The visible hands: An ethnographic inquiry into the emergence of food collectives as a social practice for exchange

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


Motivated by an observation that new forms of organizing and alternative practices for exchange increasingly transpire outside formal organizations, this doctoral dissertation adopts a social practice approach to study how food collectives emerged as a new practice for exchange. In doing so it challenges the dominance of markets as the focal explanatory concept of economic organization and shifts attention from organization as an entity to organization as emergent order. In studying the emergence of a new social practice, the dissertation draws on extensive, indepth ethnographic fieldwork on Finnish food collectives conducted during 2010-2017. Foodcollectives comprise of groups of households that collectively procure local and organic food directly from farmers and other suppliers and distribute it among the participating members. The data originate from participant and non-participant observation, interviews, meetings, social media discussions, documents, and archival material. The empirical findings of the dissertation suggest that the emergence of food collectives as a new practice for exchange was predominantly a tactical rather than discursive accomplishment requiring people to invent their ways of doing while engaging in a bundle of activities andcontinuously re-connecting different elements, including materiality, temporality, meanings,and embodied skills that were in constant flux (Essay 1). The findings further point towardstemporal and moral ordering effects of emerging social practices. The study identifies rhythmic qualities that enable people to sustain their food collective’s web of practices (Essay 2) and evaluative work that anchors common values in food collectives’ practices (Essay 3). Capitalizing on four distinct practice theoretical approaches this study advances organizational scholarship, particularly the emerging body of literature examining alternative forms of economic organizing, and contributes to practice theory. The study finds that in order toemerge, new social practices not only involve new ways of knowing and doing, but also require people to unlearn dominant ways of knowing and doing. The study brings further attention to a web of practices and shows how social practices emerge by transforming interactional orders of existing practices and by re-connecting them in new ways. The study also raises important questions on the relationship between people and practices and offers methodological guidance for studying phenomena on emergence. As the market economy is being increasingly contested at grassroots, the challenge for policymakers is to understand and better acknowledge the role of alternative forms of economic organizing in the transformation towards a more sustainable economic system.
Translated title of the contributionThe visible hands: An ethnographic inquiry into the emergence of food collectives as a social practice for exchange
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Granqvist, Nina, Supervising Professor
  • Räsänen, Keijo, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-8167-0
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-8167-7
Publication statusPublished - 2018
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • social practice
  • alternative organization
  • food collectives
  • practice emergence
  • economic exchange
  • ethnography
  • organization studies


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