Food Charity and the Psychologisation of Poverty : Foucault in the Food Bank book cover
1st Edition

Food Charity and the Psychologisation of Poverty
Foucault in the Food Bank

ISBN 9780367523633
Published December 31, 2021 by Routledge
155 Pages

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Book Description

This book offers a unique discursive perspective on the rapid rise of food charity and how food poverty has emerged as a symptom of deeper problems requiring psychological intervention.

Christian Möller explores how new anti-poverty programmes and advice cultures are psychologising poverty by locating causes and solutions inside the mind rather than in the outside world, and considers the political stakes in citizens becoming subjects of charity. Drawing extensively on Foucault alongside feminist and critical theory, the book puts forward an overdue challenge to the pervasive effects of a psychology, which limits our thinking about poverty with promises of development, happiness and resilience, but leaves social inequalities intact. Möller argues for returning critical psychology to praxis to address social injustices and inequalities. Challenging common assumptions about food charity as a symptom of a retreating welfare state, he shows how power is exercised and knowledge is produced in these spaces of care and community. Also featuring direct applications of concepts to the real-world example of food banks, the book helps set out practical guidance for students and researchers designing empirical projects in critical psychology.

Drawing on original research and interviews with managers and volunteers, this text is fascinating reading for students and academics interested in critical psychology, and the relationship between charity, poverty and social exclusion.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction: An Essay in Refusal
    1. ‘More than Food’ and Behaviour Change
    2. New Subjects of Charity
    3. Toward a Critical Ontology of Food Charity and the Psychologisation of Poverty
    4. Scope and Focus of the Book

  2. The Dispositive of Food Charity
  3. 2.1. "What is a Dispositive?"

    2.2. Fuelling the Machine: Flows and Materialisations of Knowledge

    2.3. The Spectacle of Food Charity: Neighbourhood Food Collections (NFCs)

    2.4. Collection Points: Consuming Charity

    2.5. Feeding the Worthy Poor

    2.6. Poverty Relief as Spectacle

    2.7. Failures in Disposition and Possible Resistance

    2.8. Conclusion

  4. Problematisations of Food Poverty
    1. Problematisations in Foucault
    2. Constituting Problematic Subjects in the Food Bank
    3. Problematisation 1: Food Poverty as Sudden Crisis Driven by Structural Factors
    4. Problematisation 2: Food Poverty as Personal Chaos and Culture of Poverty
    5. Problematisation 3: Food Poverty as Result of a Failing Society
    6. Local Constructions of Food Poverty as a Social Problem
    7. Conclusion

  5. Crisis and the Medicalisation of Poverty
    1. Crisis as Discourse: A Brief Genealogy
    2. The Constitution of ‘Clients in Crisis’
    3. A Nudge in the Food Bank
    4. Behavioural Activation and (not so) Soft Paternalism
    5. Conclusion

  6. ‘More Than Food’
    1. ‘More Than Food’
    2. "Eat Well – Spend Less"
    3. Job Clubs and Social Spaces in Food Banks
    4. Conclusion

  7. The Psychopolitics of Food Charity
    1. From Vulnerability to Wellbeing: Happy Subjects of Charity?
    2. Disrupting the Spectacle and Killing Charity’s Joy
    3. Developing a Shockproof Subject?
    4. Refusing Resilience, Positivity and Development
    5. Conclusion

  8. Concluding Reflections: From Refusal to Innovation
    1. Psychology, ‘Nudge’ Economics and Neoliberalism
    2. Liberalism and the Traps of Humanism
    3. Absent Voices and Poverty Research
    4. Essays in Refusal: The Value of Critique
    5. Critique is Not Enough: From "What’s to be done?" to "What more am I to do?"


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Christian Möller  is a Research Fellow in the School of Social Work and Social Policy at the University of Strathclyde, UK. He also teaches Critical Social Psychology as an Associate Lecturer at The Open University, UK. His main research interests are in critical discourse analysis, social and health inequalities and charity work.


'A necessary and multi-perspective analysis of contemporary food banks in the UK. A mandatory reading for all academic scholars and public activists interested in food poverty in a broader cultural context.'

Stefan Selke, Furtwangen University, Germany

'Through his critical and discursive approach, Chris Möller invites us to "think differently" about food charity. His incisive critique of our everyday assumptions about the psychology of both food poverty and food charity provides a rigorous theoretical analysis that is grounded in and illustrated by examples of his own research. Chris’s own reflections on his research experience, woven through his accounts of data collection, importantly personalise the political issues he raises. This book will be an important and timely resource for critical scholars of food poverty and food charity in psychology, sociology and related disciplines.'

Viv Burr, University of Huddersfield, UK

'In this book, Chris Möller explains exceptionally well why a political and discursive approach is needed to consider food banks in terms of the "psychologisation" of poverty, the spectacle of food banks and why food banks are actually part of a problem of neoliberal societies. Read it and then consider political practice and forms of social action to create social change in the world.'

Alex Bridger, University of Huddersfield, UK