Dr Stephanie Denning

Human Geography Alumni

PhD Researcher in Human Geography (ESRC 1+3)
School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol

Start date: September 2013

Graduation date: February 2019

Research topic: Faith, Volunteering and Holiday Hunger: Questioning Action and Persistence through Affect Theory

UK food poverty has reached unprecedented levels, and faith groups are playing a crucial role in responding to it.  How are people motivated by their faith to respond to food poverty, and how do they persist in volunteering?  This is important to understand if projects relying upon volunteers are to be sustainable.  I explore volunteers’ motivations and persistence in action through affective geographies within non-representational theories.  From Spinoza, an affect operates between bodies and is about the power of a body to act, whilst an affection is about the state of a body and the impact of an affect upon a body.  This research’s focus on faith-based social action contributes to two key themes in the geography of religion: understanding faith as performed in people’s lives, and questioning the role of faith in society.  Using action research and participatory methodologies, over twenty months I established and ran a MakeLunch project in a church.  MakeLunch is a national Christian charity whose projects respond to children’s holiday hunger by providing free lunches.  It is through my own and volunteers’ narratives that I explore how faith motivates action, and how we persisted in volunteering.

I conclude that volunteers’ faith was significant in motivating volunteering, but motivations must be continually re-ignited to avoid in-action.  Three contributions follow.  First, through affect theory, research can go beyond understanding faith as a social construct by highlighting how by virtue of their faith, volunteering can hold more meaning than what is represented in action.  Secondly, from the conceptual emphasis on affection, nuances of reflecting can be discerned and the role of will challenged because volunteers are changed by affections, which in turn affects their future actions.  Thirdly, the combination of affect and affection portrays how there is a continual cycle of motivation, action and reflection in volunteers’ persistence.

Current position:

In your own words and in first person: I am currently a Research Fellow at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University on a three year ESRC funded project ‘Life on the Breadline’ – https://breadlineresearch.coventry.ac.uk – researching Christian responses to UK poverty in the context of austerity.

Research supervisors: Dr J D Dewsbury, Paul Cloke (Exeter)

Professional memberships/Positions held:

Royal Geographical Society with IBG Postgraduate Fellow

Member of SWDTC Participatory Action Research Group


Email: stephanie.denning@coventry.ac.uk

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/stephanie-denning-0a883666/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SJ_Denning

Website/Blog: https://pureportal.coventry.ac.uk/en/persons/stephanie-denning