PhD thesis defended, with the permission of the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry of the University of Helsinki, on 15 September 2017, under the supervision of Dr. Leena Lankoski.
Abstract. This doctoral dissertation examines the phenomenon of alternative food networks (AFNs) from the perspective of food system sustainability. AFNs are seen as a promising response to the sustainability issues associated with the conventional food system, but have also attracted criticism. Criticisms include uncertainty over AFNs’ actual sustainability impacts; arguments that many AFNs are hybrid rather than purely alternative; and that their impact on food system sustainability is limited, due to their marginal position. In this dissertation, comprising three original research articles and an introductory section, I explore the above-mentioned criticisms to advance understanding of AFNs’ sustainability. I seek to i) understand what sustainability claims we can make for AFNs based on their characteristics, ii) to develop understanding of AFNs’ hybrid nature and their complex relationship to the conventional food system through empirically examining the negotiation of acceptable practice in AFNs; and iii) understand how this negotiation can be understood to drive wider food system sustainability transitions by shaping norms. The main theoretical framework used is convention theory. This theory examines the deployment of different notions of worth in coordinating economic activity, as actors navigate in different situations, and shape these situations through their negotiation of acceptable practices. I also apply convention theory to the framework of sustainability transitions, to frame the examination of norm-shaping within the niche of AFNs. The empirical focus of this study is an often-overlooked AFN actor, alternative food retailers, involving a qualitative, multiple case study research covering nine cases of alternative food retail in Finland and the UK. My findings suggest that AFNs may potentially contribute to sustainability, but their sustainability should be critically assessed on a caseby-case basis. The findings also suggest a plurality of shared ideals in the domain of AFNs and several areas of tension in AFN practice that AFN actors must navigate. In doing this, the actors may also shape the norms and ideals in the sector. The conceptual examination contributes a clarified overview of AFNs’ potential sustainability impacts and limitations, and provides a practical framework to assess different food networks’ sustainability. The empirical analysis challenges certain underlying assumptions in the previous literature, and contributes a new understanding of AFNs’ hybridity, its causes and consequences, and the challenges involved in adopting sustainable practices. The analysis can help practitioners understand consumer considerations, and opportunities and obstacles to more sustainable practices. It also deepens the understanding of how new norms are negotiated in the sector, and suggests an alternative view of AFNs’ potential to drive change, besides scaling up and gaining a larger share of the food market. It uncovers the deeper ideals that the alternative food retailers promote, and how these are different from or similar to conventional food system norms and ideals. This understanding can also help practitioners in their norm-shaping work. Theoretically, the study contributes a more dynamic application of convention theory to agri-food studies. The use of convention theory contributes a new understanding of the human and cultural aspect of sustainability transitions. AFNs are ultimately both more and less than their promise. They are not automatically sustainable, or always purely alternative, but can challenge the conventional food system. Their indirect impact on the wider food system may be greater than suggested by their small size and reach. AFNs operate in a dialogue between different parties, and the general direction of this dialogue is instrumental in shaping what AFNs might be or become, and the achievement of sustainability in AFNs.
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Susana C Esper, Laure Cabantous, Luciano Barin-Cruz & Jean-Pascal Gond (2017)
Organization 24(5), pp. 671-699
Abstract. This article analyses the role of academics in the production and maintenance of alternative organizations within the capitalist system. Empirically, we focus on academics from the University of Buenos Aires who, through the extension programme Facultad Abierta, have supported worker-recuperated enterprises since their emergence in Argentina in the early 2000s. Conceptually, we build on prior studies on worker-recuperated enterprises as well as the ‘critical performativity’ concept that we define as scholars’ subversive interventions that can involve the production of new subjectivities, the constitution of new organizational models and/or the bridging of these models to current social movements. Our results uncover the multiple roles of academics in relation to these three facets and highlight the key interactions of these roles. In so doing, our analysis advances prior studies of worker-recuperated enterprises by clarifying how academics can support alternative organizations while offering a renewed conceptualization of critical performativity as a multifaceted process through which academics and workers interact.
Link to the review
Kolloquium Sozialforschung at University of Lucerne, in autumn semester 2017, offering lectures (in German) based on convention theory.
There is a series of lectures in the field of social research (methods) at University of Lucerne. Three of the six lectures are offered by conventionalists, referring topics to convention theory/applying convention theory. It will take place always on Wednesdays (16.15-17.45) at University of Lucerne (room 4.B54, Frohburgstrasse 3, Lucerne). Lectures are open for the interested public.
11.10.17 Prof. Dr. Regula Leemann (FHWN Basel) : «Die Soziologie der Konventionen in der sozialwissenschaftlich ausgerichteten Bildungsforschung: Methodologische und methodische Überlegungen und Erfahrungen»
15.11.17 Dr. Kenneth Horvath (Universität Luzern) : «Pädagogisches Unterscheidungswissen messen – Herausforderungen einer gegenstandsangemessenen Quantifizierung schulischer Klassifikations- und Bewertungslogiken»
13.12.17 Valeska Cappel (Universität Luzern) : «Health-Apps – Eine Forminvestition in einen digitalen Gesundheitsstatus?»
At the University of Basel the seminar “L’économie des conventions” starts next week.
Die Wirtschaftssoziologie erlebt seit den 1990er Jahren im Kontext von Globalisierung, Neoliberalismus und Finanzkrisen eine Renaissance. Zwar hatten sich bereits die soziologischen Klassiker wie Marx, Weber oder Durkheim intensiv mit wirtschaftlichen Phänomenen auseinandergesetzt. In der Zeit nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg dominierte hingegen eine zumeist stillschweigende Übereinkunft, der zu Folge sich die Soziologie mit der Gesellschaft und die Ökonomie mit der Wirtschaft beschäftigte. Diese Sicht gilt inzwischen als überholt, und heute kommt es immer öfter vor, dass soziologische und ökonomische Ansätze in direkte Konkurrenz zueinander geraten. Vor diesem Hintergrund setzen wir uns mit der «économie des conventions» (oder Konventionen-Ökonomie), einem französischen Ansatz der Wirtschaftssoziologie, auseinander. Mit dem Buch von Rainer Diaz-Bone (2015) liegt erstmals eine deutschsprachige Publikation vor, welche diesen Ansatz umfassend vorstellt. Im deutschsprachigen Raum bereits einigen Jahren bekannt ist die These vom «Neuen Geist des Kapitalismus» (Boltanski & Chiapello 2003), welche aus diesem Ansatz hervorgegangen ist. Die Auseinandersetzung mit der «économie des conventions» ist aus zweifachem Grund von besonderem Interesse: Zum einen, weil der Ansatz von Soziolog*innen und Ökonom*innen gemeinsam entwickelt wurde. Zum anderen, weil er ziemlich andere Wurzeln hat als die dominierenden angelsächsischen Ansätze der Wirtschaftssoziologie: So schlägt sich in den Konzepten der Konventionen-Ökonomie nicht zuletzt die kritische Auseinandersetzung mit so einflussreichen französischen Autoren wie Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu oder Bruno Latour nieder.
David Dequech (2017)
Cambridge Journal of Economics. Online first.
Abstract. This paper applies an institutional approach to contemporary mainstream economics. It identifies some mental and behavioral rules of mainstream economics as a whole and of the mainstream segment of two important subdisciplines, namely, macroeconomics and financial economics. There are social reasons behind the sharing of these rules. They are institutions. More specifically, academics who do not comply with these rules are subject to punishment, while conformists may be rewarded. At the same time, many supporters of mainstream economics have internalized these rules as legitimate, in part because of the prestige of their advocates. Social sanctions and internalization characterize social norms. These institutions are also conventions. Through various mechanisms, some academics follow these rules at least in part because others have done so; in addition, the prevailing rules are not necessarily superior to existing or conceivable alternatives. The combination of social norms and conventions may have negative consequences for the discipline.
Link to the review
Alan Canonica (2017)
Zeitschrift für Unternehmensgeschichte (Journal of Business History), 62(2), pp. 233–255.
English Abstract. Conventions of Occupational Integration. The Employment of Disabled People in Swiss Enterprises (1950 to 1980). Disabled people’s access to the labour market is one of the leading ideas in disability policy. Its success depends on the willingness of employers to employ handicapped people. Both historical and social studies focus on the welfare state or the people in question, while the perspective of the employers is often neglected. Under what conditions are companies willing to employ people whose performance diverges from the common interest to maximise economic output? Switzerland is well suited for a case study, since there are no regulations for employers, such as a quota-system. Incorporating the theory of «économie des conventions», this study investigates how employers’ associations and companies justify employment of disabled people and how these people are valued. The timeframe investigated spans from the immediate post-war period to 1980.
Link to the review
Ismael Al-Amoudi & John Latsis (2017)
41(5), pp. 1303–1321.
Abstract. The Cambridge Social Ontology (CSO) programme’s inability to generate a meaningful dialogue with mainstream economics is difficult to understand by mere reference to judgmental rationality and without reference to CSO’s ideological configuration. Our paper uses an économie des conventions framework to draw systematic comparisons between CSO’s ideological configuration and the ideological configurations of mainstream economic theories and practice. The resulting analysis helps us to understand not only why CSO generated little response from the mainstream, but also how CSO might renew its critique in ways that might be more likely to produce a response.
Link to the pre-print version
Link to the review
Debbie Becher (2017)
Review Essay of « Barman, Emily (2016): Caring Capitalism: The Meaning and Measure of Social Value. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. » Contemporary Sociology 46(5), pp. 521-526 .
Barman’s new Caring Capitalism: The Meaning and Measure of Social Value illustrates how the pursuit of social good through business has become a more capacious activity than previously recognized, embedded in almost every arena of the modern corporate world. She demonstrates how the pursuit of social good has become integral, almost ingrained, across practically all industries and private organizations operating under capitalism today. She makes the point through the book’s three sections. The first covers the least surprising and earliest examples of this kind of activity: nonprofit organizations that self-consciously pursue do-good missions, as an alternative to or directly through market activity. The second part follows those who operate on the outside and attempt to force or nudge for-profit corporations to create social goods (or avoid social bads) by, for instance, labeling consumer goods as “fair trade” or “organic” or by crafting investment priorities around avoiding tobacco and guns. More broadly, these are cases of what is often called private regulation, including early initiatives to enforce “corporate social responsibility” and “socially responsible investing.” The final part of the book puts the most surprising developments on display: for-profit, multi-national corporations of all kinds that are taking on the charge. Here Barman highlights corporations that are being pressured to orient their activities toward the social good. This section includes the mainstreaming of investment evaluations by Bloomberg and colleagues that link social welfare to corporate profit. It also tracks the development of multi-national “inclusive businesses” whose core goals include poverty elimination and community development. Caring Capitalism does not examine what these corporations are actually doing to achieve social goods; instead, the book is focused on how they demonstrate such achievements across practically all corporate fields of activity.
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Agriculture and Human Values. Online first.
Abstract. This article explores the role of conventions in the normalization of cocoa production in Ecuadorian Amazonia. Convention theory provides key theoretical tools for understanding coordination among agents. However, conventions must be understood as cultural constructions with a strong Eurocentric background that must be substantially modified in originally non-European contexts. A creative application of convention theory can partially overcome bifurcation among Western and non-Western rationalities. First, it shows that Western values and forms of coordination are heterogeneous, conflictive and opposing. Second, it provides key insight for understanding the transformation of subaltern subjectivities generated from non-Western rationalities that are closely associated with subjugated knowledges. Third, in applying the concept of compromise, it allows one to understand cognitive hybridization and coordination among indigenous and Western agents and thus the complexities of processes of resistance, subversion and empowerment carried by indigenous communities. This article is focused on how cocoa production in Ecuadorian Amazonia serves as an example of the confluence and coordination of indigenous (using the concept of “Good Living” or Sumak Kawsay) and Western conventions. The assertion of Sumak Kawsay is understood as a relevant transformation of Ecuadorian post-colonial relations. It is shown that relevant industrial upgrading processes are justified by, among others, Sumak Kawsay repertoires. Additionally, dialogue on knowledge and compromise among conventions, and especially concerning Sumak Kawsay and the market, have been key facets shaping the development of a differentiated quality strand that has promoted relevant changes in the subaltern positioning of indigenous farmers in the cocoa commodity chain.
Link to the review