Fieldwork after three years #taiketukee

By | May 25, 2022

Ostrobothnia, Finland, 24th May 2022

Sitting here at the end of Day 1, Fieldwork on the local culture of coastal Ostrobothnia in Finland, the oldest settled part of the country and where the language and cultural minority of Finland, the country – only 5.2% of the total population, the Swedish-Finnish community, is in the majority. We drove down from Espoo. I had taken the metro in from Helsinki before transfering to the car driven by a grandchild of the region, who had actually grown up in another European country and only came for the summer holidays until finally relocating to attend my University.

All I want to reflect on today is the novel experience of fieldwork in a wholly new country and continent, after the very long break since my last Kenya trip in late 2019. Today we bought fish from the fishermen at the fishing harbour. Its a family business and they sell marinades and various homemade things done to fish.

Patriarch of family of coastal fishers with their own fish processing household enterprise. Smoking, canning, fileting, and fresh from their sea farm. Its more sustainable for them as revenue generation is not as seasonally uncertain, and it prevents overfishing.

Its a profession that goes back to the Iron Age or even beyond. Small informal groups of fishers work together to run such a plant, from raw fish inputs to various preserved outputs that have established local customer base in the half hour drive region and often beyond. The shop is usually one family’s business operations, but the fishing and smoking might be more cooperative. Families do compete on establishing reputations for their house marinades. Its a way of preserving fish without over pickling in the asian spice heavy style. I lean towards east asian in my own seafood tastes.

What struck me was the interplay between extremely familiar things from years of fieldwork in the informal economic system of rural East Africa in particular, and rural east Asia (The Visayas Islands in The Philippines), not rural India though, that’s very different, and extremely unfamiliar – lands where the Vikings settled to farm like good Christians. I can build the familiar models. I was extremely happy to note that from my observations of this coastal fishing micro-enterprise it was viable and feasible that the collaborative visual sensemaking tool I used in Kenya among the informal fresh produce wholesalers sourcing perishable produce from the local regional networks would work. Now, whether it would be desirable is an entirely other question and one which I hope to put to the fishers on Friday. After their consent I would work with my artist collaborator to craft social design outputs (in the Nordic tradition of social objects, actions, processes, and structures as the object of design) that would somehow use the arts to help communities recenter themselves as custodians of their own local home environmental ecosystem.

Why they matter to their own communities is something that we’ve seen as an important factor that contributes to participants’ motivation and determination to change their business operations in response to the changing world. Our participants have been selling bananas wholesale by sending around photographs to WhatsApp groups, and running informal m-commerce in the Kenyan capital. Finnish fishermen are as creative and innovative as the Kenyan tomato sellers. I am #taikesupported (#taiketukee) after a competitive peer reviewed application process. This project is a working prototype test of our currently scoped operating model.

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