Julie Parsons

Julie Parsons is currently Associate Head of Criminology, Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Plymouth.

What was the focus of your work?

My funding application was titled: Commensality (eating together) as a tool for health, well-being, social inclusion and community resilience, at a rural land-based ‘offender’ resettlement scheme. I was motivated to investigate some of the more positive aspects of our everyday food cultures following my PhD; ‘Ourfoodstories@email.com’; an Auto/Biographical Study of relationships with Food and monograph, Gender Class and Food, Families, Bodies and Health (Parsons 2015). The primary aim was to explore the benefits of sharing a lunchtime meal for trainees and the wider community. For the fieldwork, I conducted a series of interviews with supporters, staff, stakeholders, volunteers and trainees and a photo-dialogue focus group. I attended 56 lunches, cooked 27 lunches one-to-one with a trainee on the scheme and kept an ethnographic field journal.

What did the Mildred Blaxter fellowship offer you that you would not otherwise have been able to do?

It was a shock to receive the fellowship, as I mistakenly thought they were only ever awarded to people at more prestigious Russel Group universities. Receiving the award was therefore a great boost to my confidence and it enabled me to consider applying for further funding, which I did. One of the people I interviewed for the ‘commensality’ research gave me the idea for my next project, and I was equally amazed to receive funding from the ISRF for the Photographic electronic-Narrative (PeN) project, which is still running.

Overall, it was a real privilege to receive the Mildred Blaxter fellowship, which I am sure I owe in some part to the reference I had from one of the External Examiners on my PhD, Professor David Morgan (RIP). It was also particularly brilliant to be able to do research at LandWorks and work with people who are typically one of the most marginalised and socially excluded groups. It has fundamentally changed my outlook on research in practice and I do my utmost to work collaboratively and creatively with people whenever possible (see https://collaborations-in-research.org/). I also became a bit of a cook and still volunteer at LandWorks on a weekly basis to cook lunch for up to 18, with one of those on placement that day. Being able to work one-to-one with one of the guys and listening to their stories is a real honour. I am passionate about the benefits of ‘good’ food, sharing and eating together, it informs both my teaching and research. I am co-convenor of the British Sociological Association Food Studies Group and an advocate for better food in prisons, see Lucy Vincent’s campaign https://foodbehindbars.co.uk/.

What are you doing now?

I am currently working on a British Academy funded project, entitled ‘Finishing time at a distance’: an exploration of support mechanisms for socio-economically disadvantaged and criminalised individuals during the Covid-19 crisis and beyond. I have been making use of texts, email exchanges, phone calls and photographs with people who have finished their placements at LandWorks and have been adjusting to life back in the community. LandWorks differs significantly from statutory agencies that work with ‘offenders’ as the majority of people who have been through LandWorks maintain contact beyond the end of their placements.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of applying for a Mildred Blaxter fellowship?

Go for it! I would say do something you feel really passionate about, as this always comes across in the application. Also garner support from senior colleagues and don’t be afraid to approach people for help or advice. It was great that the Mildred Blaxter fellowship supports mentoring, and I was lucky enough to be mentored throughout the fellowship by Professor Gayle Letherby, who I continue to work with.

After the award…

You can find out more about Julie’s work here . Outputs supported by her Mildred Blaxter fellowship include: