Social histories of hungry children and school meals

Year: 2017

Author: Mcculloch, Gary

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This symposium addresses the key political issue of feeding hungry children in educational contexts. It builds theoretically, methodologically and empirically on groundwork conducted by an international team associated with BERA and the BERA Commission on Poverty and Policy Advocacy on histories of education and poverty. It focuses on hungry children and school meals to explore how children, parents, schools and local communities have sought to feed hungry children in poverty, through the resources of national systems of schooling.
There is a significant international literature on the policy history of school meals (e.g. Rutledge 2016). The current symposium deals with the social history of this educational issue entailing understanding experiences from the perspectives of the participants themselves rather from those of the policy elites and authorities.
Theoretically, the symposium begins with a discussion of sensory and emotional histories, linking this with the historical experiences of hungry children and school meals. American historian Mark M. Smith has pioneered sensory history, the history of sensations (Smith 2007), which has clear relevance to the history of poverty and hungry children. This history is not simply one of rational or cognitive responses to a policy problem, but one of lived struggles on a daily basis that are largely sensory in nature. Similarly it involves emotional responses, triggered often by pain and resentment, and including shame and gratitude. Broader issues relating to emotional history have also been discussed in international research applicable to the current project (Plamper and Tribe 2015).
Methodological problems of accessing the experiences of these groups of participants are equally relevant. We will examine the problems, potential and limitations of different kinds of historical sources in different contexts as means of attaining access. This includes documentary archival and oral sources, memoirs, and fiction (McCulloch 2004).
Lastly, we highlight the pivotal importance of new empirical research in different locations in the UK and Australia, taking into account broader social, political and economic changes over a long timeframe. This includes investigation of specific urban case studies, in particular in London, Bradford, Cardiff and Sydney, beginning a comparative research project by an international team.