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Food security and insecurity in older adults: A phenomenological ethnographic study


King, AC, Food security and insecurity in older adults: A phenomenological ethnographic study (2014) [PhD]


Experiences of food, meals, and eating that are nourishing, enjoyable, and nutritious are crucial for older adults who are seeking to maintain their health and wellbeing while ‘ageing in place’. Food insecurity poses a threat to these aspirations. Although existing research has produced useful insights into food insecurity in older adults, it has not always fully engaged with the highly subjective, complex, and dynamic nature of the phenomenon.

The thesis addresses these gaps in knowledge by applying philosophical perspectives from phenomenological ethnography to explore implicit meanings in older adults’ experiences of food, meals, and eating, and then consider their significance for understandings of food security and insecurity in older adults. The thesis takes a phenomenological view of human beings as embedded in lifeworlds characterised by meaningful actions and experiences, including those involving food.

Phenomenological ethnographic methods of repeated in-depth interviews, walking interviews, and observation were conducted in the home environments of 21 community dwelling older adults, aged between 72 and 90 years, in rural Tasmania, Australia. Case based analyses informed biographical sketches of these older adults’ rich, varied, and often challenging lives. The main findings were generated by thematic analyses and pertain to four dimensions of the phenomenological lifeworld – subjective, inter-subjective, place-based, and temporal.

Exploring subjective dimensions revealed these older adults as highly engaged with food and life. Exploring intersubjective dimensions revealed how older adults’ eating experiences are infused with their social identities and relationships. Exploring place dimensions revealed how older adults’ complex, deep, and nuanced relationships with different places inform their food experiences. Finally, exploring temporal dimensions revealed how time permeates older adults’ eating lives, whether in terms of quotidian activities or the grand sweep of life from childhood to old age.

The thesis considers these findings and their significance, and generates new understandings of food security and insecurity in older adults. Perspectives from interpretative phenomenology, anthropology, sociology, and social gerontology are woven iv together to inform a theoretical argument for an interrelationship between food security and ontological security in older adults’ lives. The contribution of the doctoral thesis lies in developing a more in-depth and substantial theoretical perspective on food security and insecurity in older adults, which has implications for policy and practice. The thesis reveals rural older adults who are engaging with food and life with considerable perseverance, resilience, and agency, even in the face of bodily and social contingencies of ageing.

Item Details

Item Type:PhD
Keywords:food security; older adults; ageing; phenomenology; ethnography; sociology
Research Division:Human Society
Research Group:Sociology
Research Field:Rural sociology
Objective Division:Health
Objective Group:Specific population health (excl. Indigenous health)
Objective Field:Rural and remote area health
UTAS Author:King, AC (Ms Alexandra King)
ID Code:97624
Year Published:2014
Deposited By:UTAS Centre for Rural Health
Deposited On:2015-01-05
Last Modified:2015-06-18
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