An Investigation of Children’s Mealtime Socialisation in a Primary School in Southwest England

  • Samantha Stone

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


School mealtime research in England has been preoccupied with the nutritional composition of a meal in relation to children’s bodies and health education. Underlying these concerns is the assumption that if children eat the right food and receive the right discipline, they will be admitted into adult society. Children’s socialisation is often reported from an adult-centred perspective, referring to children from the adult viewpoint or from a school management perspective, which underpins adults as the legitimate holders of knowledge on children’s experiences. I seek to problematise this view, along with the tendency to regard mealtime structure and social life as a unified, monolithic mechanism that maintains individuals in their subjection to produce docile children, which analytically neglects children’s individualised forms of knowledge and power. Rather, I will examine children’s school mealtime socialisation from a child-centred perspective, which has received little attention in the current literature. My research will demonstrate how children experience the mealtime differently, in a constant and intense struggle between multiple coexisting voices.

Data are drawn from 25 months of ethnographic research conducted in a primary school in South West England. The analysis draws on a synergy of rich and varied data to explicate how children negotiate moral and social mealtime rules, the materiality of the meal hall and the temporality of social interactions in their peer produced social worlds. The findings demonstrate that children can be sophisticated and agentic when subverting the normative moral and social order, both for humour and camaraderie, and privately to alleviate discomfort. My research contributes an understanding that socialisation is an open, active and creative process of interdependence and experimentation with contradiction between the self and the other. In consequence, children’s socialisation can be double-edged: learning the authoritative discourse of the adults and finding covert ways to temporarily disrupt and subvert the established order.
Date of Award24 Jun 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SponsorsEconomic and Social Research Council
SupervisorDavid Skidmore (Supervisor), Steve Gough (Supervisor) & Kyoko Murakami (Supervisor)


  • carnivalesque
  • subversion
  • social order
  • temporality
  • Liminality
  • dialogism
  • school mealtimes
  • chidlren's perspective
  • grotesque realism
  • emergence
  • Chronotope
  • socialisation

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