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

This study seeks to explore the social significance of school food practices in children’s peer and friendship cultures. 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, therefore, sets out to make a unique contribution in terms of a better understanding of the complex relationships between childhood, food and friendship. This study proposes a reimagining through arts-based methodologies of the importance of children’s school food and friendship practices in their life worlds. I am in the final stage of a PhD in Social Research (2017-2021) examining; ‘the significance of school food practices in the conduct and experience of peer relationships of children aged 4-12 in contemporary Irish society’. 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. I have carried out observation during school break and lunch. 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 paper includes a discussion of the project, fieldwork context, the methods selected for engaging with children in the classroom, attendant ethics protocols, and potential outcomes of the project. The projected outcome is a better theoretical and empirical understanding and knowledge of children’s friendship practices as they relate to food and eating.


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

Book Review Spyros Spyrou, Rachel Rosen and Daniel Thomas Cook (eds), Reimagining Childhood Studies, in Irish Journal of Sociology, 2020-04 | journal-article DOI: 10.1177/0791603520911306

Book review of Julia Brannen Social Research Matters: A Life in Family Bristol University Press: Bristol, 2019, (ISBN: 9781529208566), 232pp. in Sociology, Nov 2020.

‘Small Existential Fractures and an interrogative relationship with the world’: An existentialist reading of Frances Hardinge’s A Face like Glass (2012), journal-article in IRCL (International Research in Children’s Literature), 2021/2022, (accepted/in press)


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.

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

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)