This series of essays addresses some of the challenges that arise when academics engage in research and other forms of collaboration with food businesses. Assessing what is at stake at the interface between academia and industry, the essays explore the practical, methodological, theoretical, and ethical challenges involved when food researchers engage with commercial partners, assessing whether they risk undermining academic independence and whose interests they serve. This introductory essay is followed by four case studies from the United Kingdom and Portugal, raising questions about why these issues have emerged more sharply in Europe than elsewhere. The essays are followed by a series of commentaries from different perspectives, opening up a debate with which we hope other readers will engage.
In a funding environment where commercial collaboration and “user engagement” are increasingly encouraged, this paper explores the ethical, political, and methodological challenges of various forms of partnership between academic researchers and food businesses. Drawing on two recently completed projects, the paper assesses the variable “power-geometry” of such partnerships, including the process of negotiating access, securing informed consent, and conducting and disseminating the research. The paper distinguishes between publicly funded academic research, where independence is more easily maintained, and market research and consultancy, where conflicts of interest are more likely to arise. Commercial collaboration is academically valuable in providing access to data and insights that are not publicly available, but can be treacherous if researchers are unaware of the uneven power-geometry of such partnerships.