Deirdre Byrne

Around the table: Food and eating practices in residential care for young people in Ireland 

Supervisor:  Dr Perry Share

Associate supervisor: Jacqueline O’Toole

Funding Body: IRC


This study uses food and eating practices to explore the complexities of daily life in residential care settings for young people in Ireland. The overall aim is to elicit to what extent and in what ways food and eating practices are significant in the routine and ritual of everyday life in residential care centres for young people. How food is used in residential care – what is eaten, how, when and where it is eaten – significantly 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 governance. The approach taken is an exploratory sequential mixed methods design of participant observation in five centres and a survey of ninety two social care practitioners working in the field. Thematic analysis of the collected data sets was merged 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 for the young people living in residential 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 of commensality, hierarchy, discipline and governance to enhance the understanding of the complexities of food and eating practices in residential care for young people in Ireland.

Click here to see Project Poster and Visuals:

From Oliver Twist to Jamie Oliver

Deirdre Byrne 5 Tables Presentation

Version July 2015

2019/20 Fulltime Prospectus IT Sligo