Facing Hunger, Framing Food Banks, Imaging Austerity
In this blog post, I provide a summary of a recently released academic article. The piece is called: ‘Facing Hunger, Framing Food Banks, Imaging Austerity.’ In it, I try and understand what austerity looks like—specifically, by thinking about the kinds of narratives of austerity that are propelled and circulated by framings of hunger and food banks in the UK today. You can read it in full here.
The article builds an original theorisation of ‘framing,’ utilising its multiple meanings. In one sense, framing describes the literal act of bounding and bordering images; in another, it is to do with the kinds of social frames of understanding such images advance; thirdly, framing also describes the way guilt is placed upon certain parties in a deliberate (and disingenuous) fashion.
We can think about hunger through these multiple meanings, and how they have changed both over time and space. There is a long history of images of ‘the hungry’ that reproduce ideas of pity and powerlessness—particularly in impoverished parts of the Global South. Labelled as ‘poverty pornography,’ these images serve to heighten the emotions of the viewer, often in trying to encourage charitable donations and political change. This genre is highly controversial. Whilst it can help solicit donations for those in need, it concomitantly frames those in hunger as helpless and powerless, and also focuses attention on the victim of hunger—rather than the political and structural drivers of hunger events in the first place.
In other words, such images meet all three of our definitions of framing. They provide a literal visual frame for seeing hunger; they position social judgements of the people and places in these frames; and they also articulate a particular politics of blame in which the perpetrator is frequently absent from the frame.
Framing food banks
Today, we have become used to these kinds of images of hunger saturating our geographical imagination of the Global South. So how does it relate to the growing levels of hunger—so called ‘First World Hunger’—in the UK today?
In the article, I examine three different images that have featured prominently over the past decade of austerity. Sourced from different political directions, and presented through different mediums and genres, the three images provide a cross-section of what we me describe as the imaging of austerity today, specifically through the medium of food banks (for reference, the three images are from: The Daily Mirror; the Mail Online; and Iain Duncan Smith’s Twitter page).
Despite the different political intentions behind each image, they are aligned in many ways. Despite claiming to represent food banks and hunger in the UK today, none of the images actually show food banks—nor do they provide genuine or realistic accounts of the plights of those who use them.
Instead, these images reproduce the same kind of framings seen in the history of poverty pornography. Those experiencing hunger are rendered voiceless; perpetrators are absent. These images are instead designed to provoke strong emotional reactions in the viewer—a process I conceptualise in the article as ‘ocular affect.’
The combined effect is that the way we come to face hunger today marks a continuation of these unjust visual and media geographies. If we are to build a more dignified understanding of hunger—indeed, if we are to undo the structural drivers and causes of hunger in ‘Austerity Britain’ today—then we need to do much more than just face hunger alone. We need to build a society in which everyone’s right to food is enshrined and protected.