Food Studies Centre

Dr Emma-Jayne Abbots

Key information

Food Studies Centre Research Associate
Food Studies Centre
PhD Anthropology (Lon), MRes Anthropology (Lon), BA (Hons) Anthropology (Lon)
Email address
Telephone number
07970 324 774


Dr Emma-Jayne Abbots a political and economic anthropologist whose research centres on the cultural politics and practices of food practices and eating. Her research is predominantly located in rural contexts, and addresses the ways in which particular forms of food production, distribution and consumption are framed and valued through discourses of ‘heritage’, ‘tradition’ and ‘sustainability’. As such, she explores the networks of relatedness through which competing models of ‘good food’ are produced, transmitted and projected onto specific actors and agencies, as well as examining, in turn, the ways these actors and agencies respond to such models. Her research was previously located in the Ecuadorian Andes, although she has research interests across NW Europe and has recently initiated a project on craft cider. She has additional related interests in materialities and material culture; care, intimacies and kinship; the media; architecture, particularly domestic; the body; time politics.

Abbots is the co-editor (with A. Lavis) of Why We Eat, How We Eat: Contemporary Encounters between Foods and Bodies (Ashgate, 2013), and Careful Eating: Embodied Interactions between Food and Care (with A. Lavis and L. Attala) (Ashgate, forthcoming). She has published chapters in a range of edited collections focused on food practices and in peer-reviewed journals. She is also the founding member of Supermarkets Research Network (SuRN) (with B. Coles, M. K. Goodman and H. G. West); co-leader of the theoretical project ‘Consuming Materialities’ (with A. Lavis); and academic advisor for the ‘Rural Alliances’ project, for which she is undertaking research on food and heritage. Her research has received funding from both the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the Royal Anthropological Society.

Following completion of her PhD in Anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London, she taught a range of modules at both Goldsmiths and Birkbeck, before joining University of Wales Trinity Saint David as Lecturer in Anthropology and Heritage. Abbots is also a Fellow of the Unit for Biocultural Variation and Obesity, University of Oxford.

Research interests

My research centres on the cultural politics of food and the visceral practices of its production, preparation, distribution and consumption. It addresses the local consequences, experiences and negotiations of global processes, primarily within rural communities, as well as considering the interplays between food, embodied practice and knowledge. My key areas of interest are: the everyday politics and practices of food; materialities and material culture; the (re)production, representation and mediation of knowledge; the body and biopolitics; cultural heritage and time politics; ecological, cultural, social and economic sustainability. I have also published on the topics of food safety; the media; care, intimacies and kinship; gender and class relations; migration and transnationalism; gift and exchange; domestic architecture; labour relations.
In my research I aim to extend understandings of the social dynamics of continuity and change, the ways that people interpret and manage the passage of time through their food and eating practices, as well as the ways these processes are mediated by an array of cultural authorities and institutions. In so doing, I critically unpack the bodily, ecological, social, cultural and economic characteristics of concepts such as ‘tradition’, ‘sustainability’ and ‘cultural heritage’, as well as examining their discursive (re)production. My research further interrogates the ways in which knowledges of food and eating in the past and present are represented, mediated and sculpted by a range of social actors and their (often conflicting) cares and concerns for the future. In turn, I also ask how the perceived food challenges of the future are constructed in relation to an imagined (and often idealised) past and draw authority from present day practices and issues.
I have previously explored a number of these themes in my ethnographic research in Ecuador, but I have recently shifted my attention to Europe and in 2013 initiated a new project that looks to address such questions through the lens of the European craft cider industry and its global assemblages. The project also interrogates questions of care, materiality, affect and the body, which run increasingly through my research and are developed explicitly in the ‘Consuming Materialities’ project, of which I am a co-leader with Dr Anna Lavis (Universities of Birmingham and Oxford). This innovative theoretical project brings together political economy and medical anthropological approaches to explore the ways ‘things’ – and the networks of relations that produce them – are assembled, disassembled and reassembled through acts of consumption and ingestion. Going beyond phenomenological approaches, technologies of the self and discussions of the post-human, the project looks to better understand the ways social relations are encountered and made materially manifest through the processes of drawing things into, and constituting, the body. The project’s initial focus was eating, but this has now broadened. To date, Consuming Materalities has resulted in two edited collections, an international conference and an established research network.
In addition, I am a founding co-member of the Supermarkets Research Network (SuRN), which explores the role of supermarkets (and their relationship with ‘alternatives’) in the contemporary food system. Initial outputs have included a number of workshops and a co-authored commentary (Abbots and Coles 2013). My interest in supermarkets parallels the motivation that animates much of my research: that is to challenge the simplistic – but commonly invoked – dichotomy between small-scale, place-based, artisan and alternative foods (and their producers), and the ‘placeless’, globalised industrial food complex by showing how these seemingly diametrically opposed systems are, in fact, entwined through multiple relations enacted at a myriad of scales.


2013: (with A. Lavis) (eds.), Why We Eat, How We Eat: Contemporary Encounters Between Foods and Bodies, Aldershot: Ashgate
Under Contract   (with A. Lavis and L. Attala) (eds.), Careful Eating: The Embodied Entanglements of Food and Care, Aldershot: Ashgate (ms delivery 1.10.2014)
Under Review Knowing and Eating Food: Authority, Power and the Body, London: Bloomsbury
Under Review (with B. Coles and M. Goodman) (eds.), Supermarkets and their Alternatives: The Everyday Politics and Practices of Sustainable Food. London: Routledge/Earthscan

Articles in Peer Reviewed Journals:
2013: ‘Investing in the Family’s Future: Labour, Gender and Consumption in Highland Ecuador’ in Families, Relationships and Societies
2013: (with B. Coles) ‘Horsemeat-Gate: The Production of a Neoliberal ‘Scandal’’ in Food, Culture and Society 16(4)
2012: ‘In the Absence of Men? Gender, Migration and Domestic Labour in the Southern Ecuadorean Andes’ in the Journal of Latin American Studies 44(1): 71-96
2011: ‘“It Doesn’t Taste as Good from the Pet Shop”; Guinea Pig Consumption and the Performance of Class and Kinship in Highland Ecuador and New York City’ in Food, Culture and Society 14 (2): 205-224
Forthcoming: ‘The Intimacies of Industry: Consuming the Stuff of Celebrity Chefs’ in Food, Culture and Society
Forthcoming: (with L. Attala) ‘A Good, Clean Fair Fight: Understanding the Embodied Spaces of Competitive Eating’ in Geoforum

2014: ‘Embodying Country-City Relations: The Figure of the Chola Cuencana in Highland Ecuador’ in Food Between the Country and the City: Ethnographies of a Changing Global Foodscape, N. Domingos, J. Sobral & H.G. West (eds.), London: Bloomsbury
2013: ‘Negotiating Foreign Bodies: Migration, Trust and the Risky Business of Eating in Highland Ecuador’ in Why We Eat, How We Eat: Contemporary Encounters Between Foods and Bodies, E-J. Abbots & A. Lavis (eds.), pp 119-138 Aldershot: Ashgate
2013: (with A. Lavis). ‘Introduction: Mapping the New Terrain of Eating: Reflections on the Encounters between Foods and Bodies’ in Why We Eat, How We Eat: Contemporary Encounters Between Foods and Bodies, E-J. Abbots & A. Lavis (eds.), pp 1-12, Aldershot: Ashgate
2013: (with B. Coles, M. Goodman and H. West) ‘Wrapped and Stuffed: Provocative Misunderstandings of a Theme’ in Wrapped and Stuffed: The Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2012, M. McWilliams (ed.), London: Prospect Books
2012: ‘The Celebratory and the Everyday: Guinea Pigs, Hamburgers and the Performance of Food Heritage in Highland Ecuador’ in Celebrations: The Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2011, M. McWilliams (ed.), pp 12-23. London: Prospect Books
In Press: ‘The Fast and the Fusion: Class, Creolization and the Remaking of Comida Típica in Highland Ecuador’ in Food Consumption in Global Perspective. Essays in the Anthropology of Food in Honour of Jack Goody, J. Klein & A. Murcott (eds.), Palgrave Macmillan
Forthcoming: ‘Approaches to Food and Migration: Rootedness, Belonging and Exchange’ in Handbook of Food and Anthropology, J. Klein & J. Watson (eds.), Berg Bloomsbury
Forthcoming: ‘Buying the Ties that Bind: Consumption, Care and Investment among Transnational Households in Highland Ecuador’ in Intimacies, Families and the Practices of Consumption, E.Casey & Y. Taylor (eds.), Palgrave Macmillan

Book Reviews:
2013: ‘Foodscapes, Foodfields and Identities in Yucatán (S. I. Ayora-Diaz)’ in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 19: 186-187
2012: ‘A Review of Ritual and Remembrance in the Ecuadorian Andes (R. Corr)’ in Journal of Latin American Studies 44: 811-813
2012: ‘A Review of Coffee and Community: Maya Farmers and Fair-Trade Markets (S. Lyon)’ in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 18: 702-703
2010: ‘A Review of Uncertain Tastes: Memory, Ambivalence and the Politics of Eating in Samburu, Northern Kenya (J. Holtzman)’ in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 16: 661-662
2009: ‘A Review of Ethnographic Fieldwork: An Anthropological Reader (Robben & Sluka)’ in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 15: 662-663


Contact Emma-Jayne