Temporal and spatial artifacts for transformative agency and expansive learning in a food cooperative

Professor Yrjö Engeström and dr. Juhana Rantavuori

The paper presents an analysis of expansive learning and double stimulation taking place in a social movement focusing on sustainable food production.

A social movement, Herttoniemi Food Cooperative, studied in this paper is founded 2011 and it is located in the metropolitan area of Helsinki, the capital of Finland. There are about 200 members in the Cooperative. It has rented a field 30 kilometers from the center of Helsinki, where a hired farmer produces vegetables for the Cooperative. During the harvest season, vegetables are transported weekly from the field into the city to distribution points where members can come to pick up their share. However, the continuity of the Food Cooperative is constantly at risk as small-scale ecological farming is very labor-intensive and has to compete with the heavily subsidized farm products of large food store chains.

Although double stimulation is a foundational aspect of expansive learning, empirical studies of steps of double stimulation and analyses of expansive learning actions have thus far remained separate. The first task of this paper is to bring together these two lines of analysis. The second task is to examine the dynamics of temporal and spatial artifacts in double stimulation and expansive learning.

The paper analyzes learning in the Herttoniemi Food Cooperative, facing the persistent problem of securing sufficient income to continue functioning. This conflict is seen as the first stimulus. We conducted an intervention in which two artifacts were offered as potential second stimuli for the board of the cooperative: an interactive electronic timeline (temporal artifact) and an interactive electronic map (spatial artifact). We analyzed the transcripts of the intervention and subsequent 13 meetings of the board.

Before the intervention, the board members were paralyzed by their conflict of motives, repeatedly questioning their mode of activity (the first action of expansive learning). The introduction of the artifacts triggered a process in which expansive learning actions – modeling, examining, and implementing the model – occurred already in the intervention session. The artifacts were appropriated as second stimuli.

However, after the intervention, reference to the artifacts was made only sporadically. It seems that double stimulation went only half way. However, a closer analysis is needed to determine whether the participants constructed their own second stimuli and carried forward the process relying on those rather than on the artifacts offered to them