Dissertation Abstract

I intend to submit my PhD dissertation ‘A Political Theory of Food Insecurity: Capabilities, Complexity and Public Policy’ in June, 2017. You can find a version of the abstract below.


Household food insecurity is a complex problem. It is the product of a wide range of individual, environmental, social, and economic determinants, which themselves interact with and affect one another. This dissertation is about how we can and should relate to this complexity, and the ways in which it is accepted, produced or performed. Connecting a synthesis of capability and complexity theories to an empirical study of food insecurity in three urban Afghan communities, it outlines a new political theory of food insecurity. The resulting theory is both explanatory and normative, emphasising the importance of understanding the everyday experience of food insecurity if we are to develop strategies to address it.

I develop the dissertation in four parts. Part 1 presents my retheorisation of food insecurity as capability deprivation inside a complex system of causal determinants. This emerges from a critique of existing scholarship that increasingly seeks to incorporate ‘systems’ and ‘complexity’. Part 2 outlines the various ways in which this retheorisation of food insecurity presents challenges to methodological approaches in political theory and empirical social science. It outlines alternative approaches to each that can more effectively engage with how the empirically plural and complex world is experienced by those who live within it. Part 3 applies these theoretical and methodological developments to practice, showing how they resonate with the nascent complexities of food insecurity in the lives of my participant-collaborators. Part 4 explores the normative and practical implications of this rethorisation for policy design and implementation in the food insecurity space, before showing how disadvantage more broadly can be theorised as a complex manifestation of capability deprivation.

In sum, this dissertation presents a new political theory of food insecurity, and puts forward proposals to help governments and other policy makers or NGOs respond in an effort to put good food on the table. It suggests that we take complexity as a given in our theories, methods and practical responses to real world problems if we are to promote positive change in the lives of the disadvantaged.


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