Project

Post-growth work and livelihoods in the global North

Goal: This is a postdoctoral project funded by Kone Foundation, Maj and Tor Nessling Foundation and Foundation for Economic Education. The full title of the application is: Social entrepreneurship for post-growth societies in the global North: An ethnographic participatory study of self-employment practices for ecologically and socially just world.

Abstract: This study focuses on exploring activities related to gaining a livelihood when aiming for an ecologically and socially just world. In the wake of changes in contemporary working life, such practices are attached to self-employment (entrepreneurship) and at times to ‘social entrepreneurship’. This multi-sited ethnographic study aims to understand the paradoxes related to self-employment for and in post-growth societies. The contributions of this study relate to rethinking the notion of entrepreneurship and raising awareness of alternative forms of economic activities in the Global North.

Keywords: Ethnography; institutional ethnography; participatory methods; visual ethnography; practice theories; post-growth; degrowth; self-employment; ecofeminism.

Methods: Ethnography, Participant Observation, Participatory Research, Video Recording

Date: 1 January 2017 - 1 October 2022

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Project log

Eeva Houtbeckers
added a research item
Tarkastelemme artikkelissamme, miten työelämän ja ympäristökysymysten yhtymäpintoja on kuvattu Kansainvälisen työjärjestö ILO:n vihreän työn raporteissa. Esitämme, että raporteissa on käyttökelpoisia jäsennyksiä siitä, miten työelämän teemat ja ympäristökysymykset nivoutuvat yhteen. Listaamme ILO:n julkisesti verkossa saatavilla olevat vihreän työn raportit ja kuvaamme, millaisista teemoista raporteissa on kirjoitettu. Keskitymme tarkemmin kahteen keskeiseen raporteissa esille nousevaan teemaan: (1) ilmastonmuutoksen ja (2) kestävyyssiirtymän vaikutuksiin työhön ja työllisyyteen. Tarkastelemme vihreän työn raportteja tukeutuen aikaisemmassa tutkimuksessa tunnistettuun eroon heikon ja vahvan kestävyysajattelun välillä. Lisäksi esitämme, että raporttien teemoihin perehtyminen antaa työelämän tutkijoille ja kehittäjille välineitä oikeudenmukaisen siirtymän ymmärtämiseksi ja edistämiseksi. Johtopäätöksenä esitämme, että työelämän tutkimusta ja kehittämistä tulisi yhä enemmän tarkastella paitsi ylikansallisen myös ylisukupolvisen reiluuden sekä lajien välisen oikeudenmukaisuuden näkökulmista.
Eeva Houtbeckers
added an update
Hi!
Research communication is so important. I developed my website to better reflect my research and expertise: https://eevahoutbeckers.fi
New features
It was fun to work on that. But now it's time for research, reading and writing again. Cheers!
 
Eeva Houtbeckers
added 3 research items
The crisis we face as a global community must be understood not only as a public health crisis, or as an economic crisis of the capitalist mode of production, but also, fundamentally, as a crisis of the reproduction of life. In this sense, it is a crisis of care: the work of caring for humans, non-humans, and the shared biosphere. The pandemic is a historical rupture. It's also an opening for reworlding-as one recent meme says, "There is no going back to normal because "normal" was the problem." As a group of activists and scholars from the Feminisms and Degrowth Alliance (FaDA) 1 , we take this opportunity to reflect on how we can, from our diverse positions, face this moment, organize, and collectively imagine radical alternative modes of living: those with more time for community, relationship building, and care for each other as well as the non-human world. This collaborative reflection is motivated by the following concerns: First we would like to stress that this crisis is NOT our degrowth. Secondly, we want to clarify what an intentional (feminist) degrowth project means, and why it is more necessary now than ever. Thirdly, we want to bring attention to dimensions of care and reproductive work that have been so centrally relied upon, yet so invisible and neglected, in this pandemic. Finally, we want to offer proposals for how this crisis can help us move towards care-full economies in the long term. April 2020, Degrowth.info https://www.degrowth.info/en/feminisms-and-degrowth-alliance-fada/collective-research-notebook/
Itsensätyöllistäminen sosio-ekologisten kriisien ratkaisemiseksi on osa laajempaa trendiä, jossa palkkatyö ja palkkatyöhön perustuva yhteiskunta ovat murroksessa. Seurasin tutkimuksessani kahta itsensätyöllistäjää ja yhtä osuuskuntaa vuosina 2009–2014. Heitä yhdisti huoli maailman tilasta, kuten kasvavasta vaatejätemäärästä ja voimakkaasta kaupungistumisesta. Huolet kanavoituivat yrityksen perustamiseen ja itsensätyöllistämiseen. Itsensätyöllistäjät sekä osa osuuskuntatoimijoista identifioituivat yhteiskunnalliseen yrittäjyyteen, jossa yrittäjyyden keinoin haetaan ratkaisuja sosiaalisiin ongelmiin ja ympäristöongelmiin. Kuitenkin heidän työtään leimasi itsensätyöllistäjille tyypillinen epävarmuus toimeentulosta ja toiminnan jatkumisesta.
Tämä erikoisnumero luotaa uuden vuosituhannen kohtuuskeskustelua Suomessa. Kohtuullisen tulevaisuuden hahmottaminen on äärimmäisen ajankohtaista tänä aikana, jolloin merkit ihmisten aiheuttamista ekologisista kriiseistä ovat ilmeisiä ja lisääntyvät kiihtyvällä tahdilla. Kohtuutta siis tarvitaan nyt, jos koskaan.
Eeva Houtbeckers
added an update
In the end of 2020 this postdoctoral research has reached its midway (or a bit after). In September 2022, the funding of the project is over. This is a good opportunity to reflect what I have accomplished and what remains to be done.
Fieldwork. Fieldwork has been ongoing since late 2016. I had a break from that during parental leave from mid-2018, but got back to it in 2019. The pandemic has slowed down fieldwork in 2020, but I have managed to start interviews with practitioners. I hope to continue with these in 2021.
Publications. Thanks to inspiring colleagues, I have authored a number of publications. Yet, I feel the rest of project should be devoted to planning and writing about (1) the ongoing ethnographic research, (2) key concepts and (3) knowledge production.
Presentations. I have documented here very little of my presentations. An updated list is available at https://eevahoutbeckers.fi/media-and-talks
Reading. I have done a lot of reading, but I hope to do more. I publish blog posts about the books I read at https://eevahoutbeckers.fi/category/browsing-through-books
Images. I have done less videos than what I anticipated, but more still photography. Some of them I have already published. For a visual overview of my everyday work as a scholar, follow me at Instagram https://www.instagram.com/eevahoutbeckers
Activism. I have continued to work as an activist with the Finnish Degrowth Movement (www.kohtuusliike.fi). As part of my ethnography, I'm involved with a citizen movement focusing on forest management. This work has led me to meet with politicians, civil servants, social campaigners and many others.
Eco/Feminism. As part of my inquiry into eco/feminist philosophy and practice, I am a candidate in municipal elections in Helsinki (spring 2021). This will bring on everyday instances of doing gender in an era of environmental destruction.
 
Eeva Houtbeckers
added a research item
We have seen an emergence of transformative food studies as part of sustainability transitions. While some scholars have successfully opened up their experiences of pursuing transformation through scholar-activism, assumptions underlying researchers' choices and how scholars orient to and go about their work often remain implicit. In this article, we bring forth a practice theoretical understanding of knowledge production and advocate that researchers turn to examining their own research practice. We ask how to make our own academic knowledge production/research practice more explicit, and why it is important to do so in the context of transformative food studies. To help scholars to reflect on their own research practice, we mobilize the framework of practical activity (FPA). We draw on our own experiences in academia and use our ethnographic studies on self-reliant food production and procurement to illustrate academic knowledge production. Thus, this article provides conceptual and methodological tools for reflection on academic research practice and knowledge production. We argue that it is important for researchers to turn to and improve their own academic practice because it advances academic knowledge production in the domain of transformative food studies and beyond. While we position ourselves within the qualitative research tradition, we believe that the insights of this article can be applied more broadly in different research fields and across various methodological approaches.
Eeva Houtbeckers
added a research item
Ajattelen usein sitä, miten tämä kaikki todennäköisesti päättyy: aaltoihin. Nouseva merenpinta tavoittaa meidät. He, joilla on varaa, yrittävät pelastautua. Ja silti muutos ei välttämättä ole niin äkillistä. Ennen kuin se on. Meillä voi olla toivoa. Edellisen lauseen perään voisi laittaa myös kysymysmerkin. Ehkä. Silti toimin pelosta huolimatta ja samalla sen takia. Vaikka elämä syntyy ja kuolee yhä uudestaan, tämä kaikki on liian arvokasta menetettäväksi. Nukun ja syön, jotta voin toimia elämän säilymisen puolesta. Usein epäilen, onko toiminnassani mitään järkeä. Toivo vetäytyy ja palaa sykleissä kuin aallot, joiden alle pelkään kaiken jäävän. Akateemisesta työstä kirjoittava Rosalind Gill (2017) kertoo saaneensa lukijapalautteena monia kuvauksia hukkumisesta työhön. Vaikka itse olen ollut huolissani sivilisaatioiden hukkumisesta – ja siinä samassa lukemattomien muiden olioiden tuhoutumisesta – olen yhä enemmän huolissani myös töihin hukkumisesta. Tässä esseessä yhdistyvät pelot aaltoihin hukkuvasta maailmasta, töihin hukkuvasta tutkija-aktivistista ja esseen hukkuvasta fokuksesta sekä metaforista.
Eeva Houtbeckers
added an update
I composed a blog post about an excellent book I read recently: Reimagining livelihoods – Life beyond economy, society, and environment by Ethan Miller (2019, University of Minnesota Press)
In case you are into these themes, I highly recommend the book.
 
Eeva Houtbeckers
added 3 research items
Work is a fruitful site to reflect various responsibilities deriving from the notion of the Anthropocene. Previous research on labour studies has discussed both labour and employee agency as potentialities of worker activities in the current, interconnected capitalist system. We bring these conceptualisations with varying historical roots together as ‘worker agency’, which could influence the sphere of globalised work and eventually the undesired developments that sustain the Anthropocene. We provide empirical examples of the idea of worker agency from two work organizations that promote sustainability and operate with recycled materials in the Global North. Based on the previous literature and these empirical illustrations, we reflect on the potential of the new worker agency to challenge the contemporary ways of organizing work, social relations, and the economy. Keywords: Anthropocene, responsibility, work, employment, agency, global production networks, global destruction networks.
Valtavirtaista ajattelua taloudesta on kritisoitu siitä, että se sivuuttaa talouden ja materiaalisen todellisuuden välisen riippuvuussuhteen. Siksi tutkijat ja aktivistit ovat ehdottaneet uudenlaisen tiedon tuottamista taloudesta. Tässä tekstissä tutkimme mahdollisuuksia hyödyntää käytäntöteorioita taloutta koskevan tiedon tuottamisessa heikkoa teoriaa mukaillen. Tuomme tarkastelun kohteeksi ne käytänteet, toimijat ja suhteet, joissa talouden järjestystä tuotetaan. Käytäntöotteen näkökulmasta talous on sitä, mitä ihmiset toiminnassaan tuottavat. Siksi on mielekästä tutkia konkreettista toimintaa, joten käytämme esimerkkinä kotitalouksien omaehtoista ruuanhankintaa. Käymme vuoropuhelua kirjoittajien kahdesta erillisestä etnografisesta tutkimuksesta, joissa on seurattu ruokapiireihin osallistuvia ja ruokaomavaraisuuteen pyrkiviä kotitalouksia. Omaehtoinen ruokatalous edellyttää kotitalouksilta erityistä aktiivisuutta, suunnitelmallisuutta ja sitoutumista verrattuna valtavirtaiseen ruokatalouteen. Väitämme, että toimijoiden arkiset ja keholliset kokemukset peilaavat talouden implisiittistä järjestystä. Erityisesti omaehtoinen ruuanhankinta tekee näkyväksi näkymättömäksi jäävää taloutta, sillä kotitaloudet joutuvat törmäyskurssille totuttujen toimintatapojen kanssa. Analyysimme osoittaa, että kyse ei ole vain yksilöiden tietoisista valinnoista, vaan käytäntöjen väliset riippuvuussuhteet tekevät toimintaa mahdolliseksi tai mahdottomaksi. Käytäntölähtöinen heikon teorian mukainen lähestymistapa talouden tarkastelussa on arvokas, sillä se tuo esille sellaista toiminnan monimuotoisuutta, mihin valtavirtainen vahva talousteoria ei pysty.
This short essay is based on ongoing ethnographic fieldwork that focuses on post-growth work in the global North. Some of the people I have met during my fieldwork are in the process of altering their life according to their understanding of more affirmative ways of living. Here the focus is on households that strive for self-sufficiency in terms of food. However, in order to cultivate land, one needs to access it. This essay focuses on describing self-sufficiency households’ everyday needs for private land ownership and its implications for the households. It seems to be hard to completely rid oneself of owning land because of the institutional arrangements beyond one’s immediate influence. For discussions concerning transitions toward more sustainable societies, projects exploring other ways of organising land ownership are important. Keywords: self-sufficiency, land, diverse economies, ethnography, degrowth, land trust
Eeva Houtbeckers
added a research item
Design for sustainability transitions is an emerging area of research and practice which integrates and expands theories of sustainability science, design and transition management. Recently sustainability transitions have been framed as design challenges with three main dimensions: creative, technical and political (Gaziulusoy & Ryan, 2017). With references to the multi-level perspective of system innovations, design for sustainability transitions investigates the niche socio-cultural practices and technologies to develop and analyse design scenarios for alternative futures using participatory approaches. Degrowth as a civic movement that challenges the continuous economic growth as a policy making goal, converges design for sustainability transitions in its holistic understanding of a need for systemic change. Yet, recent discussions in degrowth have called for a deeper understanding of actors that would carry out such transitions. This includes taking into consideration questions of power, gender, class, ethnicity and inter-species interactions, which are at times overlooked in analyses. It is our position that there is a need for expansion, diversification and deepening of theoretical groundings of design for sustainability transitions as well. In this article we provide a short history of this research and practice area, frame a theoretical perspective on degrowth integrating the implications of current relevant questions, integrate this theoretical perspective with design for sustainability transitions theories, and discuss implications for design and policy practice as well as degrowth research.
Eeva Houtbeckers
added a research item
Yhteiskunnallinen yrittäjyys on laaja kattokäsite, joka vetää puoleensa toimijoita eri puolelta maailmaa ja eri toimialoilta. Tässä tekstissä esittelen tekemässäni laadullisessa tutkimuksessa esille tulleita havaintoja yhteiskunnallisten ja ympäristöhuolien takia itsensä työllistävien yhteiskunnallisten mikroyrittäjien arkipäivän työstä. Seuraamieni mikroyrittäjien suhtautuminen työhön, kuluttamiseen ja talouteen kyseenalaistaa monia totuttuja malleja. Kiinnostavaa kyllä, monet tutkimukseni havainnot selittyvät nykyisen fossiilisten polttoaineisiin perustuvan kasvukeskeisen talouden näkyväksi tekemisellä ja vaihtoehtojen pohtimisella.
Eeva Houtbeckers
added a research item
Organising for post-growth society is called for to enable living on our finite planet. While previous research has suggested that social enterprise could be one form of post-growth organising (PGo), these suggestions might not rely on critical studies of social enterprise (SE) or studies exploring everyday practices of SE. This paper asks to what extent can SE practices be considered to be post-growth organising and examines two empirical examples of self-employment identified as SE and sensitive to the elements attached to PGo. They functioned to develop more sustainable solutions in the field of co-working for social innovation and up-cycling used clothing. The analysis of actors' everyday 'sayings' and 'doings' reveals how SE is used to channel social and environmental concerns in working life. Moreover, self-employment was not enough to constantly provide a living wage, but actors sustained themselves by navigating the diverse economy. Subsequently, they had to relate to the economic growth imperative at an organisational level. By making visible the ambivalence of the notion 'social enterprise', this study encourages the conducting of research that focuses on the everyday practices perceived as PGo.
Eeva Houtbeckers
added an update
Recently, I have become more active in posting in my blog.
One post focuses on video editing during my sensory ethnography and why I insist doing it although it is hard and slow:
Another post is about browsing through books during my project. The books include themes, such as post-growth work, degrowth, sensory ethnography, visual research, academic work, sustainability transitions:
In addition, I have decided to follow three Finnish projects. The focus on self-sufficiency, land rights, and forest protection. I will add updates when my fieldwork proceeds. 
Remember to check out my Instagram profile, in which I post daily and weekly updates about my research: 
 
Eeva Houtbeckers
added an update
I have posted a couple of updates recently after a somewhat long break.
One post is about video editing as part of my sensory ethnography and why I insist doing it although it is hard and slow:
Another recent post is about browsing through books as part of academic work and a postdoc project especially. I have plans to regularly review books related to my project (post-growth work, sensory ethnography, visial research, degrowth:
Finally, I have chosen three Finnish projects that I have started to follow (ethnographically) during my postdoc. They focus on self-sufficiency, land rights, and forest protection. I will post more updates when my fieldwork proceeds.
 
Eeva Houtbeckers
added an update
While I continue to do participant observation among people from the Finnish Degrowth Movement (and beyond), I am exploring the possibilities for visual research. The participatory aspect of my research has been enhanced by a recent ethnography workshop in University of Oulu focusing on the unspeakable in reseaerch. The key message has been that the more difficult the topic, the more there's a need to engage with participants.
In practice, I need to decide on proper gear to do visual research. A lot of visits to camera and electronic shops in September!
 
Eeva Houtbeckers
added an update
Summer 2017 includes participant observation in various locations. I'm spending quite some time in farms and also at ecohouse building sites. You may follow my visual trace at https://www.instagram.com/aatteinen
 
Eeva Houtbeckers
added an update
During spring 2017, I have attended various events and meetings. They have focused on discussing the current state of degrowth, post-growth, solidarity economy, and commons in the Global North, as well as practical coordination tasks concerning other events and/or joint activities. In addition, I have conducted interviews and visited people's work places. The visual work in my ethnography is slow to start but I remain hopeful. Overall, generating empirical material seems painfully slow, but I recall that this is how it tends to be Patience!
 
Eeva Houtbeckers
added 15 project references
Eeva Houtbeckers
added an update
My postdoc project recieved funding from Nessling Foundation. This means I will officially begin my research in January 2017. More updates to follow, including a project page. For updates in social media, follow @aatteinen (Twitter and Instagram).
 
Eeva Houtbeckers
added an update
Any feedback on topic, methods and/or theories is welcomed
 
Eeva Houtbeckers
added an update
I'm in the process of conducting preliminary fieldwork while acquiring funding. Toward the end of 2016 I will get news on when I could start the primary fieldwork.
 
Eeva Houtbeckers
added a project goal
This is a postdoctoral project funded by Kone Foundation, Maj and Tor Nessling Foundation and Foundation for Economic Education. The full title of the application is: Social entrepreneurship for post-growth societies in the global North: An ethnographic participatory study of self-employment practices for ecologically and socially just world.
Abstract: This study focuses on exploring activities related to gaining a livelihood when aiming for an ecologically and socially just world. In the wake of changes in contemporary working life, such practices are attached to self-employment (entrepreneurship) and at times to ‘social entrepreneurship’. This multi-sited ethnographic study aims to understand the paradoxes related to self-employment for and in post-growth societies. The contributions of this study relate to rethinking the notion of entrepreneurship and raising awareness of alternative forms of economic activities in the Global North.
Keywords: Ethnography; institutional ethnography; participatory methods; visual ethnography; practice theories; post-growth; degrowth; self-employment; ecofeminism.