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Contested evolution of nutrition for humanitarian and development ends

This working paper reports on a workshop organised by the Food Studies Centre at SOAS, University of London and the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University. The workshop aimed to explore and debate how and why humanitarian and development nutrition came to be dominated by medical science. Current interventions tend to treat it as a decontextualized, biological problem amenable to the technical administration of nutrients. The main approaches to addressing malnutrition now include the provision of specialised food products, new agricultural technologies, and the promotion of behaviour change in feeding and hygiene practices. They are promoted as part of Public Private Partnerships. Social nutrition, in contrast, takes a more holistic approach by examining its social, political and economic causes, and was prominent in the 1930s and again in the 1980s and 1990s but has been in decline since. Social approaches to nutrition have been critical of contemporary practices because they focus on nutrition itself as the object of policy rather than its wider social and political causes, they prevent more flexible and people-centred approaches, and because new nutrition and agricultural technologies promote the interests of business rather than the malnourished. These issues were the subject of discussion at the workshop.



Working paper


Refugee Studies Centre

Publication Date



RSC Working Paper Series, 125

Total pages