Small Holds Sway: How Small Businesses Mobilize Knowledge to Support Action in Learning Processes for Sustainability Transformations
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Transformations of the industrialized food sector toward more sustainable food production, manufacturing, and consumption take place through individual and collective learning processes. Achieving transformational change requires intra- and inter-organizational learning to embed alternative principles in business operation, foster new social arrangements, and develop creative strategies in support of sustainable food practices. Research has made much progress in conceptualizing transformation processes of the food sector – addressing definitional ‘what’ questions. Also, scholars have conducted thorough analyses of the underlying motivations that support businesses in pursuing organizational sustainability – addressing motivational ‘why’ questions. Yet, empirical research examining how businesses engage in learning processes that can lead to broader transformational change is still missing – that is, the research on the role of businesses in the food sector has not engaged with ‘how’ questions. This thesis responds to this gap by building on a dynamic conception of learning to empirically explore the relationship between transformations of the food sector and the contextual meaning-making, knowledge mobilizing, and procedural action through which businesses realize change for sustainability. More specifically, this thesis draws attention to the role that different forms of knowledge assume in supporting intra- and inter-organizational learning processes that allow businesses to purposefully take action for sustainability in complex situations. For the empirical research, I employ a mixed-methods approach (including semi-structured interviews, participant observations, analytic autoethnography, and document analysis) to examine how learning supports craft breweries – small, independently owned businesses that are inspired by non-industrial production methods – to collectively advance system change. I present the conducted research in three articles detailing how small businesses engage in and bring about transformational change for sustainability. While written as independent articles, they comprise a whole, as collectively, this work offers insights into how small businesses draw on knowledge as a resource to support action for sustainability. The first manuscript empirically demonstrates the importance of alternative narratives for learning as they enable small businesses to construct storylines of how they engage in sectoral transformations. I explore how craft breweries draw on alternative principles and actions to guide the construction of narratives that verbalize a new future into existence beyond industrialized and competitive markets. This research offers a nuanced understanding of the collective ability of small businesses to discursively construct new meanings and new stories that illustrate the need for and existence of alternative social arrangements to support sustainability transformations. The second manuscript elucidates how craft breweries that work in a concentrated and internationally connected industry, mobilize knowledge in support of collective action to construct sustainability niches in an otherwise hostile environment. The findings demonstrate how learning is supported by the translation between tacit and explicit forms of knowledge, so-called knowledge conversion. The research shows how small businesses challenge the conventional industry logics and practices by mobilizing knowledge conversion in support of sustainability experimentation. I offer a comprehensive conceptual framework and detailed empirical examination of how small businesses respond to and transform the context in which they operate, collectively formulate goals for directing change, and bring tangible assets into service of experimentation to realize emergent possibilities. The third manuscript systematically explores the learning processes through which entrepreneurs develop sustainability strategies while navigating the tensions and challenges involved in realizing sustainability within the host context. Building on conceptualizations of entrepreneurship as an evolutionary process, I empirically explore the learning process of two small businesses in the brewing industry. This research details how small businesses create and mobilize knowledge to intentionally design organizational change, develop shared agency for the support of appropriate interventions, and leverage context-specific resources for acting appropriately in complex situations. Moreover, I offer insights into how small businesses can engage leverage entrepreneurial actions to support learning processes for sustainability strategies. This thesis emphasizes the ability of small businesses as meaning-makers and proposes a dynamic approach for understanding the role of knowledge and action in transformations for sustainability. I offer empirical evidence of the learning processes through which businesses generate meaningful action for contextually realizing change, and reflexively and deliberately (re)align their actor roles with the so created alternative social arrangements. Knowledge plays a crucial role in this process as it supports small businesses to creatively and cooperatively shape future goals and direct change. Overall, this work can help to support small businesses in coordinating concerted efforts to create viable enterprises from bringing about change for sustainability. It draws attention to the agency of small businesses in crafting new narratives, alternative social arrangements, and sustainability strategies that help support transformations of the industrialized food sector.
Cite this version of the work
Christopher Luederitz (2020). Small Holds Sway: How Small Businesses Mobilize Knowledge to Support Action in Learning Processes for Sustainability Transformations. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/16119
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