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Food abuse : Mealtimes, helplines and 'troubled' eating

Wiggins, S. and Hepburn, A. (2007) Food abuse : Mealtimes, helplines and 'troubled' eating. In: Discursive Research in Practice: New Approaches to Psychology and Interaction. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom, pp. 263-280. ISBN 9780521614092

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Feeding children can be one of the most challenging and frustrating aspects of raising a family. This is often exacerbated by conflicting guidelines over what the ‘correct’ amount of food and ‘proper’ eating actually entails. The issue becomes muddier still when parents are accused of mistreating their children by not feeding them properly, or when eating becomes troubled in some way. Yet how are parents to ‘know’ how much food is enough and when their child is ‘full’? How is food negotiated on a daily level? In this chapter, we show how discursive psychology can provide a way of understanding these issues that goes beyond guidelines and measurements. It enables us to examine the practices within which food is negotiated and used to hold others accountable. Like the other chapters in this section of the book, eating practices can also be situations in which an asymmetry of competence is produced; where one party is treated as being a less-than-valid person (in the case of family practices, this is often the child). As we shall see later, the asymmetry can also be reversed, where one person (adult or child) can claim to have greater ‘access’ to concepts such as ‘appetite’ and ‘hunger’. Not only does this help us to understand the complexity of eating practices; it also highlights features of the parent/child relationshipi and the institutionality of families.