Dr Emma-Jayne Abbots

My research centres on the cultural politics of food and the visceral practices of its production, preparation, distribution and consumption. It addresses the individual and collective consequences, experiences and negotiations of neoliberalism, global processes, and migration on rural communities and their food practices. I explore how cultural imaginings of food, environment and rural-ness in the future draw upon notions of past foodscapes in order to engender change in the present. As such, I use food, and embodied food practices, as a mechanism to investigate how past, present and future are blended and drawn together in dialogue.

I am particularly interested in the ways discourses of ‘sustainable’ foodways are (re)produced, appropriated, mobilised, valued and negotiated by policy-makers, the food industry and the heritage industry, as well as by communities and individuals living in rural contexts. My research further interrogates the ways in which knowledges of the rural past 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 issues – i.e. consolidation of the food industry, food safety scares and price rises.

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). The network of researchers provides a basis for critical responses to key issues, public engagement activities, publications and collaborative research activities. Its collective purpose 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 epitomised by supermarkets, by showing how these seemingly diametrically opposed systems are, in fact, entwined through multiple relations enacted at a myriad of scales.

Funders of research include:

  • European Union Interreg IVb North West Europe programme
  • Wenner Gren Foundation

Rural Alliances

The Rural Alliances programme addresses demographic change in rural areas by establishing alliances between enterprises and local communities through 12 partners in 6 countries. I provide academic support on this project and conduct additional research on the developmental processes, governance and ‘life-cycles’ of alliances, particularly those centred on food and/or heritage.

2013: (with A. Lavis) (eds.), Why We Eat, How We Eat: Contemporary Encounters Between Foods and Bodies, Aldershot: Ashgate  

2013: ‘Negotiating Foreign Bodies: Migration, Trust and the Risky Business of Eating in Highland Ecuador’ in Why We Eat, How We EatContemporary Encounters Between Foods and Bodies, E-J. Abbots & A. Lavis (eds.), 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.), 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