Shaping values and economics: Tensions and compromises in the institutionalization of organic agriculture in Finland (1991–2015)

Tomi Lehtimäki, Mikko Virtanen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


This article examines the institutionalization of organic agriculture in Finland's agricultural policy. Organic agriculture is one of the main alternatives for conventional food production, promoting values that go beyond the focus on productivity and profit. Yet, numerous studies have raised concerns over the changes institutionalization has produced in its transformative capacity. It has been claimed that institutionalization results in the economization of organic agriculture, whereby the goals of this alternative mode of production are displaced by market coordination and profit maximization. However, studies have also called for more detailed analyses, which would account for e.g. national variations in the development of organic agriculture. To further this discussion, we apply conventions theory to analyze how policy documents, strategy papers, and studies have justified the institutionalization of organic agriculture in official policy in Finland. Conventions theory has the benefit of examining both the moral arguments and the knowledge production related to this. From this perspective, we investigate how organic values have been shaped and how policies have attempted to resolve tensions between conflicting justifications. The results show that compromises between organic values and economic rationales have been used to promote organic agriculture, which has also promoted economization. However, the results also indicate that in addition to economization, organic values have faced other challenges. The value of organic agriculture has been questioned based on, for example, scientific measurements of organic products, and by comparisons to Finnish conventional production. Both challenges have questioned the significance of organic agriculture in terms of its health and ecological benefits. The results therefore indicate that more contextualized analytical models are needed when examining the institutionalization of organic agriculture.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149–159
Issue numberDecember
Publication statusPublished - 28 Nov 2020
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • organic agriculture
  • conventions theory
  • institutionalization
  • compromising
  • justification

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 2


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