Rural Cooperation and the Online Swarm as neotraditional cooperative practice in Finland

* Article: A Buzz between Rural Cooperation and the Online Swarm. Andrew Gryf Paterson . Special Issue: Affinities Journal, Vol 4, No 1 (2010): The New Cooperativism

Andrew Paterson reviews and compares the intersection between rural village community support, known as “talkoot” in the Finnish language, its establishment within cooperative development during the 20th century, and the information communications and technology society of contemporary Finland.

Author’s introduction:

“The essay published by Affinities Journal may be summerised as a condensed history of ‘work party’ gatherings from the perspective of an immigrant artist-organiser and independent researcher based in Finland, seeking out and making connections.

I was motivated by a personal desire to reflect upon organisational practice: What might come out of bringing different subjects, practices and examples together into the same event space, in this case a 1 day symposium on ‘Alternative Economy Cultures’ in Helsinki, 2009; and also a scholarly exercise to put into writing connections that I had imagined,seen, heard, intuitively or in assemblage, witnessed in the event mentioned.

I also aimed to connect older ideas of rural cooperation, known as ‘talkoot’ in Finland, and ‘mutual aid’ as written about by Peter Kropotkin in late 19th Century, with potentials and questions being raised in new terms such as ‘social economy’ and ‘crowdsourcing’.

I wished to write a sharable document for potential collaborators in cooperative studies and research, in Finland and beyond, on what I was aware of from the information and technology development scene, as well as that which is promoted by cultural associations that organise festivals or other events inbetween art, media, technology, science and social issues.

Since writing this essay and in the time it took to submit and publish, I have successfully presented my ideas within a Finnish cooperative research seminar (consisting of mostly social scientists). Further, my transdisciplinary approach to the topic has given an opportunity to contribute ideas on how practice-led activity and research, audio-visual documentations and round-table sharing experiences, can contribute to cooperative research sharing.”

Excerpt on the Neo-traditional forms of talkoot:

“The P2P theorist and researcher Michel Bauwens in his paper “The importance of neotraditional approaches in the reconstructive transmodern era,” located on the Foundation for Peer-to-Peer Alternatives wiki website (also using Wikimedia software installation), asks “Can the transmodern peer to peer ethos be mixed with neotraditional approaches”? In other-words, can the distributed computer networks, with living labour sitting behind them–as exemplified in peer-to-peer media-sharing, open-source software development, and peer-production of value seen in wiki platforms–share similar, if wider reaching, goals with pre-modern social networks of help and support?

In Finland, where rural-based cooperative support is, for the majority of the population, only one or two generations removed, the connection between contemporary ICT-based and traditional forms of cooperation perhaps comes to mind easier than in other places. Certainly talkoot is a word which cuts across generations, managerial and political classes, and technological spheres.

To support this claim, it is appropriate for me to return to the Alternative Economy Cultures seminar. As a chair of the afternoon session, Roppe Mokka of Demos Helsinki (an independent think-tank on progressive democracy), shared the following anecdote when introducing Tapani Köppä’s presentation:

– This morning we [Demos Helsinki] were presenting to the parliament futures committee, what the next phase of the information society will be. Yes, it is going to be based on sharing. Alot of these things that are peer-to-peer, are very difficult to understand, but as soon as we showed a picture of talkoot, Juha Mieto and other Finnish parliamentarians suddenly captured what this is about, and you could see smiles coming to their faces, and they started explaining how fantastic it is to take part in these activities.

It was not the first time the connection had been made by members of Demos Helsinki: For example, they made the connection in conversations with the Bristol-based National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts (NESTA), who have a remit to explore and foster all aspects of innovation in the United Kingdom.[58] Further, in late October 2008, one of Finland’s well-known technology bloggers, Tuija Aalto, researcher and journalist for YLE national broadcast corporation, wrote an entry titled “Crowdsourcing=Talkoot?” on her Tuija TV blog (now called Tuhat Sanaa). She qualified this by commenting that “Finns always knew how to get a big project done. Be it building a new sauna or an operating system: invite the whole community to do the job.”[59] Aalto was particularly making the connection with a new business and organizational model called crowdsourcing, described by Brooklyn-basd culture and technology journalist Jeff Howe as “the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.”

To support her inquiry, Aalto further included a short interview with Finnish film entrepreneur Peter Vesterbacka, who was inspired by one of the first large online crowdsourcing projects in his sci-fi parody feature film series Star Wreck (1992-). Vesterbacka now also acts as marketing and PR person for such talkoot models via the Wreck-a-movie project, which facilitates collaborative feature film-making. In this case, open-source thinking and online networks are used to distribute and divvy up labour among many persons in different locations for the production of animation and feature-films. For Vesterbacka, the Finnish word talkoot is just waiting to expand beyond Finland, soon to enter into the world’s crowdsourcing vocabulary.

In principle, I agree with Vesterbacka’s claim. I have been suggesting several examples and associations of neo-traditional forms of talkoot throughout this article, such as its relation to wiki collaboration and the BitTorrent protocol. It is clear, however, that the word talkoot is already being used in contemporary Finland in a wider context than its usual rural and urban/domestic uses, and that new associations with online networks are already being made. Talkoot has in the last year or so, in Helsinki at least, entered other entrepreneurial and agenda-based contexts, such as for mobilising people and businesses.

Three major universities in Helsinki, the University of Technology, University of Art and Design, and Helsinki School of Economics, merged at the end of 2009, and the combination is now called Aalto University. Earlier in the year, a group of associated students decided to create an Aalto Entrepreneur Society. One of their first gatherings was called a “Start Up Talkoot,” held on 24th April 2009 in one of the new research lab/office spaces for Aalto University, called the “Design Factory” in the Otaniemi district of Espoo, the neighbouring city of Helsinki. On their webpages they wrote the following for the event:

As you might know, talkoot is the Finnish word for a group of people gathering to work together, for instance, to build or repair something. AES is gathering students, entrepreneurs, investors and other experts together to work on Aalto startups.

They group goes on to write that the Aalto Entrepreneur Society “strives to create an entrepreneurial eco-system in Aalto University. Our goal is to catalyze 50 ambitious startups per year.” One of their goals is to adopt a positivist and accumulative philosophy where “success breeds success and activity.”

While the new adaptations of the talkoot concept are indeed full of collaborative promise for a new form of online and offline cooperativism for our times, these “new talkoots” do raise for me a critical question. When talkoot is referred to as a positive force today, who is benefiting? Private organizations or public bodies? If these are not open, and cooperative or voluntary forms of labour ventures, is it an appropriate use of the word?”

4 Comments Rural Cooperation and the Online Swarm as neotraditional cooperative practice in Finland

  1. AvatarDavid de Ugarte

    Michel, you will love this translation of “Caritas in veritate” for hackers and the benedictine monks’ lessons for community building we are working on now…

    The discussion you are opening is specially important for workers cooperatives and the future of cooperativism. You will love also Julen Iturbe Ormaetxe’s study on Spanish Open Firms. Julen is an influent theorist on bussiness organization working in Mondragon Unibersitatea (a coop part of Mondragon Cooperative Corporation). One of his main conclussions is the emergence of a new kind of motivation in these “networked” open firms… I will call Julen’s attention on this post. Let’s open debate!

  2. Pingback: Michel, Andrew, Julen! Conectemos los debates!

  3. AvatarAndrew Paterson

    @Marilyn, yes you are right, Dugnad is similar thing. In the ‘Rural cooperation’ section of essay, I share the words I found in other regional languages.. Talko, Talka, Talgud, ??????, ??????, T?oka, ?????????, Dugnad, Nachbarschaftshilfe

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