In a funding environment where commercial collaboration and “user engagement” are increasingly encouraged, this paper explores the ethical, political, and methodological challenges of various forms of partnership between academic researchers and food businesses. Drawing on two recently completed projects, the paper assesses the variable “power-geometry” of such partnerships, including the process of negotiating access, securing informed consent, and conducting and disseminating the research. The paper distinguishes between publicly funded academic research, where independence is more easily maintained, and market research and consultancy, where conflicts of interest are more likely to arise. Commercial collaboration is academically valuable in providing access to data and insights that are not publicly available, but can be treacherous if researchers are unaware of the uneven power-geometry of such partnerships.
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