SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Ms Hannah Roberson


Staff Silhouette
Ms Hannah Roberson
Email address:
Thesis title:
Food movements in the ‘Big Society’
Internal Supervisors

PhD Research

My project will explore food projects run by Transition Finsbury Park (TFP) which aim to combine economic viability with environmental and social goals. TFP is part of the Transition movement (also known as the Transition Towns movement), a network of grassroots organisations working towards relocalisation and resilience. The movement began in response to concerns about oil depletion and climate change, but has expanded its focus since the financial crisis to address the connection between oil and economic growth more directly. Many groups are starting to incorporate economic regeneration or promoting local employment into their work.

This reflects the changes in the political and economic climate in the UK in recent years. The government’s localism agenda claimed to offer greater opportunities to civil society and volunteer organisations, and this rhetoric did appear consistent with the Transition project of strong local communities, although this may mask a profound tension values. However, ethnographic research on other instances of neoliberal reform suggests this is often associated with a transfer of resources away from communities.

My project builds on my research for my MA dissertation into how the Transition movement used historical examples of urban agriculture as inspirational models. As my MA project developed, I became particularly interested in how debates about ‘community’ in alternative food movements (particularly local food movements) relate to experiences in a global city such as London, characterised by migratory flows. Much of the food studies literature on alternative food systems critiques a notion of community as rooted in place and generally benign (e.g. DeLind 2003) and the way predominantly white, middle-class food movements tend to talk about ‘bringing good food to others’ (e.g. Guthman 2008) when engaging with traditionally under-represented groups.

However, there are examples of urban agriculture emerging as a creative response to urban deprivation and economic crisis (McClintock 2008, Howe et al 2005:105-6, Temple 2010) and literature on cities and late capitalism suggests that environmental movements and place-based social movements often emerge as forms of resistance (e.g. Harvey 1990, Castells 2004, Lash and Urry 1994).

Through my fieldwork, I hope to explore possible connections between these different kinds of urban food projects, and also explore ideas of ‘community’ and ‘local’ food in a wider political context. I am also hoping to explore how the movement engages with existing food networks in its search for sustainable ‘alternatives’.