Research Projects

Marianne O’Kane Boal

Current PhD Student

The significance of school food practices in the conduct and experience of peer relationships of children aged 4-12 in contemporary Irish society

Marianne O’Kane Boal is in the final stage of a PhD in Social Research (2017-2022) examining; ‘the significance of school food practices in the conduct and experience of peer relationships of children aged 4-12 in contemporary Irish society’.  Current commitments in children’s policy and services emphasise the centrality of children’s voice and their participation in matters that concern them (DCYA 2014, Nic Gabhainn et al. 2015). This focus has roots in childhood studies from the 1980s onward (Tisdall and Punch 2012); is closely linked to a deeper appreciation of children’s rights; and manifests in contemporary research that privileges children’s perspectives and children’s culture. In this context, there is a gap in knowledge in relation to the importance of food in children’s own lives, as extant literature focuses on food in family and institutional contexts. Very little work has addressed food as an element of children’s friendships, a key aspect of their lives.

This study aims to make a unique contribution in terms of a better understanding of the complex relationships between childhood, food and friendship. It proposes a reimagining through arts-based methodologies of the importance of children’s school food and friendship practices in their lifeworlds. The qualitative project focuses on what leads children to engage with friends on school food practices and how this shapes their peer relationships. The methods for engaging with children in the classroom have been selected according to my considerable experience of facilitation of children’s workshops. Creative interactive methods, particularly arts-based (Kara, 2015), have been employed to conduct fieldwork and build knowledge. These methods include thematic discussion of children’s picture books, drawing, modelling with clay, story games, creative writing, journals, concept mapping and discussion. Observation during school break and lunch has also been carried out.

The research was conducted with three schools in the classroom environment with children aged between 4-12 years old in a period lasting six weeks in each school. Children participated collectively and individually with the researcher working as facilitator on activities in the presence of their class teacher. There were considerable ethics protocols involved in delivering the fieldwork. The projected outcome is a better theoretical and empirical understanding and knowledge of children’s friendship practices as they relate to food and eating.


Chapter entitled ‘School food lifeworlds: Children’s relational experience of school food and its importance in their early primary school years’, in Food Futures in Education: Policy, Curricula and Society, Eds. Angela Turner, Marion Rutland, Gurpinder Lalli, London: Routlege, 2023 (peer-reviewed)

‘Small Existential Fractures and an Interrogative Relationship with the World’: An Existentialist Reading of Frances Hardinge’s A Face Like Glass, International Research on Children’s Literature IRCL, 15 (2): (peer-reviewed)

‘Review of “The Ever Widening Spiral” featuring analysis of The Third Policeman,’ The Parish Review: Journal of Flann O’Brien Studies 5, no. 2: 1–6. DOI: (peer-reviewed)

Book Review Julia Brannen, Social Research Matters, Sociology BSA, Oct 2020 (peer-reviewed)

Book Review Spyros Spyrou, Rachel Rosen and Daniel Thomas Cook (eds), Reimagining Childhood Studies, Irish Journal of Sociology, March 8th, 2020

Book review Vicki Harman, Benedetta Cappellini and Charlotte Faircloth (eds), Feeding Children Inside and Outside the Home: Critical Perspectives, Irish Journal of Sociology, February 26, 2019 p215-219.


25 Nov 2017, Paper presented entitled ‘Why have the links between children, food and friendship remained largely unexplored?’ Sociological Association of Ireland, Annual Postgraduate Conference, Belfast 2017

Presented at 2nd Global Conference on Food, Heritage and Community, Progressive Connections, Prague, 8-10 March 2019.

Presented at CUA Research Symposium, Sligo on ‘Creative methodologies for working with children’ 16-17 January 2020.

Presented at BSA Annual Conference 2021: Remaking the Future, on ‘Creative methods for engaging with children in the classroom – exploring children, food and friendship’, 15 April 2021

Presented at the IRSCL International Conference in Chile, ‘Arts-based methods in the school context –reading relationality, food and friendship’, online, Oct 2021

Presented at the BSA Food Studies Conference, ‘Children’s creative interpretations of school food in the classroom’, online, June 2021.

Judge for the SAI/UCD Young Sociologist of the Year 2021 Essay Competition (Judges: SAI – Marianne O’Kane Boal, Lisa Moran, UCD – Taha Yasseri, Elisabeth Becker)

Selected to present at BSA Annual Conference 21-23 Apr 2020 – Reimagining Social Bodies: Self, Institutions and Socities, Aston University, Birmingham (cancelled due to Covid-19)

Selected to present at Centre for Research on Families & Relationships Conference June 2020: Intersectionality, Families and Relationships, University of Edinburgh (cancelled due to Covid-19)