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Social dynamics for sustainable food systems. Actors' orientations towards sustainability in primary production and public consumption.

Mikkola, Minna (2011) Social dynamics for sustainable food systems. Actors' orientations towards sustainability in primary production and public consumption. PhD thesis, University of Helsinki , Ruralia institute. Publications 21. University of Helsinki, Ruralia institute, Helsinki, Finland.

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Document available online at: https://helda.helsinki.fi/bitstream/handle/10138/25945/socialdy.pdf?sequence=3


The modern food system and sustainable development form a conceptual combination that suggests
sustainability defi cits in the ways we deal with food consumption and production - in terms
of economic relations, environmental impacts and nutritional status of western population. This
study explores actors’ orientations towards sustainability by taking into account actors’ embedded
positions within structures of the food system, actors’ economic relations and views about sustainability
as well as their possibilities for progressive activities. The study looks particularly at social
dynamics for sustainability within primary production and public consumption. If actors within
these two worlds were to express converging orientations for sustainability, the system dynamics of
the market would enable more sustainable growth in terms of production dictated by consumption.
The study is based on a constructivist research approach with qualitative text analyses. The data
consisted of three text corpora, the ‘local food corpus’, the ‘catering corpus’ and the ‘mixed corpus’.
The local food actors were interviewed about their economic exchange relations. The caterers’
interviews dealt with their professional identity for sustainability. Finally, the mixed corpus
assembled a dialogue as a participatory research approach, which was applied in order to enable
researcher and caterer learning about the use of organic milk in public catering. The data were
analysed for theoretically conceptualised relations, expressing behavioural patterns in actors’ everyday
work as interpreted by the researcher. The fi ndings were corroborated by the internal and
external communities of food system actors. The interpretations have some validity, although they
only present abstractions of everyday life and its rich, even opaque, fabric of meanings and aims.
The key fi ndings included primary producers’ social skilfulness, which enabled networking with
other actors in very different paths of life, learning in order to promote one’s trade, and trusting
refl ectively in partners in order to extend business. These activities expanded the supply chain in a
spiral fashion by horizontal and vertical forward integration, until large retailers were met for negotiations
on a more equal or ‘other regarding’ basis. This kind of chain level coordination, typically
building around the core of social and partnership relations, was coined as a socially overlaid network.
It supported market access of local farmers, rooted in their farms, who were able to draw on
local capital and labour in promotion of competitive business; the growth was endogenous. These
kinds of chains – one conventional and one organic – were different from the strategic chain, which
was more profi t based and while highly competitive, presented exogenous growth as it depended
on imported capital and local employees. However, the strategic chain offered learning opportunities
and support for the local economy.
The caterers exhibited more or less committed professional identity for sustainability within their
reach. The facilitating and balanced approaches for professional identities dealt successfully with
local and organic food in addition to domestic food, and also imported food. The co-operation with
supply chains created innovative solutions and savings for the business parties to be shared. The
rule-abiding approach for sustainability only made choices among organic supply chains without
extending into co-operation with actors. There were also more complicated and troubled identities
as juggling, critical and delimited approaches for sustainability, with less productive efforts due to
restrictions such as absence of organisational sustainability strategy, weak presence of local and
organic suppliers, limited understanding about sustainability and no organisational resources to
develop changes towards a sustainable food system. Learning in the workplace about food system
reality in terms of supply chain co-operation may prove to be a change engine that leads to advanced
network operations and a more sustainable food system.
The convergence between primary producers and caterers existed to an extent allowing suggestion
that increased clarity about sustainable consumption and production by actors could be approached
using advanced tools. The study looks for introduction of more profound environmental
and socio-economic knowledge through participatory research with supply chain actors in order to
promote more sustainable food systems.

EPrint Type:Thesis
Thesis Type:PhD
Keywords:Finland, iPOPY, catering, organic food
Subjects: Values, standards and certification > Consumer issues
Food systems
Food systems > Policy environments and social economy
Research affiliation: European Union > CORE Organic > iPOPY
Deposited By: Løes, Anne-Kristin
ID Code:18785
Deposited On:16 May 2011 09:20
Last Modified:16 May 2011 09:20
Document Language:English
Refereed:Peer-reviewed and accepted

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