Constructing risk and guardianship: The discourses of heritage seeds, fruit and vegetables

  • Abigail Wincott

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Recent research has shown that ideas about the past are central to the way people think about current food and construct alternatives. Yet there has been a lack of detailed attention paid to these uses of the past, often dismissed as nostalgic and inaccurate. This thesis examines the uses of ‘heritage’ as a very particular means of engagement with the past and takes as its subject the increasingly high profile idea of ‘heritage’ vegetables. One problem facing consumers and scholars alike hoping to understand the phenomenon and its effects is that heritage discourse is being used in very different and apparently contradictory ways by a wide range of interest groups. In order to understand the ways these different social actors use heritage to negotiate a place for themselves relative to both the heritage at stake and other groups, this study analysed a corpus of around 500 heritage vegetable texts. The thesis argues that the discourse is driven by a central narrative of loss, ongoing risk and guardianship, which serves to add value to materials, by producing them as heritage. It goes on to identify a series of patterned variations in the way social actors construct heritage value, variations afforded by the mutable materiality of vegetables, seeds and plants. While some groups emphasise the practice of heritage production and consumption or the sensory experience to be enjoyed through it, other groups deploy strategies to make the heritage more materially unambiguous. The thesis then moves on to examine the importance of the concept of guardianship, and its use as a mechanism for the staking of claims to manage and thereby control heritage resources. It demonstrates that there is a distinction to be drawn between those narratives which emphasise practice, and those which emphasise material heritage ‘treasure’. The former work to construct an accessible and participatory ‘networked’ concept of guardianship. The latter reinforce the role of professional heritage experts, and the storage of heritage in secure, closed collections. The thesis makes a contribution at the intersection of food and heritage studies, at a time when heritage is being used in more and more contexts relating to consumption and lifestyle. It suggests ways in which differences in the construction of heritage value have great implications for who is empowered to access the heritage thus created, and opens the way to further research into the ways heritage is being used in healthy eating, environmentalist and urban regeneration contexts.
Date of AwardMay 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton

Cite this