Institutional spaces and sociable eating: young people, food, and expressions of care

Samantha Murray, Wendy Wills

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Young people’s social relationships are fostered, enacted, and complicated by the discursive and constitutive spatial contexts in which they occur. The focus of our study was the ways the spaces of the school canteen - and the adjacent, external food environment - organised and complicated sociable eating practices for students. Drawing on qualitative data collected from young people aged 13-15 years and staff at secondary schools, we analyse reports of the challenges posed by the school canteen space to sociable eating practices, and the importance of social relationships. The analysis highlights that young people found school canteens to be fundamentally ‘anti-social’ and schools do not adequately recognise or value the importance of building social skills during meal breaks. The data show that, for young people, food is often a secondary concern to sociality and the expression of kinship and care through eating together at school. Young people therefore sought spaces outside school to socialise and eat together. When socio-economic deprivation was an issue within friendship groups, the importance of caring for others emerged through ensuring peers had adequate food to eat. This analysis highlights the critical relationship between food, sociability and expressions of care in the school food environment.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Youth Studies
Early online date7 Apr 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Apr 2020


  • health and wellbeing
  • food practices
  • young people


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