Dr David Watts
Dr David Watts

Dr David Watts

BA, MSc, PhD, FHEA. Member of the British Sociological Association

Research Fellow


Room 4.044, Rowett Institute, Foresterhill, Aberdeen, AB25 2ZD


I am a social scientist and historian and have been based in the Rowett Institute since early 2018. As Principal Investigator, I lead Government-funded research into food insecurity in Scotland, 'alternative' food networks, and the relationship between eating practices and socio-economic context. More information about my work can be found in the 'research' and 'publications' tabs. In 2017, I was elected as the first academic trade union nominee to the Court (governing body) of the University of Aberdeen. In March 2021 I became a UCU appointed director of the Universities Superannuation Scheme.

Memberships and Affiliations

Internal Memberships

Member of the Court (governing body) of the University of Aberdeen (2017-20)

Member of Policy and Resources Committee (2018-20)

Elected member of Senate for the School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition (2018-20)

External Memberships

UCU appointed director of the Universities Superannuation Scheme


Research Overview

My research explores intersections of economy, society and culture. It does so primarily through our relationships with food.

This research interest takes a number of forms. I am interested in: food insecurity and how it can be tackled; how economic circumstances and food consumption practices are linked; how consumers and producers construct, materially and conceptually, 'alternative' economic networks, both now and in the past. This work is informed by cultural political economy, and I am currently working on how this perspective can be applied to smaller and micro-scales though an engagement with the work of Max Weber and Pierre Bourdieu.

I am also interested in the social construction of technologies, professional knowledges and practices. This is manifested in work that examines: the cultural construction of hunting and 'peripheral' rural areas; the historical social definition of network industries (specifically railways); and the development of specialist forms of practice (e.g. meat inspectors, marketers), which draws on Michel Foucault's work on the development of specialist bodies of knowledge.

Research Specialisms

  • History
  • Social Sciences
  • Food and Beverage Studies

Our research specialisms are based on the Higher Education Classification of Subjects (HECoS) which is HESA open data, published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence.

Current Research

Food Insecurity in Scotland (2016-22, PI)
This research is funded by the Scottish Government's Environment, Agriculture and Food Strategic Research Programme. It has two main components:
1. A qualitative exploration of the lived experience of food insecurity, drawing on the experiences of people who declared themselves, in the Scottish Health Survey, to have suffered some form of food insecurity over the previous twelve months.
2. The development and testing of research instruments to evaluate the impact of holiday programmes on reducing childhood food insecurity.

Local Food (2016-22, PI)
This research is funded by the Scottish Government's Environment, Agriculture and Food Strategic Research Programme. It has two main objectives:
1. To generate new insights, through a large-scale survey, of the activities of and links between small and medium-sized food growing, processing and retailing enterprises, with a particular focus on the investigation of their involvement (or not) in 'alternative' food networks.
2. To build on the survey by examining the development, in real time, of new forms of food enterprise networking.

Healthy food practices and their socio-economic context (2018-20, PI)
Previous work by colleagues in the Rowett Institute identified, from analysis of data from the National Diet & Nutrition Survey (NDNS), that about ten per cent of people on low incomes eat significantly healthier diets than others in similar economic circumstances. This project is conducting qualitative research with opted-in NDNS respondents in order to improve our understanding of the social and cultural factors that enable people on modest incomes to eat a healthy diet.


PhD projects

Bill Strachan (p/t), A History of Meat Inspection in the UK, 1904-2004 (2017-22). Co-supervised with Dr Ben Marsden (History). Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (through the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science) and the Association of Meat Inspectors (1+3 Collaborative Studentship).

Completed PhD projects

Lucy Sam, An Investigation of Domestic Food Practices and Routines and their Determinants (2016-20). Co-supervised with Prof. Jennie Macdiarmid (Rowett Institute) and Dr Tony Craig (James Hutton Institute). Funded by the Rowett Institute. Lucy's thesis was sustained in March 2021.

Giles O’Donovan (p/t), Re-thinking Food Security and Food Governance, with special reference to horticulture (2015-20). Supervised with Prof. Deb Roberts (James Hutton Institute & University of Aberdeen Business School). Giles's thesis was sustained in November 2020.

Ramona Statache, Business social media use by remote rural micro tourism enterprises in the Scottish Highlands. Supervised with Dr Rachel Shanks (Education) and Dr Mark Beecroft (Engineering). Ramona's thesis was sustained in December 2019.

Dr Stoyka Chipchakova, Addressing food security by controlling the risk of food poisoning: a case study of listeriosis in the Scottish smoked salmon industry. Co-supervised with Profs Norval Strachan (Physics) and Ken Forbes (Medical Sciences). Stoyka graduated in November 2018.

Dr Annabelle McLaren-Thomson, Small tourism businesses in rural Scotland: Exploring owner-managers’ understandings of social sustainability. Co-supervised with Professor Colin Hunter (University of St Andrews). Annabelle graduated (from St Andrews) in November 2016.

Funding and Grants

Previous research funding

Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research Institutes (SEFARI) Gateway and Highlands and Islands Enterprise Fellowship (2020). The outcome of this award is a Report on the Potential for the Highlands and Islands to be Involved in the Arctic Foods Innovation Cluster.

Understanding consumers’ food choices in Scotland (2015-16, PI), funded by the Scottish Government's Environment, Agriculture and Food Strategic Research Programme.
This project used Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of habitus to analyse the meanings ascribed to food by consumers and how these link to habitual food consumption patterns. Data were gathered using qualitative interviews and by respondents keeping food purchase and consumption diaries.

Consumers’ attitudes towards plant-derived proteins as an alternative to meat (2015-16, Co-I), funded by the Scottish Government.
This work used focus groups to explore people’s willingness to reduce meat consumption by replacing some of it with plant-derived proteins. It was part of a larger project that sought new ways of reducing meat consumption.

The cultural political economy of co-operation in Britain: an historical geography perspective (2013, PI). The work was funded by the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, with in-kind support from the University of Aberdeen.

Visiting Scholarship (2012) at the Ruralia Institute, Seinäjoki Unit, University of Helsinki (Finland).


Teaching Responsibilities

Although I have worked primarily in research since joining the Rowett Institute in 2018, I continue to take an active interest in pedagogy. My most recent course coordination responsibilities were: Worlds of Food, a popular interdisciplinary course open to all third and fourth year undergarduate students regardless of degree intention; and The Scientific Revolution and the Origins of Modern Science (level 1 undergraduate course).

My teaching work has included:

Design and coordination of two innovative inter-disciplinary courses (Worlds of Food and Globalisation) for Honours level (levels 3 and 4) undergraduates

Supervision of postgraduate and undergraduate dissertation projects

Design and delivery of a Senior Honours (level 4) course Geographies of Food

Design and coordination of a Junior Honours (level 3) course Concepts in Human Geography

Coordination of level 2 course Space, Economy and Society

Lecturing and small-group teaching at level 1

I also led a review of sub-Honours teaching in human geography and was interim Exams Officer in 2016


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Chapters in Books, Reports and Conference Proceedings

Contributions to Conferences

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