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Lining up for charity: A study of the social organization and communal qualities of breadlines in a Finnish city

Anna Sofia Salonen (University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Article publication date: 11 April 2017




Recent decades have witnessed a rise in food charity provided by faith-based and other charitable agencies. Previous research has noted that besides material assistance, these occasions provide a social and communal event for many participants. The purpose of this paper is to examine this notion by exploring how the social organization of breadlines contributes to the social relationships between the food recipients and their experiences of these places as communities, and what qualities these communities eventually develop.


The study is based on ethnographic data from four breadlines in one Finnish city. The study approaches the breadlines as queues, that is, social systems that govern waiting, mutual order and access.


The social organization of queue practices mirrors the users’ experiences of the breadlines as communities with many concurrent faces: as communities of mutual surveillance and as demanding communities that call for skills and resources from the participants, as well as socially significant communities. The findings show how the practices of organizing charitable assistance influence the complex social relationships between charitable giver and recipient, and how the food recipients accommodate themselves to the situations and social roles available on a given occasion.


Analysing breadlines as queues and using qualitative data from the everyday assistance events gives voice to the experiences of food charity recipients and allows a more nuanced picture to be painted of the breadline communities than studies based merely on surveys or interviews.



Salonen, A.S. (2017), "Lining up for charity: A study of the social organization and communal qualities of breadlines in a Finnish city", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 37 No. 3/4, pp. 218-230.



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