Transdisciplinarity, me and my anchors

It is the time of the year for our UWAS course ‘Film, Work and Labour’. It is a University-wide Art Studies course we run for the second time with two of my colleagues. The approach is interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary or ‘post-disciplinary’ as the UWAS slogan states. UWAS courses can have a good mix of students from all six Aalto schools and there should be no one discipline that is considered better than the other. In this sense, UWAS courses aim at transdisciplinarity. 

Our course this year has made me reflect my take-aways from such an environment, let it be teaching, research or activism. I feel that me reaching a truly multi-voiced dialogue takes time and energy because it requires me to become aware of  my preferred ways of thinking and working. However, my and others’ disciplinary anchors are not ‘bad’ for transdisciplinarity, quite the contrary. When things get complicated, it is useful to hold on to something familiar.

Photo by Denys Argyriou on Unsplash

I present you some of my (disciplinary) anchors based on my observations during this winter and early spring: 

  1. I’m inspired by people’s experiences about what they do. As a working life researcher I’m always excited to learn what people do for work, let it be waged work or non-waged work. For example, when I meet people, I often end up hearing stories about their work, for example subcontracting for a construction site, speech therapy or running a citizen cooperative for local food. As a result, I learn from various ways to understand and work around phenomena. But what really matters for an equal discussion and what cannot be overcome is valuing people’s own perspectives. People are experts when it comes to their own labour or work. This approach has also been referred to as the practice approach or lens, with an emphasis on practitioners’ knowledge. 
  2. This is something I learn every time I spend less time with others: My creativity is truly sparked off by others’ projects. As a result, my anchor is to spend (enough) time with others. I might get inspired by something I hear just briefly on a walk to a caféteria or it might be something I have followed for years. In February, I spoke with a UWAS colleague who works on a project with plants. It is truly remarkable in terms of artistic and scientific work. Another colleague has been studying young female scholars for years, and every time I hear or read about it, I’m so inspired. 
  3. Although at times I’m impatient (ask my family for evidence), transdisciplinary interactions take time. This doesn’t mean that it would be always difficult to grasp others perspectives (although it can be) but it is not straight-forward to find a common vocabulary, let alone trust someone who has a different vocabulary. Do I get them and do they get me? Therefore, it is important for me to meet others half way and try to adopt their language, bodily movements and ways of thinking. By learning about their perspectives it is then more likely that I can come across experiences that resonate with something I might be able to link to. And vice versa, I appreciate this approach from others.

Having written all this, transdisciplinary engagements reminds me of ethnographic work. Indeed, in ethnography I (and others) have an experience of ‘working within hyphen-spaces’, ie. working between certain clear positions, such as outsider, insider, same or different. Rather, we glide between the poles of, for example, outsider-insider or sameness-difference, during a project and within single moments during a project. Such a slide – or sometimes it feels like a strain – could be common in transdisciplinary projects as well.

Our course ‘Film, Work and Labour’ takes place again in early 2020. If you are an Aalto University student, you can register in late 2019. You are warmly welcomed to join us and experience some inter/transdisciplinary interactions!

Doctoral dissertation: Debunking the heroic social entrepreneurship myth

Social entrepreneurship is about mundane work and not about heroism, argues Eeva Houtbeckers in her dissertation to be defended on 28 October.

Social entrepreneurship has been developed as a reaction to “conventional” entrepreneurship, which is connected with maximising profits and taking risks. The uncritical understanding of social entrepreneurship repeats the myth of a heroic individual, also commonly linked to entrepreneurship. Houtbeckers’ study challenges this and other myths related to social entrepreneurship by examining mundane work practices.

Mundaneness essential for understanding phenomena

Because social entrepreneurship and conventional entrepreneurship are empty signifiers, examining mundane work is essential for understanding the phenomena. In her research, Houtbeckers focused on four organisations within the fields of co-working spaces, open data, recycled clothing, and veganism. All of these organisations had been established to address or resolve societal challenges.

– It has been difficult to position these young urban entrepreneurs who aim to make a living by addressing contemporary challenges. Yet their work needs to be understood as one means of practicing entrepreneurship, comments Houtbeckers.

However, any reference to social entrepreneurship creates an implicit juxtaposition between social and conventional entrepreneurship.

– Previous research has shown that it is impossible to provide an exhaustive definition for entrepreneurship. Therefore, Houtbeckers argues, there is no “conventional” or “social” entrepreneurship, rather entrepreneurships which represent a variety of everyday practices.

The microentrepreneurs followed for the study aimed at influencing existing practices with business ideas stemming from their concerns on the contemporary issues, such as clearcutting rainforest or intensive animal farming. However, the microentrepreneurs were limited in their power to affect wide-ranging processes. Nevertheless, social entrepreneurship as a popular concept could be a rational and socially acceptable way to disguise radical aims for social change and provide space for experimenting with marginal ideas that may challenge existing ways of doing things. Thus, social entrepreneurship can be understood as everyday activism.

– If there is something heroic in social entrepreneurship, it is the mundaneness of the work, claims Houtbeckers. Understanding this is essential for considering entrepreneurship as a means to solve or alleviate complex societal challenges.

The doctoral dissertation of Eeva Houtbeckers, M. Sc. (Econ.), in the field of Organization and Management “Mundane social entrepreneurship. A practice perspective on the work of microentrepreneurs.” will be publicly examined at the Aalto University School of Business on Friday, 28 October 2016. The defence of the dissertation will be held in the Chydenia building (address: Runeberginkatu 22-24, Helsinki, Finland): Saastamoinen Foundation Hall (3rd floor), starting at 12 p.m. (noon). Opponent: Professor Karin Berglund (Stockholm University); Custos: Professor Minna Halme (Aalto University).

Eeva Houtbeckers’ dissertation has been published in the Aalto University publication series DOCTORAL DISSERTATIONS (171/2016). The dissertation will be published electronically in Aaltodoc service

Further information:
Eeva Houtbeckers
045 676 0608

Twitter: @aatteinen



Väitös: yhteiskunnallinen yrittäjyys murtaa sankarimyyttiä

Yhteiskunnallinen yrittäjyys on arjen puurtamista eikä sankaritarinaa, esittää Eeva Houtbeckers 28. lokakuuta tarkastettavassa väitöstutkimuksessaan.

Yhteiskunnallinen yrittäjyys on kehitetty vastavoimaksi ”tavanomaiselle” yrittäjyydelle, joka liitetään voitontavoittelun maksimointiin ja riskinottoon. Vallalla oleva yhteiskunnallisen yrittäjyyden kritiikitön ymmärrys toistaa yrittäjyyteen liitettyä sankarimyyttiä, joka ulkoistaa yhteisen vastuunkannon kyvykkäille yksilöille. Houtbeckersin tutkimus kyseenalaistaa tämän ja muita yhteiskunnalliseen yrittäjyyteen liitettyjä myyttejä tekemällä näkyväksi mikroyrittäjien arkisia työkäytänteitä.

Olennaista on arkinen tekeminen

Yhteiskunnallinen yrittäjyys on samalla tavalla tyhjä käsite kuin yrittäjyys, ja ilmiön ymmärtämisen kannalta arjen työn tuntemus on olennaista. Houtbeckers seurasi väitöskirjaansa varten neljää organisaatiota uusilla toimialoilla. Toimialoja olivat avoin data, kierrätystekstiilit, veganismi ja yhteisölliset työtilat. Kaikki yritykset oli perustettu jonkin yhteiskunnallisen ongelman ratkaisemiseksi.

– Yhteiskunnallisten haasteiden parissa toimeentuloaan yrittäviä urbaaneja nuoria on ollut vaikea sijoittaa mihinkään olemassa olevaan määritelmään. Heidän työnsä tulee kuitenkin ymmärtää yhdeksi muodoksi harjoittaa yrittäjyyttä, sanoo Houtbeckers.

Puhumalla yhteiskunnallisesta yrittäjyydestä luodaan implisiittinen vastakkainasettelu sen ja tavanomaisen yrittäjyyden välille.

– Aikaisempi tutkimus on osoittanut, että yrittäjyyttä on mahdotonta määritellä tyhjentävästi. Siten ei ole olemassa mitään ”tavanomaista yrittäjyyttä” eikä ”yhteiskunnallista yrittäjyyttä”, vaan kyse on mielikuvista, toteaa Houtbeckers.

Tutkimuksessa seuratut mikroyrittäjät pyrkivät vaikuttamaan olemassa oleviin käytänteisiin liiketoimintaideoilla, jotka pohjautuvat heidän huoliinsa maailman tilasta. Mikroyrittäjien valta muuttaa laaja-alaisia prosesseja on kuitenkin rajallista. Yhteiskunnallinen yrittäjyys voi rajoitteista huolimatta olla sosiaalisesti hyväksytty tapa tavoitella kestävää yhteiskunnallista muutosta, joka poikkeaa vallitsevista tekemisen tavoista. Siksi yhteiskunnallinen yrittäjyys voidaan ymmärtää arjen aktivismiksi.

– Jos jokin on yhteiskunnallisessa yrittäjyydessä sankarillista, se on arjen puurtaminen, sanoo Houtbeckers. Tämän ymmärtäminen on olennaista, kun yrittäjyyttä ajatellaan yhtenä tapana ratkaista tai lievittää kompleksisia yhteiskunnallisia ongelmia.

Kauppatieteiden maisteri Eeva Houtbeckers väittelee 28.10.2016 klo 12 organisaatiot ja johtaminen -alaan kuuluvasta aiheesta Arkinen yhteiskunnallinen yrittäjyys: Käytäntöote mikroyrittäjien työhön (Mundane social entrepreneurship: A practice perspective on the work of microentrepreneurs). Vastaväittäjänä toimii professori Karin Berglund (Tukholman yliopisto) ja kustoksena professori Minna Halme (Aalto-yliopisto). Väitöstilaisuus järjestetään Aalto-yliopiston Chydenia-rakennuksessa, Saastamoisen säätiön salissa (3. kerros) osoitteessa Runeberginkatu 22–24, Helsinki.

Houtbeckersin väitöskirja on julkaistu sarjassa Aalto University publication series DOCTORAL
DISSERTATIONS (171/2016). Väitöskirja ilmestyy myös sähköisenä Aaltodoc-palvelussa

Eeva Houtbeckers
045 676 0608

Twitter: @aatteinen