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Laura Parsons

De Montfort University

Thesis title:

The Practice and Value of Hidden Culture - Commensality, Community and Identity in the City of Leicester

The hegemonic use of economic models to measure the impact of the cultural economy represents both a philosophical and methodological deficit which does not adequately capture the rich value in tacit, symbolic, and intrinsic cultural forms. Institutional culture and the majority of cultural research is focused around “high” arts, which receive significant public funding but are accessed by a narrow audience, unrepresentative of the wider UK population (Warwick Commission, 2015). There is, as yet, no common usage of the term ‘hidden culture’ within culture scholarship, but there is evidence that some culture remains in a hidden state. The idiosyncratic nature of cultural objects and activities which predominantly occur in the domestic or community spheres means that their value is frequently overlooked and even sometimes appropriated by the mainstream. 

My research, which draws on interdisciplinary literature but instrumentalises a sociological approach to cultural value, seeks more nuanced measuring tools for valorising cultural activity, and documents innovative methods for capturing value in diverse forms. This case study of hidden culture in Leicester centres around food, firstly as a legitimate and universally practiced cultural form in itself, emblematic of identity, collective values, memory and power structures, but also to open up analogous systems of meaning and associated cultural activities. Understanding food practices builds a picture of the significance of relationships and social networks, common narrative threads in communities, and the importance of certain events and rituals. 

Data gathering encompasses cook-alongs and shop-alongs, a situated phenomenological method of interviewing which gives insight into the lifeworld of the individual, including memories, intentions and emotions. Additionally, I am undertaking ethnography in a community kitchen in a deprived ward of Leicester, cooking meals for those who are affected by the current COVID crisis. This offers rich data concerning community dynamics and relationships. These findings build on much existing cultural research which uses Pierre Bourdieu’s framework of field, habitus, and embodiment by acknowledging the power relations which legitimise certain cultural forms while also gaining deeper insight into individual experiences of culture. 

A hidden culture approach which encourages understanding of unique individual experiences of culture centres the question of cultural relevance and value, with the aim of adding to the base of knowledge around cultural participation and providing new data for alternative community culture models. By gaining insight into the lives of Leicester residents, this data can give voice to local peoples’ needs, priorities and concerns, while equipping local leaders with an enhanced understanding of discrete communities in the city. 

Research Area


Parsons, L. and Granger, R. (2020), Problematising Hidden Culture in Granger, R (ed.), 2020, Value Construction in the Creative Economy. Palgrave MacMillan. 


Early Career Writer's Workshop at Urban Creativity - Lund, May 2019

Hosted session ‘Hidden Culture in the City’ at Royal Geographical society - London, August 2019

CAMEO Conference - Leicester, September 2019

Rethinking, Resisting and Reimagining the Creative City Conference - UWE, Bristol, September 2019 

Other Research Interests

Local Government; Cultural Policy; Food Culture; Phenomenology; Citizen Science