Scholarly article on topic 'Creative construction: crafting, negotiating and performing urban food sharing landscapes'

Creative construction: crafting, negotiating and performing urban food sharing landscapes Academic research paper on "Social and economic geography"

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Academic research paper on topic "Creative construction: crafting, negotiating and performing urban food sharing landscapes"

Geographical Sociaty


Area, 2017, doi: 10.1111/area.12340

Creative construction: crafting, negotiating and performing urban food sharing landscapes

Anna R Davies, Ferne Edwards, Brigida Marovelli, Oona Morrow, Monika Rut and

Marion Weymes

Department of Geography, School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland


Revised manuscript received 3 February 2017

Activities utilising online tools are an increasingly visible part of our everyday lives, providing new subjects, objects and relationships - essentially new landscapes - for research, as well as new conceptual and methodological challenges for researchers. In parallel, calls for collaborative interdisciplinary, even transdisciplinary, research are increasing. Yet practical guidance and critical reflection on the challenges and opportunities of conducting collaborative research online, particularly in emergent areas, is limited. In response, this paper details what we term the 'creative construction' involved in a collaborative project building an exploratory database of more than 4000 food sharing activities in 100 cities that utilise internet and digital technologies in some way (ICT mediated for brevity) to pursue their goals. The research was undertaken by an international team of researchers, including geographers, which utilised a combination of reflexive coding and online collaboration to develop a system for exploring the practice and performance of ICT-mediated food sharing in cities. This paper will unpack the black box of using the internet as a source of data about emergent practices and provide critical reflection on that highly negotiated and essentially handcrafted process. While the substance of the paper focuses on the under-determined realm of food sharing, a site where it is claimed that ICT is transforming practices, the issues raised have resonance far beyond the specificities of this particular endeavour. While challenging, we argue that handcrafting systems for navigating emergent online data is vital, not least to render visible the complexities and contestations around definition, categorisation and translation.

Key words: cities, collaboration, database, food sharing, online research, methodology


The internet, mobile apps and various social media are an increasingly visible part of everyday life for many people, with internet penetration globally reaching 50 per cent in 2016.1 The proliferation of content accessible through these mechanisms has grown exponentially and provides new subjects, objects and networks - essentially new landscapes - for research, as well as new conceptual and methodological challenges for researchers (Hine 2005). In parallel, calls for collaborative research to approach complex global meta-challenges such as food security, poverty and environmental change are increasing (Future Earth 2014). These calls envisage collaboration both within interdisciplinary and inter-institutional research teams (Cummings and Kiesler 2005), but also

collaboration between academic researchers and other actors from public, private and civil society sectors, often termed transdisciplinary research (Brandt et al. 2013). Linked to this collaborative agenda is research that seeks to co-produce knowledge with citizens, often utilising information and communication technologies (ICT) to mediate that process (Howe 2006), and referred to as crowdsourcing or citizen science (Silvertown 2009).

Such collaborative ventures offer both challenges and opportunities for researchers and participants alike (Dickinson et al. 2010; Demeritt 2005), and 'much of what happens in the business of collaborative research is a negotiation between different perspectives and expectations' (Macmillan and Scott 2003, 105). In this paper, we argue that challenges are intensified when collecting and mapping online data from emergent,

The information, practices and views in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). © 2017 The Authors. Area published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers).

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License, which permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made.

diverse and culturally specific practices such as ICT-mediated food sharing. For, while technical guidance around web-scraping and data mining is emerging (see Russell 2014), much of the guidance is focused on the mechanisms of searching where terms are fixed and uncontroversial rather than where the crystallisation of concepts is ongoing. In this paper, the open and contested concept of food sharing required an artisanal, or handcrafted, process of identification, classification and comparison in order to capture its irregular and intimate qualities. We call this creative construction in contradistinction to Schumpeter's notion of 'creative destruction', which has been articulated as the 'essential fact about capitalism' (1975, 82). Creative destruction refers to an evolutionary process, albeit one often characterised by transilience or abrupt transition (Abernathy 1985), whereby long-standing arrangements are deconstructed, freeing resources and revolutionising economic structures from within, 'incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating the new one' (Harvey 2007, 23). Instead, creative construction is used in the title of this paper to capture (a) the 'more-than-capitalist' framing of urban food sharing as a social and economic practice and (b) the essentially creative process of constructing hypotheses about the patterns and grammars that surround new activities such as ICT-mediated food sharing. This latter dimension draws on the ways in which creative construction has been used within linguistics and education more broadly to explore how mental constructs are used to produce and comprehend new phenomena (words, phrases, mathematical equations or science concepts) (Dulay and Burt 1974; Gallenstein 2003).

The following sections outline the research team's endeavours to develop a broad landscape perspective of ICT-mediated urban food sharing through the creation of a database which contains comparable data on shared food stuff, skills and spaces in 100 cities across Africa, Australasia, Asia and the Middle East, Central and South America as well as North America and Europe. The scoping study that sketched out a typology of food sharing and established key search terms is briefly delineated. This is followed by an account of the process of searching for, and then coding, ICT-mediated initiatives. Three themes for reflection are then discussed: the initial handcrafted nature of the database; the negotiated process of defining terms and translating concepts of food sharing internationally; and the performative work constructing the database conducted both during its construction and subsequently. Finally, some concluding comments are provided on the wider relevance of this process of creative construction for both ICT-mediated urban food sharing and for geographical research more widely.

Creation: ICT-mediated urban food sharing

The urban focus of this research was driven by the fact that more than half the world's population now lives in cities, with this figure expected to continue rising beyond 2050. Cities are increasingly significant sites of resource consumption; territorial nodes where goods, services and waste collide, with inhabitants consuming more than three-quarters of global natural resources and producing a similar amount of global carbon emissions (UNEP 2013). More than a billion tonnes of solid waste are produced by cities annually of which around half is organic and mostly food waste (Hoornweg and Bhada-Tata 2012). It is also the case that much of the food eaten in cities is imported from outside city boundaries, raising significant questions about the resilience and sustainability of urban food systems (Cohen and Ilieva 2015).

While the focus of this paper is on methods rather than findings (see Davies and Weymes 2017, for analysis of the database contents), attention to the issue of food sharing in cities was stimulated by claims that ICT mediation is reshaping the ways people share and that in the arena of food such technologically mediated sharing may be well placed to confront the abhorrent geographies of hunger and food waste (within and beyond cities). ICT is used to refer to diverse forms of technology from digital devices to software packages, which make it possible for people to access information and communicate globally (Unesco 2002). In this research it is the development and utilisation of websites, social media (Facebook, Twitter, Meetup) and apps in order to share skills, spaces or stuff (food itself, meals, seeds, compost, devices, utensils, tools, etc.) related to growing, preparing or eating food that dominate. These mechanisms offer possibilities to share food with wider communities, even strangers far beyond kinship food sharing that forms the very bedrock of human civilisation (Kaplan and Gurven 2005). Essentially, ICT is stretching the spaces over which food sharing can occur.

However, to date, the extant literature on activities that might fall under the umbrella of food sharing is dominated by richly detailed qualitative case studies which, while interesting, fail to provide a landscapelevel picture of food sharing initiatives (Davies and Legg, forthcoming). This is problematic both from a research and practice perspective. It makes comparisons across initiatives and locations difficult and it also means that the initiatives themselves (or potential food sharing entrepreneurs) may struggle to find inspirational examples of how to address challenges around food sharing, to develop broader communities of practice and exchange knowledge. In response, the goal of the

database was to mitigate these limitations and provide a basis on which translocal learning might develop around the practice and potential of diverse food sharing initiatives to contribute to more sustainable urban food systems.

Essentially, the objectives of this paper are two-fold: (i) to throw some light into the black box of building a searchable database about emergent and hybrid online practices and (ii) to provide critical reflection on that creative process in relation to food sharing in cities. While the substance of the paper focuses on the under-determined realm of ICT-mediated food sharing, lessons learned from this process have broader relevance, especially for researchers engaged in collaborative research on other emergent and ICT-mediated practices. Such reflection is essential to render visible the complexities and contestations around the definition, categorisation and translation of emergent practices, thus performing important work in opening them up for description, discussion and debate.

Construction: building a food sharing database


Drawing on a scoping study conducted between 2014 and 2015 which developed a preliminary typology of food sharing (Table 1) and an initial database (see Davies and Legg, forthcoming), a core team was assembled of six international social science researchers from Ireland, Italy, Australia, the USA and Switzerland, and different disciplines - geography, anthropology, earth science and sustainability science - working closely together in one location over a period of four months in 2016. The first task was to revisit the initial categories and terminology of ICT-mediated food sharing in the light of this international interdisciplinary expertise; to foster shared understanding and common ground amongst the team.

A number of revisions to the typology were made at this stage (see Table 2). Drawing inspiration from Gibson-Graham's (2008) diverse economies framework, it was decided to deconstruct the initial 'mode of sharing' category into two categories to better distinguish between the practice of sharing (mode) and the way those sharing practices were organised. Separating mode and organisation in this way allows for a more detailed analysis of the different ways that exchanges and initiatives are governed, by local municipalities, tax authorities, food and safety regulators, as well as sharers and other stakeholders. Further, separating these fields provides for more finegrained accounts of multimodal strategies that are adopted by some initiatives.

A small number of new categories were also developed through a reasoned discussion amongst the core team who

brought multilingual and multidisciplinary expertise to the project. This enabled the coding structure to more fully capture the nature of food sharing internationally and to reveal the diversity of food sharing activities obscured by the initial classification. For example, this included adding in a category of 'eating together' as distinct from the distribution of meals in order to distinguish intentional acts of commensality with goals of cementing (and bounding) social relations and creating conviviality (Kerner et al. 2015) from the provision of meals alone. Another example is the replacement of the rather amorphous illicit, illegal, unregulated (IIU) category of food sharing with two separate terms to distinguish the mode of sharing -collecting (e.g. foraging, gleaning, dumpster diving and food rescue) - from the organisational structure of initiatives, which themselves were expanded to explicitly identify social enterprise, co-operatives, membership associations and informal (or non-membership) organisations.

Additional ICT categories were added to reflect the increased use of interactive social media as a means of connecting, communicating and awareness raising around food sharing activities and to ensure that a range of ICT mediation was included in the study (Borjesson et al. 2015; Choi and Graham 2014). ICT mediation ultimately included Facebook, Twitter, Meetup, websites or apps. This range of mediation enables a fuller picture of engagement with technology of differing levels of complexity in the food sharing space. This is particularly important as many organisations are grassroots in formation and operate with limited digital literacy skills and few resources, which inevitably restrict the ability to invest in complex technology. It also counters criticisms that research on the sharing economy overemphasises venture capitalist funded, for-profit online platforms, ignoring the manifold ways in which activities are engaging with the growing range of Web 2.0 innovations (Benkler 2006; Helbing 2015).

Once the typology was refined, a list of search terms and strategies were developed. This process began with the core research team working initially with the food sharing activities with which they were most familiar and developing a list of 28 key words. The team was able to draw on their extensive language skills and those of their networks to translate these into other languages. Where this was not possible Google Translate was used as a rough heuristic, although the cultural specificity of terminology within the food sharing arena presents significant challenges of cultural translation (Bhabha 1994). However, this issue of cultural translation will require further exploration through deeper ethnographic analysis, as it was found that in some cases the English words 'food sharing' had been adopted by some initiatives in non-English-speaking countries. For

Table 1 Typology of food sharing

Mode of sharing

What is shared

Illegal, illicit or

unregulated (IIU)





From seeds to unprocessed and processed foodstuffs including utensils, food waste or compost Spaces

From shared growing spaces to shared food preparation or shared eating spaces Skills

Including the sharing of knowledge and experiences around food from growing to eating and food waste disposal

Sharing the foodstuff that has been 'liberated', foraged or gleaned, e.g. 510 fruits, USA

Guerrilla gardening of public open spaces, e.g. Elephant and Castle roundabout, London, UK Identifying places where gleaning or foraging might occur, e.g. Fallen Fruit, Los Angeles, USA

Providing foodstuff for free, e.g., Ireland

Providing spaces for growing for free, e.g. The Monroe Sharing Gardens, USA Providing skills around growing, e.g. 3000 acres, Australia

Swapping foodstuff, e.g. Adelaide Hills Produce Swap, Australia

Providing spaces where food can be acquired in exchange for labour, e.g. Neighbourhood foodstores

Providing opportunities to learn about growing food, swap seeds and produce with other gardeners near you, e.g. Grow stuff, Australia

Providing opportunities to offer or collect excess food on a not-for-profit basis, e.g., Germany

Providing spaces for people to grow food on a not-for-profit basis, e.g. Milwaukee Urban Gardens, USA Providing workshops around nutrition or growing, e.g. Hunger mountain co-op, Montpellier, USA

Selling homecooked food that generates income beyond the costs of production, e.g. Cookisto, Greece

Providing spaces for supper clubs, e.g. The Underground Supper Club, Ireland

Providing opportunities for travellers to experience homecooked meals with locals, e.g. Eat With, Global

Table 2 Revision to food sharing typology3

Category Scoping database Revision Addition

What Seeds Plants and seeds Meat and fish

Crops Fruits and vegetables Eating together

Food products Food products

Compost Compost

Tools Tools

Preparation spaces Land

Kitchen devices Kitchen spaces

Knowledge/skills Kitchen devices

Experiences Knowledge and skills Meals Other

How Illicit, illegal, unregulated (IIU) Gifting Bartering Non-profit For-profit Collecting Gifting Bartering Selling Other

ICT engagement ICT Website Twitter Facebook App

Sharing flow Business to charity Business to individual Individual to charity Individual to individual Charity to charity Business to business

Organisation Non-profit Social enterprise For-profit Co-operative Association Informal Other

aTo reflect the uncertainty around forms of food sharing activities, 'other' categories were included in the database for each of the coding sections to allow for hybrid organisations, modes and materials of exchange to be set aside during the collation phase for reflection.

example, in Germany, IFoodShare in Italy, in Poland and in Switzerland all used English terminology. The reasoning behind the use of the English words in these initiatives was not explained although it could be related to the dominance of English in online environments generally or it might be used to differentiate the initiatives from existing activities that use well-established native language terminology.


Searching was conducted systematically via country-specific Google search engines, social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook and networks of food activists (e.g. Boston Food Systems listserv, Food Surplus Entrepreneurs Network, municipal and national Community Garden databases), sharing networks (e.g. Shareable), solidarity economy organisations (e.g. Solidarity NYC, US

Solidarity Network) and international research networks (e.g. Community Economies Research Network). During this process the research team actively collected additional information about the food sharing activities that raised ambiguous, complex or boundary issues related to the established food sharing classifications. This was expected as the multifunctionality of food sharing initiatives had already been flagged in the scoping phase (Davies and Legg, forthcoming), but the larger research team necessitated much more face-to-face interaction to facilitate debate and clarification around whether particular initiatives were 'in' or 'out'. A second key question around boundaries related to the physical location of the food sharing activities to which the online data related. The focus of the project was explicitly focused on cities as dynamic sites of production, consumption and innovation. City systems are complex networks of political, economic and socio-spatial

processes that are both intimately local and also globally connected (Swyngedouw and Heynen 2003), but they also have porous and multi-layered boundaries. Agreeing city limits, particularly in large metropolitan cities such as London, Melbourne, Boston or New York, was challenging.

Once the research team had developed a shared lexicon and were comfortable with the coding schemes and definitions, it was possible to open up data collection for wider input. Initially, a survey was devised and circulated alongside a blog on the Shareable platform that explained the project and invited input from readers. Calls for suggestions of initiatives were also made through a range of other food-related lists and networks. Once filled in the forms directly populated an excel spreadsheet creating an efficient process from a technical perspective, however, it soon became clear that this format was overly complex. The procedure was simplified by providing summary details on the project requirements and a text box for contributors to detail initiatives and the ICT links so that the research team could consistently consider each suggestion and enter it into the database if eligible.

In total, 273 activities were submitted through open calls for information and 146 of these were deemed to be eligible for the database. This strategy expanded the data collection process, soliciting contributions from diverse online and place-based communities and was particularly useful in countries where English was not commonly used. It also brought the researchers into conversation with others about food sharing generally, our definition of food sharing and the limits of the research project. Through this means of crowdsourcing, the research stretched into the participatory realm, where community members were eager to take on a role of co-producers in knowledge generation (Mauser et al. 2012). Their contributions assisted the creative construction process already initiated by the research team and identified a more diverse range of activities than would have been generated by the team alone.

In parallel with the open call and the team searches, additional individuals with specific language skills were recruited to search cities where the core team were not confident that they were capturing all food sharing initiatives. In total the core team worked with ten translators (some of whom were physically situated in Dublin and others overseas) to maximise the identification of food sharing initiatives. In total 4005 initiatives were deemed eligible for coding by the core research team.


The first step for coding information from the identified activities was to trawl the 'About', 'What we do' and

'Who we are' sections of web and Facebook pages. This provided researchers with a broader perspective on the activities and insights into the key data points for the database: type of organisation, focus, year of establishment, economic, environmental and social claims, what was shared and how it was shared. Unsurprisingly, websites provided the most detailed content, with a few, such as FoodCloud in Dublin, even containing annual reports, organisational milestones or food sharing metrics. The extraction of information from social media websites (Facebook, Twitter and other) addressed different types of data and in some cases filled in outstanding gaps in information needed for coding. For example, by interpreting and extracting information from visually rich content - including photos and videos, as well as usergenerated content or even live chats - additional information about what is being shared and how was gleaned. Extracting knowledge directly from the social media profiles of food sharing initiatives also facilitated access to parallel peer networks that those initiatives interacted with through 'following' or 'liking'. This online snowballing technique was particularly useful for developing a broad picture of the food sharing ecosystems within cities.

The following section draws out some of the key issues that were raised by the creative construction of the database process and which are likely to have resonance with other studies investigating emergent online-offline activities beyond the food sharing realm.

A reflection on creative construction

The process of building the database was an intense experience, comprising more than 5000 person hours of labour to design, search and code. Even so, the resulting database is only a snapshot of ICT-mediated food sharing in the cities studied as initiatives were constantly emerging and disappearing even over the duration of the database development process. This partiality does not affect the overarching goals of the research project, as it was on one level a means to establish, and sample from, the landscape of food sharing activities in order to refine understanding of them and to identify case study cities and activities for more in-depth, multi-sited ethnographic and netnographic analysis (Falzon 2009). However, the research team was keen for the research to have a wider impact, to give something back to the communities and initiatives being studied and to contribute to wider academic discussions around the interrelated material and cyber-worlds of city-based sharing (Agyeman and McLaren 2015). To achieve this goal web-designers were commissioned to convert the database into an open-access, online searchable tool2 that will be updated, revised and extended by the research

team over a five-year period; a process resourced through the wider research project.

Particular challenges occurred in relation to the multifaceted and temporal nature of sharing activities that were frequently situated within wider food sharing webs. For example, in Food Not Bombs meals and eating together are shared in public spaces between volunteers in an informal initiative and strangers. But before that meal can be shared a group of volunteers needs to collect the food, then they need to prepare it somewhere often sharing cooking skills, kitchen space and appliances. The gifted meal, while the most central to the goals of the enterprise, is just one moment of sharing facilitated through Food Not Bombs. Capturing this dynamic and moving system in a static dataset was particularly difficult. There were challenges also around the heightened expertise within the core research team; prior knowledge of activities or organisational forms sometimes led to a reading beyond the available online images and text. In response, the team resolved only to code what they could see on websites and social media, and defer to the explicitly stated self-categorisation of organisations, for example, non-profit, co-op or social enterprise, even when it was not clear whether initiatives were formally registered as such.

In addition to these particular experiences, which might be quite specific to urban ICT-mediated food sharing, there were a suite of issues which have wider resonance for other researchers engaging in exploratory research with ICT-mediated environments. In particular around notions of: crafting; negotiating; and performing.


Taking into consideration the under-defined and understudied concept of food sharing, it was inevitable that the process of creating a database was going to be a handcrafted, rather than an immediately technical procedure. As well as the overwhelming amount of data made available, the process of information filtering and collaborative knowledge extraction connected both online and offline realities and materialities (Kinsley 2013). This involved peer-to-peer checking within the team and its networks as well as 'crowd-checking' which occurred when city-specific enterprise lists were circulated to the public, social networks and local experts to validate our findings and fill in any gaps from the survey. This process solicited comments, queries and additions and provided some quality control for collaborators. By building the database manually researchers were able to minimise the risk of misinterpretation, as well as foster online discourse and identify shared meaning between people, places and technology. Most particularly, close attention was paid to the socio-spatial diversity within vocabularies of food

sharing internationally, what Gluck and Lowenhaupt Tsing (2009) have called 'words in motion' in order to flag commonalities and divergences in how food sharing is described for further interrogation during subsequent ethnographic research in the field.


The database was collated by six core researchers, ten translators and more than 100 survey participants. While efforts were made to ensure consistent coding of food sharing activities, contributors certainly had different intuitive understandings of what counts as food sharing, thus actively constructing the shape of the landscape being identified by building on their existing mental grammars; hence the parallels with the concept of 'creative construction' within linguistics (Dulay and Burt 1974). Decisions regarding inclusion or exclusion were then negotiated between different constituents and across different sites. The 'field' for the research team, was then not only the online world, but also our shared office space, and the distributed locations of translators and survey participants. Throughout the process we had to negotiate both how to understand and how to present data in a uniform online format that nevertheless did not detract from the richness of '[t]he openness and culturally constructed nature of the social world, peppered with contradictions and complexities' (England 1994, 81). Rather than simply producing an online record, the process of creating the database represented the collaborative process of the core researchers working in a small shared space, iteratively translating each of our interpretations of activities across cultures, across language, and across personal experiences and roles. This forced the team to dissect and recalibrate understandings in order to work together to produce a comprehensive and comprehensible body of work. As such, the outcome is not only an extensive, open-access, searchable database, but also the formation of a truly collaborative team effort and transdisciplinary work.


Our research methods and outputs do more than reflect a world that already exists, they also help to perform one. Linking back to early reflections on cultural translation, which involves paying attention to the ways in which food sharing is articulated, this implies that words have the power to make worlds (Gluck and Lowenhaupt Tsing 2009). Such performativity is a feature of all research - the methods and tools we use to measure the world invariably co-produce that world - rendering some realities more legible than others (Law 2004). However, we found the performative component to be especially visible in the construction of an exploratory database on food sharing. As identified in the introduction, food

sharing in the round has rarely been counted, researched or regulated as a discrete unit. As a result, elements of food sharing are more often described within other frameworks - such as the solidarity economy, the sharing economy, the alternative food movement, the cooperative movement, the non-profit or third sector - if they are recognised at all. Constructing an exploratory database that includes the full spectrum of food sharing activities, initiatives and economies is then a bold move to draw these activities and initiatives together and examine them side by side and from an urban food system perspective (FAO 2016). The building of an exploratory database such as described in this paper, can then, in itself, be an exercise in reframing socio-economies, unsettling dominant economic narratives and revealing a multiplicity of already existing diverse practices that operate differently and offer the possibility for 'new economic becomings' (Gibson-Graham 2008, 619).


Individually, each of the food sharing initiatives may be easily dismissed as too niche, small scale, local, culturally specific, even esoteric and unproductive to reconfigure urban food systems, let alone lead transformations towards sustainability. However, combined they collectively create a robust dataset of more than 4000 initiatives across 100 cities from which a host of statements about the existence, practice and impact of multiple (including alternative and non-market) forms of exchange in the food sharing arena can be elicited. The database itself now performs a function as a platform not only on which diverse economic practices and their facts are made visible for research, but also where ICT-mediated food sharing initiatives can become visible to one another and connect. Indeed, more than 1767 users have interacted with the database in the first three months since its launch in September 2016.

Reflecting on the procedures of creating a database concerned with emergent and transformed practices has value beyond the specific field of food sharing. It throws into sharp relief important questions for scholars conducting research on other emergent translocal worlds increasingly mediated through digital technologies. This is particularly significant in the drive to undertake research that considers the multiple ways in which technical activities collate assemblages of bodies, devices, language, meanings and understandings across space and time; what Kinsley (2013) refers to as the technics of human-technology interaction.

This paper describes an attempt to conduct the kind of sensitive and nuanced interrogation of contemporary digital geographies that Kinsley (2013) calls for,

particularly by giving space to the social impact of words and the complexities of cultural translation; recognising that words travel around the globe and across time. As the collection of papers edited by Gluck and Lowenhaupt Tsing (2009) reveals, words can change the worlds in which they move, but they are also changed by them. While the words, vocabulary and even grammar around sharing and particular food sharing may not be as provocative as those around security or the hijab, words can also be used to agitate quietly for political change in ways which might less obviously destabilise and disrupt.

Given that ICT-mediated food sharing is an embryonic practice with no fixed definition or known population, the process of constructing the database was necessarily exploratory and creative. Food sharing is not a discrete empirical object; it is something that is emerging through a combination of practice and performance. While the database temporarily fixes food sharing activities, the reality is by no means a stable story. Recognising this, the work involved in creating the database was not only about collation and documentation; it also functioned as a form of outreach to, and collaboration with, sharing communities. This, we argue, is an important precursor to fieldwork that can explore the nuances and contingencies of practising food sharing across contrasting contexts internationally. The process of creative construction then does valuable work rendering visible activities which have to date not been captured collectively under existing empirical or conceptual frameworks and opening up possibilities for translocal comparisons of ICT-mediated urban food sharing.


We would like to thank all those who helped in the development of the SHARECITY100 Database. The research would not have been possible without them and the resources received for the wider SHARECITY project which is funded by a European Research Council Consolidator Grant Scheme. Award number 646883. We would also like to thank Vanesa Castan Broto and David Evans who helped refine our thinking through participation in our Sharing Labs and commenting on earlier drafts of this paper.

1 The internet here refers to the worldwide computer network that can be accessed, for example, via a computer, mobile telephone, personal digital assistant (PDA), games machine or digital TV.

2 Please see The Sharecity100 Database: rch/sharecity100-database/.


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