interplay between agency and structure, employing ‘practices’ as a way of exploring how agency transforms structure, while also attending to taken-for-granted meanings of food as expressions of the structure. Case study methodology was employed with eleven families across three communities in South Wales to explore the perspectives of parents (n=18) and children (n=18). Audio-diaries together with interviews unpacked tacit understandings behind food practices, which are often difficult to articulate. Interviews with primary school heads and teachers (n=5) explored schools' experiences of family-school interactions. This thesis adds new understandings of the family-school interface, illustrating shifting discourses of control as individuals occupy multiple contexts at different times. These revealed dilemmas in the accomplishment of control: providing children with a balanced diet alongside the practicalities of parental-work, while attending to individualised food preferences. Structure-agency perspectives also uncovered multiple layers of meaning attached to food, emphasising the need to take account of the social context within which control is navigated. Targeted recommendations are considered. For schools, suggestions include improved partnership working with children and parents in order to overcome existing inherent tensions. For families, recommendations acknowledge the wider significance of food beyond nutrition, appreciating the contexts and constraints of family life. Policy recommendations relate to food availability, affordability, and changes to employment structures.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education
Funders: National Institute for Social Care and Health Research (NISCHR)
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Last Modified: 18 Jan 2024 14:11

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