Meet the researcher...

Updated: Jul 17, 2018

Hello, I've been asked by an online discussion page to introduce myself and say a bit more about why I’m interested in doing research on prepping. So here goes...

My name is Kezia Barker, I work as a geography lecturer at Birkbeck, University of London, where I teach undergraduate and postgraduate modules on environmentalism, cultural attitudes to nature, and environmental security. My PhD research looked at plant biosecurity in New Zealand, focusing on potentially invasive garden plants. I have since done research on the biosecurity surveillance of pests and diseases in New Zealand, written about the management of H1N1 (swine flu) in the UK, and looked at how we imagine future food system options for the UK.

Outside work, having young kids means I don’t get a lot of say over my own time, so weekends tend to be spent riding on miniature steam trains, building dens in the woods and trying to stop small people falling out of trees. My main passion is gardening, and I’m having some success getting the kids interested in this. I have had my current garden for just over 5 years and got my first allotment this January. My husband is a great cook, and we have found that outdoor cooking particularly brings together all the different things our family loves. OK this is England, but we still cook and eat outside every vaguely sunny weekend.

I have always been interested in the outdoors and environmental issues, going on summer camps, youth hosteling with the Woodcraft Folk and hiking and climbing throughout my childhood and teenage years. A particular highlight was two weeks hiking in the Himalayas the summer I finished school.

Before kids I lived on a canal boat for 10 years. It was a lifestyle that allowed me to be more connected to my use of resources. It taught me to be a bit more practical, to plan ahead and have back-ups for when things go wrong. Sadly, I moved off and sold the boat after having my first child, but it left me with an awareness, appreciation and unease of all the on-tap services I have come to depend on in our house.

I first heard about prepping from a friend I made during my second maternity leave, within a group of new mums from the local area who connected on a social media platform. We went on a basket weaving course together, and she was the one mum who didn’t rib me at a group lunch when I revealed I had asked for an axe for Christmas - just in case I finally managed to take up spoon carving (still hasn’t happened). We were instant messaging whilst watching The Handmaid’s Tale, during the scene where the main character tries to escape on foot carrying her child through a wooded area. We both messaged that it was stressful to watch, and she wrote something tongue in cheek along the lines of “– have added ‘must be able to run whilst carrying small child’ to my list of zombie apocalypse preps”. Then after a mum’s night out she showed me her BOB - that had been hanging downstairs unnoticed all those times I had been over for a cup of tea.

I felt immediately drawn to a practice and identity that refuses to ignore vulnerability to environmental crisis – amongst other threats – unlike much of society; and takes responsibility for developing skills and knowledge that seem to involve a reconnection to the environment, especially in times of threat. I wondered about the similarities and differences with other movements like Transition Town, forest schools, bushcraft, and even the interwar and post-war frugal resourcefulness.

I started googling and reading online, looking at prepper websites and online videos, and searching for academic and media research on prepping. What stood out immediately was that much of the research is focused on the US, with little on prepping in the UK. There is also more looking at online spaces either covertly or openly, and less that actually gathers opinions or testimonies from preppers through surveys or interviews, usually due to the difficulties of gaining access.

I have been lucky enough to be given some time off from teaching, and funding via my university from a Wellcome Trust fund earmarked for researchers coming back to work after career gaps (in my case for maternity leave). This has allowed me to hire an excellent postdoc researcher, who is working with me for two days a week for the next year. We have started doing what most new preppers seem to begin with – an enormous amount of reading and learning. This is being done to help us learn and understand how to prep, what skills and information are prioritised, how these are taught and shared, how issues are discussed. We are not gathering particular comments as data or following individuals, and no person or group will be identifiable from the research unless they are a public figure who explicitly requests to be so. What we are attending to are themes, significance, trying to understand what is and isn’t important, in order to inform the next stage of research. I’m going to be slowly starting to begin my own preps and try to learn some of the skills that seem important – I’m going on a foraging course next week to learn about identifying and cooking edible plants in my local area.

There is only so much we can understand this way, and so the next step is to undertake a questionnaire to give an overview of the structure of prepping in the UK and pick out trends, and begin interviews with preppers. These are of course ‘opt-in’ only, and participants are reminded that they can refuse to answer any question. We will protect the anonymity, confidentiality and privacy of participants, ensuring that no identifying details can be traced through any resulting outputs.

We hope through the research to produce a more nuanced and accurate picture of prepping in the UK. We expect the research to open up critical questions about our responsibilities for survival in times of environmental crisis, and to show how developing individual resourcefulness through prepping offers alternatives to our modern, packaged, isolating and just-in-time society.

Please feel free to comment after reading this post. As this is a research website, please note that any comments made may be included in the research. Do not share your name or any identifying details. Your anonymity will be protected in any research publications.

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