Dr David Watts

Dr David Watts
Dr David Watts
Dr David Watts


Advanced Research Fellow

Email Address
Office Address

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

School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition


Social scientist and historian based in the Rowett Institute. Principal Investigator on two Government-funded research projects, Building food security in Scotland and Costs and opportunities for Scottish products with higher value status. More information about my work can be found in the 'research' and 'publications' tabs. UCU appointed trustee 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 trustee 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 history of agricultural and food research, policy and researchers; 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

Building food and nutrition security in Scotland (2022-27, PI)
This research is funded by the Scottish Government's Environment, Agriculture and Food Strategic Research Programme

Aim: to provide evidence for, explore and recommend new ways of providing, dignified options for Scotland’s more vulnerable residents to consume healthy food and drink in ways that provide opportunities for Scotland’s food sector to operate in environmentally and financially sustainable ways.


1. Knowledge exchange and co-development of the research

2. Key informant interviews to improve our understanding of food supply chain issues that can exacerbate food insecurity, and of how and why food supply networks develop and adapt in response

3. Literature review of studies of methods that have sought to eradicate the need for food aid

4. Identification of ‘gaps’ / opportunities in Scotland's food aid distribution network that could be filled with healthier and lower-environmental-impact alternatives from Scottish producers

5. Understand what food insecure people actually consume and where healthier and lower-environmental-impact alternatives can be substituted into their diets

6. Evaluate the potential of a mechanism(s) to replace food banks as a primary response to food insecurity


Costs and opportunities for Scottish products with higher value status (2022-27, PI)
This research is funded by the Scottish Government's Scottish Government's Environment, Agriculture and Food Strategic Research Programme.

This project aims to review the costs and opportunities for Scottish products with higher value status. It has three main stages:

1. Systematic literature review of costs and opportunities for food and drink products with higher value status.

2. Identification of Scottish products with higher value status and economic analyses of: their prices and production costs relative to conventional products; how higher-value products differentiate themselves from conventional products and what the trade-offs are. Products will be chosen which: make an important contribution to Scotland’s food exports; encompass a variety of higher-value accreditation and marketing strategies; and/or come from contrasting policy backgrounds (e.g. CAP or non-CAP).

3. Choice experiments will be run to analyse, first, the factors and characteristics that consumers use to guide their preferences and, secondly, their willingness to consume higher value status Scottish food products.

We are producing case studies as the research progresses:

Consumers’ willingness to pay for Specially Selected Pork

Past Research

Food Insecurity in Scotland (2016-22, PI)

This research was funded by the Scottish Government's Environment, Agriculture and Food Strategic Research Programme. It had 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. Interview elicitation of the experiences of staff and volunteers involved in emergency food provisioning for families with school-aged children during Scotland’s Covid-19 lockdowns (click here for a summary of the findings).


Local Food (2016-22, PI)

This research was funded by the Scottish Government's Environment, Agriculture and Food Strategic Research Programme. Its main objective was to generate new insights, through a large-scale survey and follow-up interviews, 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.


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 conducted 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 students

Kieran Fowler (started October 2023). Kieran is studying the healthfulness and sustainability of food practices across the lifecourse of adults in Scotland and is based in the Rowett Institute. I am Kieran's lead supervisor, Dr John McKenzie and Professor Jennie Macdiarmid are co-supervisors.

Ming Gao (started October 2022). Ming is studying synthetic food colours since the late nineteenth century and is based in History. Dr Ben Marsden is Ming's lead supervisor, I am co-spervisor.


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).


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