Around the table : food work in children's residential services in Ireland
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This study uses food and eating practices around the table to explore the complexities of daily life in residential care settings for young people principally from the workers’ perspective. The overall aim is to elicit the significance of food and eating practices in children’s residential care settings in Ireland. How food is used in residential care - what is eaten, how, when and where it is eaten - increases the sociological understanding of institutional eating practices in residential care for young people - an under researched area in Ireland. The table, both physical and metaphorical, is the focus for this research. Using a four legged table as a conceptual metaphor the four themes or legs that support the central focus of this thesis are; commensality, hierarchy, discipline and government. The approach taken is an exploratory sequential mixed methods design of: focused ethnography in five residential care centres, a survey of ninety two social care practitioners and photo- elicitation with a further forty two social care professionals. Thematic analysis of the collected data sets was connected during interpretation. This study puts forward a conceptual framework that enhances the knowledge of aspects of everyday life in residential care. In addition it makes a practical and theoretical contribution to the literature on residential care for young people. The findings are situated in the broader literatures of the sociology of food, the new sociology of childhood and the sociology of home. The key findings suggest the significance of food in residential care settings need to be considered within the everyday realities of lives lived in the centres – the young people’s ‘home’. Food can be used as a symbolic instrument to demonstrate care. Furthermore, food can also be used symbolically to reject the care on offer. In addition, food and eating practices can be seen as an expression of governmentality that contributes to the normalisation of ‘proper meals’ in a ‘homely home’. The research has highlighted the value of using the metaphorical table as the key focus to examine the theoretical concepts to enhance the understanding of the significance of food and eating practices in residential care for young people in Ireland.
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