Discipline and Feed: Food Banks, Pastoral Power, and the Medicalisation of Poverty in the UK

Christian Möller*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (SciVal)
176 Downloads (Pure)


Food banks across the UK are offering basic food supplies and a range of support services to people who have been affected by years of welfare cuts and the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis. Despite a growing research interest in the drivers and experiences of food bank use, their own role in constructing and managing poverty as a social problem has been neglected. Adopting a Foucauldian approach, this study critically explored how power is exercised and subjects are formed inside three UK food banks. The localised care for the poor is shown to work through a pastoral power, which requires confessions of crises and obedience to an expert regime in the diagnosis and treatment of poverty as an individual condition. By making food aid conditional on active engagement with other support agencies, volunteers negotiate and translate neoliberal discourses of personal responsibility and active citizenship. Findings are linked to a wider critique of neoliberal government, which works through therapeutic discourses and retains disciplinary and paternalistic elements in managing poverty at a distance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)853-870
Number of pages18
JournalSociological Research Online
Issue number4
Early online date05 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 01 Dec 2021


  • charity
  • food banks
  • governmentality
  • neoliberalism
  • pastoral power
  • poverty


Dive into the research topics of 'Discipline and Feed: Food Banks, Pastoral Power, and the Medicalisation of Poverty in the UK'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this