The burger woman and acts of citizenship

We’ve all become aware in recent years of Jamie Oliver’s crusade against unhealthy school meals and, indeed, his success in ensuring that Turkey Twizzlers – the staple diet of school canteens from Aberdeen to Aberystwyth and from Penzance to Penrith – have been consigned to the (recycling) bin. Another feature of Jamie Oliver’s campaign, of course, was the pictures of mothers of school-children selling items of (presumably) junk food to children through school fences or over the school gate. As a middle-class, educated and reasonably healthy academic, I was of course appalled by these guerilla tactics. Surely these mothers were guilty of the insidious crime of undermining their own children’s health or, even worse, the health of other children? burger by vanessa pike-russell @flikr

And yet, the work of Professor of Citizenship, Engin Isin (Open University) encourages us to think different about these parental practices. Isin argues that ideas of citizenship throughout history have been articulated through reference to those on the margins. It is these individuals and groups that can act as a kind of threat to us but it is these individuals and groups, too that are the source of our own security. We become assured of our own political identity by contrasting ourselves with these more marginalised people. I, as a well-behaved citizen of good character and reasonable diet, derive my own sense of worth and smugness from mothers such as these and their Turkey-Twizzler-eating offspring.

Isin goes further by suggesting that there are enduring ‘acts of citizenship’ that can emerge from these marginalised and disenfranchised groups, which can help to transform dominant ideas about citizenship. Is the act of passing or selling a burger over a fence to a child an act of citizenship? Will this act lead to different conceptions of what it is to be a British citizen? How do acts such as these lead us to question the extent to which the state can determine the diets of its citizens?

Rhys

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