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Research Funding in Human and Social Food Sciences: Debates, Constraints, Limits and Lessons

Chantal Crenn, Frédéric Précigout and Isabelle Techoueyres

Coordinated by Chantal Crenn, Frédéric Précigout and Isabelle Téchoueyres

We wish to examine the issue of commissioned research in the human and social food sciences. This topic is all the more central in the field of food research, be it privately or publically funded, because food lies at the heart of peoples’ daily lives. Food is, according to Michel de Certeau, one of the “arts of doing”.

Such a theme raises several questions, which we wish to examine via the multiple aspects of human food habits and behaviours: regulations, norm implementation, governmentality, economic development, identity, and also citizen participation in the co-production of scientific knowledge.

  • 1  Project calls from public authorities (national, regional or multinational administrations, public (...)

Due to the decrease in public funding allocated to research, particularly in the field of food, researchers devote an increasingly large amount of their time and energy compiling research projects in order to seek funding.1 New combinations of public and private funding have emerged in various places (like the PPP - Private Public Partnership - in Great Britain since the 1990s). We would like to question the social construction of “knowledge” as caught in relations with funders who are directly interested in the results. With what kind of reciprocity are we dealing?

Finally, we would also like to consider the different ways nations organize scientific food research, and how public research organizations collaborate with private companies in different national contexts. What interests do we share as researchers cross-culturally? And what are the specific issues related national contexts and research traditions.

The Commission

We welcome articles that examine the issue of scale. For example, what can be said about relations between European/ regional funding as compared to previous national frames? What is the shift in emphasis? What are the changes in research topics?

We also welcome articles that consider why certain topics (like obesity, migration, poverty, etc.) are of concern to actors in both private and public institutions, while other topics are rarely approached or remain confined in the field of social work. Why do some themes never find funding? How is funding take shape within the diverse disciplines of the social and human sciences (history, sociology, anthropology, geography, etc)?

  • 2  For instance the increasingly precarious situation of researchers-experts.

We do not limit this call solely to the “financial” aspect, which does not cover the entire context of commissioning.  We are also interested in articles that take into account professional career stakes and their evaluation, the need for following trends, etc. We want to examine the constraints with which researchers who answer project calls have to work. What are the factors influencing the choice of topics and the quality of the results?2

  • 3  Generally urban people, caring about their health and not devoid of stereotypes.

What reasons or arguments explain the omnipresence of certain themes in project calls, and to what extent do such recurring topics, selected by political instances, shape social science research and knowledge? In other words, articles questioning the permeability between the social sciences and politics will be of interest. Of course, the researchers themselves, as members of the studied societies3, also take part in the orientation of a chosen theme.

In all cases, we are tackling issues of (power) relations between researchers and commissioners, from public as well as private sectors. What lessons can be drawn from the commissioners’ influence in drafting research questions or research methodologies?

The following questions need to be asked:

Types of Funding: What type of funding and for what type of research?Food and food behaviours are tied to current economic stakes. Food is both an object of daily consumption and a public health concern. We are interested in comparing funding sources and examining research topics cross-culturally, so as to examine underlying social mechanisms.

The Demand for Quantitative Research: How do researchers in the social and human sciences deal with the demand for quantitative research and representative samples?

The Co-creation of Research: How do researchers and funding agencies find an acceptable compromise in the creation of a research object?   Are researchers able to keep a critical distance necessary to scientific research?

Relational Dynamicsamong Disciplines: In this view, the question of pluri-disciplinarityis crucial. While the pooling of knowledge stemming from different disciplines (social sciences, medicine, epidemiology, nutrition), as encouraged by commissioners, may be fruitful, how do researchers manage to work together and avoid the domination of one discipline by another? How are common research frameworks produced by these asymmetric relations, how are problems worked out?

  • 4  cf. L.Vidal

Time: How do researchers manage their own time requirements (field immersion, data production, analyses, writing, readings, scientific valorisation,..)4 in regards to those of the funding agencies, which are usually not the same.

  • 5  This matter has long been the object of many debates within the profession.
  • 6  cf. Callon et al.
  • 7  Roqueplo1996

The Issue of Applied Sciences: Can scientific knowledge concerning food be applied? Can it be transferred to economic or social actors and general populations ? Under what scientific and deontological conditions5? Applied social sciences are supposed to turn knowledge into action. By tradition or training, how are researchers able to transform knowledge into action or recommendations6? Is it possible to place action (political, for example) and analysis on the same level7.

The Construction of Knowledge: We also welcome papers that explore how food knowledge is collectively built, in different historical periods and national contexts. Examples from the field of social work dealing with food will be welcomed (i.e. shared gardens, culinary workshops, social food shops, citizen forums). Within this frame, it will be interesting to examine the use of the social sciences by social practitioners. We are also interested in papers dealing with the ways in which social science knowledge is used by public authorities or businesses. For example, how are the social sciences used to gauge the reception of nutritional messages.

Social Representations: we welcome papers that examine the evolution of social and culture categories of thinking (like « obesity », « food fears », « migrations », « food heritage »,....).

Please send article proposals (15-20 lines) before April 15,2012 to Chantal Crenn, Frédéric Précigout and Isabelle Téchoueyres :


Albaladejo Christophe., Geslin Philippe, Magda Danièle, Salembier Pascal, (coord.)2009,La mise à l'épreuve: Le transfert des connaissances scientifiques en questions, ed. Quae, coll.Update sciences et technologie, Paris.

Baré Jean-François (dir.), 1995, Les applications de l'anthropologie, Karthala, Paris.

Berlivet Luc, 2004, « Une biopolitique de l’éducation pour la santé : la fabrique des campagnes de prévention », Le gouvernement des corps, sous la direction de D Fassin et D Memmi, ed. de l’EHESS, : 39.

De Certeau Michel, 1990, L'Invention du quotidien, 1. Arts de faire et 2. Habiter, cuisiner, éd. établie et présentée par Luce Giard, Gallimard, Paris.

Draetta Laura et LabartheFabien, « La recherche sur commande et le dilemme expert chercheur : une analyse réflexive de l’implication du sociologue dans la mise en œuvre d’une politique publique de l’innovation », Revue Interventions économiques [En ligne], 43 | 2011, mis en ligne le 01 mai 2011, consulté le 19 septembre 2011. URL :

Foucault Michel, 1976, La volonté de savoir, Gallimard, Paris.

Foucault Michel, 2004, Sécurité, territoire, population. Cours au Collège de France, Gallimard, Paris.

Lascoumes Pierre, Callon Michel, Barthe Yanick, 2001, Agir dans un monde incertain, essai sur la démocratie technique. Seuil/la couleur des idées, Paris.

Lassave P, Desage F, Les sociologues et la recherche urbaine dans la France contemporaine ; 2003, in Politix, Vol. 16, n°63, 3è tri 2003, pp.208-211.

RoqueploPhilippe, 1996,Entre savoir et décision - L’expertise scientifique. INRA, Paris.

Noiriel Gérard, 2007, Racisme la responsabilité des élites, Ed Textuel, Paris.

Sardan (de) Jean-Pierre Olivier, 2008, La rigueur du qualitatif. Les contraintes empiriques de l'interprétation socio-anthropologique, Academia-Bruylant, Louvain-La-Neuve.

Sunderland Patricia and Denny Rita, 2007, Doing Anthropology in Consumer Research, Left Coast Press, California.

Traimond Bernard, L'anthropologie appliquée aujourd'hui, PUB, 2006, Bordeaux

Vidal L, 2005, « L’instant de vérité. Glissements de l’objet à son écriture en anthropologie », L’Homme : 47-74.

Zimmermann, Bénédicte (2004a). Introduction, dans Bénédicte Zimmermann (dir.), Les sciences sociales à l’épreuve de l’action. Le savant, le politique et l’Europe, Paris, Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, pp. 1-21.

Zimmermann, Bénédicte (2004b) (dir.). Les sciences sociales à l’épreuve de l’action. Le savant, le politique et l’Europe, Paris, Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme.

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1  Project calls from public authorities (national, regional or multinational administrations, public institutes and agencies, etc.), large agro-industry companies, projects carried by groups of researchers and submitted to public or private instances which might find them of interest.

2  For instance the increasingly precarious situation of researchers-experts.

3  Generally urban people, caring about their health and not devoid of stereotypes.

4  cf. L.Vidal

5  This matter has long been the object of many debates within the profession.

6  cf. Callon et al.

7  Roqueplo1996

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