City Research Online

'A piecemeal way to save the world': Investigating social sustainability in the UK's conventional food supply

Sharpe, Rosalind (2016). 'A piecemeal way to save the world': Investigating social sustainability in the UK's conventional food supply. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


This thesis addresses a gap in knowledge of sustainability in relation to food – namely how the social ‘pillar’ is being interpreted and acted on, and by whom, in the UK’s conventional food supply. Sustainability is widely seen to have three pillars (environmental, economic and social), with the latter the least well understood. The thesis uses a governance perspective, where sustainability is viewed as a problem seen to be in need of intervention by public and other rule-making authorities.

The research first reviewed UK-level state policy relating to social sustainability and food. It then explored organisational websites to find out what types of entity were active on social sustainability, and in what ways. The website research yielded data 135 separate entities, and was supplemented by 27 qualitative interviews.

It was found that actors from a range of categories beyond companies producing food were involved in governing this area, such as financial actors, ‘infrastructure’ providers, consultants, advocacy groups and standards organisations. They used an array of governance techniques, including re-badging existing activities, outsourcing, advocacy, collaboration, and multiple forms of ‘audit’. The range of social concerns on which they acted was extensive, from nutrition and employment to education and animal welfare. They were both substantive (such as the nutritional content of food) and procedural (such as accountability). However, the activities were very inconsistently associated with sustainability, leading to the conclusion that social sustainability does not yet have a settled meaning in the context of the conventional food supply, and given the highly normative nature of its constituent concerns, its meaning may always be dynamic and contested.

Overall, non-state governance was found to be ad hoc and opportunistic, but also resourceful and idealistic. In the absence of coherent state guidance, it served the actors’ diverse interests rather than any agreed public goal.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Departments: Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses > School of Arts and Social Sciences Doctoral Theses
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Healthcare Services Research & Management > Food Policy
Text - Accepted Version
Download (4MB) | Preview



Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics

Actions (login required)

Admin Login Admin Login