Research
Our research investigates the becoming of sustainable economies in multiple contexts. We build on process philosophy and focus on understanding the enactors, enactments, and enablers—as well as their relations—relevant for a sustainable economy. Read more here about our ongoing research project.
Skills of self-provisioning in rural communities (SOS)

Reducing the vulnerability of the agricultural system is an imperative for humankind. In sustainability studies, local food production is considered an important strategy in this task. The present study investigates the skills needed and practices of food self-provisioning, as well as the prerequisites for the construction of such skills.

Empirical insights are gained from two case studies:

  • a municipality with an official resilience agenda and
  • an ecovillage running a self-sufficiency institute.

By comparing the results from these case studies, the research project will identify and analyse the focal skills and practices relevant for sustainable change.

About the project
Skills of self-provisioning in rural communities

Duration: 1 September 2021 - 31 August 2024

Funded by: Academy of Finland

Principal investigator: Pasi Heikkurinen (DSc), University of Helsinki

Contact: pasi.heikkurinen@helsinki.fi

 

 

From the perspective of socio-ecological resilience, local provision of goods and services is claimed as an effective strategy to contribute to sustainability. Growing one’s own food, in particular, entails an enhanced ability to cope in times of crises through securing a source of nutrition.

Due to its small-scale, the phenomenon of food self-provisioning seldom requires clear cutting of forests, mining for rare minerals, development of new chemicals, and resource intensive transportation infrastructure on a similar scale to the global economy. On the other hand, the space-specificity makes self-provisioning rather exposed to stochastic events (such as fires, floods, storms, and diseases) unless several sources of inputs, sites for growing and supply, ways to process, and channels for distribution are utilized.

Moreover, food self-provisioning is strongly interlinked with other concerns of sustainability at the community level, such as energy production, housing, commuting, livelihoods, services, and demographics. By focusing on food self-provisioning, this research project will detect and unravel critical interdependencies between local food self-provisioning and other crucial aspects of community resilience.

The aim of this study is to conceptualise and analyse the skills that underpin food self-provisioning and investigate how such skills emerge, diffuse and disappear within and between social practices.

The study will advance the understanding of skills as a key to sustainable change by examining them through the relational lens. This lens is important for its ability to connect the often separately treated units of analysis, namely the individual and structure, as well as to link social and ecological processes relevant to sustainability.

Our study focuses on the skills of local food production and consumption from a practice-theoretical
perspective in the context of Finnish rural communities.

By skills of food selfprovisioning, we refer to those practical understandings, which have a significant role in the emergence, diffusion and performance of growing, eating and distributing foodstuff locally. We investigate skills through two in-depth case studies with an objective of answering the following six research questions:

  1. How can we conceptualise skills drawing on theories of social practice and other relevant relational theories?
  2. What kinds of social skills can be identified as central in self-provisioning communities? How do social skills manifest between community members? What is the role of these skills in the successful performance of practices?
  3. What kinds of skills exist in relation to technologies, infrastructures, nature and other nonhuman entities? What obstacles are involved in the processes of learning these skills and how to remove them?
  4. What kinds of patterns of emergence, diffusion and disappearance of skills can be identified in and between communities? And related, how do focal skills change over time and place?
  5. How do skills of self-provisioning communities relate to different dynamics of national and intergovernmental policy?
  6. What solutions can be found to support, deepen and promote the skills of self-provisioning? For example, how can the skills be enhanced by collaboration between communities?

The study is divided into four work packages. Work Package 1 and Work Package 2 have their theoretical and empirical focus on the skills of self-provisioning in the intra-organizational context, while Work Package 3 focuses on the change trajectories of skills.

In addition to spatial situatedness, each of the work packages have a three-part temporal interest in the phenomenon: the past, the present, and the future. Work Package 4 will synthesize the work with a focus on the political implications of the findings of Work Packages 1-3.

Work packages

Work Package 1: Social aspects of skills (addressing research questions 1 and 2).

The first Work Package will investigate skillful human-tohuman interaction in the context of local food production. It asks what kinds of social skills

  • were supportive in the beginning of the organization,
  • are now considered to be essential, and
  • are expected to be necessary in the future to enable local food production?

The changing interactions between producers and consumers are commonly viewed as central components of local food systems. That is, unlike the global food system, the production of local food is embedded in more tightly-knit (and often personal) relations that take place, for example, between professional farmers, neighbors, local entrepreneurs, co-op members, collective workers, clients, students and teachers. These relations can enable the development of skills in self-provisioning but, in the case of interest or value conflicts and group divisions, for example, social relations can also be a barrier to the development of such skills.

Consequently, social relations emerge as an important precondition, and pathway, for an organization that pursues self-provisioning. Thus, Work Package 1 scrutinizes growing food locally as a relational challenge that requires skillful negotiations between actors and actor-groups on numerous issues, including the perception and shaping of interest and opportunity structures, diversity and congruence of value-commitments, social and personal goals, priorities and roles. Work Package 1 critically examines the preconditions of successful negotiations, as well as relational conflicts, that may potentially threaten local food production in the case organizations.

Work Package 2: Skills and object relations (addressing research questions 1 and 3).

This Work Package will examine skillful interaction between practitioners and the material element of practices. The focus of the inquiry is on the questions:

How have practitioners in local food production related to the material world

  • in the past
  • in the present (as practices have evolved); what kinds of human-nonhuman interactions are conceivable
  • in the future

A theoretical starting point for the Work Package is perceiving practitioners and material objects tightly interwoven in webs of interdependencies. In the production of edibles, this relationality is rather obvious as humans have to utilize nonhumans for food production. Humans, however, are not the only active participants to take part in food production, as there are countless nonhuman objects involved in the process (e.g., supply infrastructures, agricultural land and technologies, the natural world). In locally embedded production, skillfulness is not defined only by the quantity of produced food, but based also on how goods are produced, including considerations on the condition of the soil and biodiversity.

Thus, Work Package 2 investigates how the focal skills of self-provisioning are understood not only as human ‘possession’, but as something unfolding as a consequence of the interaction and cooperation between humans and non-humans. The empirical focus will be on cultivation to take a closer look at the context-dependent techniques and understandings about certain bioregion and its placespecific qualities.

Work Package 3: Change trajectories (addressing research questions 1 and 4).

This Work Package will dissect how skills of food selfprovisioning change over time and across space. It studies how skills appear in/to communities, move and diffuse in time and place, and become useless. Work Package 3 collects the key observations from Work Packages 1-2 and organizes the findings along a spatiotemporal analysis.

The intention is to map the development trajectories and (dis)continuities of essential skills and skill-sets in the overall context of resilience. This includes cross-comparison between the two cases to detect patterns in emerging skill requirements, conducive contexts for the development and dissemination of skill-sets instead of recourse, e.g., to mere techno-scientific rationality, as well as possible (dis)continuities or disappearances along the development paths.

Thus, the WP will address questions concerning the spatiotemporal conditions, and sensitivities, for the emergence and stabilization of skills of selfprovisioning, as well as the potential for supporting the development and diffusion of skills. How and why do certain skills emerge as focal in certain contexts but not necessarily in others? Why do some skill-sets transfer successfully (in time and space), while others become dormant, lose their relevance and perhaps eventually even disappear?

Work Package 4: Synthesis and policy implications (addressing research questions 5 and 6).

Work Package 4 will collect the key observations from Work Packages 1-3 and will synthesize the conceptualization of skills of food production as embedded in socio-political fabric. Local food production is in a dynamic relationship with the society surrounding the organization at issue. Moreover, organizations aiming at self-provisioning and sustainability need to resist and adapt to policies and regulations that might either hinder or facilitate their activities.

Drawing on the Work Packages 1-3, Work Package 4 will describe how local organizations respond to socio-political obstacles and incentives affecting their aims, as well as identify what kinds of skills could support these interactions. In addition to synthesizing the findings on skills of self-provisioning vis-a-vis societal changes, this Work Package will recommend policies and steering mechanisms for supporting the development of skills needed for sustainability at the communal level based on the analysed data and obtained understanding of factors that are enacted in food self-provisioning.

Case descriptions

Omavaraopisto is a combination of a pedagogical self-sufficiency institute and an ecovillage, located in the deep countryside in Eastern Finland. The purpose of the newly established school is to provide a broad range of knowledge and guidance for people interested in self-sufficient and artisanal way of life; a key focus is on practices related to food production, and also vis-à-vis their interdependencies regarding production technologies, energy consumption, infrastructure, building practices and socio-ecological sustainability.  

Students interested in such skills of sufficiency are invited to join the school for a fixed period of time (e.g., a six-month program) and then to take the lessons learnt back to their own communities. The pedagogical program with the first students started in spring 2021. In terms of the developed skills, local food in this case is interestingly produced by using manual labor without the help of machinery (e.g. power tools) and animals in order to minimize individual work-load and the impact on ecosystems.

Sodankylä is the second largest municipality in Finland (with a total surface area of 12 415,40 km2), located in the Northernmost province of Lapland, with a population of 8 444 inhabitants living in villages of various sizes scattered throughout the municipality. The municipality has a well-established strategy in pursuing self-provisioning and sustainability in food production - and across municipal functions more generally. Consecutive municipal strategies have highlighted the values of environmental, social and economic sustainability in the development of municipality’s economic sectors and functions.

A prime example of such development is the innovation and reorganization of the municipal food services along the principles of locally grounded socio-ecological sufficiency and sustainability. The municipal central kitchen, which prepares all municipal meals (c. 1500 lunches per day), now sources its ingredients from local producers, via deliberate splitting of the procurement into sufficiently small offers for local small-producers; instead of semi-finished products, the kitchen uses local unprocessed raw ingredients and prepares all food components on the spot. The concept saves energy, costs and environment. The concept of the food services also ties in with municipality’s overall strategy to reduce external resource dependency and to pursue resilience and circular economy principles at the municipal level, e.g., in terms of energy production, utilization of raw materials, side streams and natural resources, as well as ecological housing and commuting solutions.

Important initiatives around these themes are the project to design and build a new carbon-neutral, circular economy -oriented district heating platform that is integrated with the material flows of local food production (https://www.luke.fi/en/projektit/sodankyla/), and public discussions concerning the planning and implementation of a novel smart arctic village with ecological housing and commuting solutions (e.g., https://arctic2020.fi/en/).

Researchers and collaborators

The researchers of the project are

  • Pasi Heikkurinen (DSc), Principal Investigator, work package 4 Leader. Heikkurinen's research profile in the UH People Finder

    Heikkurinen is a University Lecturer at the University of Helsinki; Visiting Lecturer at the University of Leeds; and Docent in Sustainability and Organizations at Aalto University.

 

 

 

 

  • One postdoctoral researcher
  • Two postgraduate researchers

Collaborators of the project include

  • Fredrik Albritton Jonsson, Associate Professor of British History, Conceptual and Historical
    Studies of Science, and the College at the University of Chicago, as well as the Director of
    Nicholson Center for British Studies.
  • Steffen Boehm, Professor of Organization & Sustainability and Director of the Sustainability &
    Circular Economy Research Cluster at the University of Exeter Business School.
  • Vincent Blok, Associate Professor in Sustainable Entrepreneurship, Business Ethics and
    responsible innovation at the Management Studies Chair Group, and Associate Professor in
    Philosophy of Management, Technology & Innovation at the Philosophy Chair Group,
    Wageningen University.
  • Juha Helenius, Professor of Agroecology at the Department of Agricultural Sciences and
    Ruralia Institute, University of Helsinki.
  • Jouni Paavola, Professor of Environmental Social Science in the School of Earth and
    Environment and Director of the ESRC funded Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy
    (CCCEP) in Leeds.
  • Claire Waterton, Professor of Sociology and director of the Centre for the Study of
    Environmental Change at Lancaster University.
  • Kari Mikko Vesala, Lecturer of Social Psychology at the University of Helsinki, Faculty of
    Social Sciences. Vesala is the leader of the research group Social Psychology of Agency and
    Entrepreneurship.
  • Hilkka Vihinen is Research Professor at the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), and
    Vice Chair of the Finnish Rural Policy Committee (MaNe).
  • Lasse Nordlund, founder of Valtimo Self-Sufficiency Institute (Omavaraopisto).
  • Jukka Lokka, Development Director of Sodankylä Municipality.
Scientific Advisory Panel

Members of the Scientific Advisory Board

  • Professor Silvia Gherardi, University of Trento
  • Emeritus Professor Timothy Ingold, University of Aberdeen
  • Research Professor Hilkka Vihinen, Natural Resources Institute Finland

The Scientific Advisory Panel will meet with the project work package leaders once a year.