chapter  1
Linking Past, Present and Future: An Introduction to Cooperatives and Community Development
Pages 22

The conditions that gave rise to cooperatives in the nineteenth century-a world of small, homogenous communities working together to forge economic opportunities in a newly industrialized landscape-are in many ways a distant memory. And yet, well into the second decade of the twenty-first century, cooperatives continue to thrive. Today, over 800 million people are members of cooperatives around the world. Though once concentrated in a few dominant agricultural and manufacturing sectors predominately in Europe, today cooperatives span a diverse array of subsectors, providing more than 100 million jobs in well over one hundred countries in both the global north and south (ICA, n.d.). Given the significant reshaping of the conditions that initially gave rise to the coop-

erative form, why are cooperatives now experiencing a renaissance? While there are many factors that come into play, two particular developments are worth highlighting. First, though the underlying structure of the economy is quite different today than in the past, there is continuity both in the key features that drive capitalist economies as well as in the way in which people respond to economic crisis. Second, the diversity of the cooperative experience offers a wellspring of ideas, strategies, and insights in the current intellectual quest for viable alternative models of development. Historically, cooperatives have flourished where the costs to individuals (and their

families) of maintaining their standard of living have been too high to bear alone. As far back as the thirteen century, skilled craftsmen formed guilds as a way to insure their livelihood in a world of considerable social and economic risk. By investing in their trade, generating mutually-acceptable standards of quality, and securing exclusive rights to do business within particular cities and neighborhoods, they used the cooperative form to promote solidarity and protect their common interests (Black, 1984). In the industrial age, these factors continued to play a defining role in the development of cooperative societies, both within the working class and among an emerging merchant class. For Robert Owen, a Scottish industrialist known for his pioneering work in community schooling in the late nineteenth century as well as his advocacy for social reform in the early twentieth century, cooperative communities solved the fundamental problem of working peoples’ inability to make a living in a rapidly changing society. He strove to create planned communities, and later promoted labor exchanges, trade unions, and other cooperative forms of organization as part of a movement to enable workers to provide and exchange goods for themselves through mutual cooperation and more humane working conditions (Birchall, 1997). Similarly, the weavers and skilled workers of Rochdale, England came together in 1844 to form the first

Vanna Gonzales and Rhonda G. Phillips

cooperative shops in an effort to preserve their livelihood and in the process developed a commitment to social responsibility and democratic participation through the codification of cooperative principles. Whether the human impulse for cooperative endeavors is understood as a biological

imperative (Dugatkin, 1999) or a response to external stimuli (Ostrom, 2000), today, as in the past, cooperatives continue to serve as a valuable means of protecting communities against poor living and working conditions (Curl, 2010; Feldman & Nembhard, 2002; Borzaga and Sanuari, 2000; Birchall, 1997; MacLeod, 1997). In the face of economic crisis they harness the impulse for self-preservation to a broad range of strategies and tools aimed at fostering a commitment to mutual interest over time. Though these mutual interests have often been identified on the basis of economic need and/or employment-related considerations, cooperatives’ survival has always depended significantly on their capacity to generate a wide range of benefits both for their members and for the communities in which they are embedded (Levin, 2006; Turnbull, 1997; and Moberg, 1979). Whereas in the past these communities have tended to be territorially defined and fairly homogeneous culturally, today they are cross-cut by a variety of cleavages linked not only to socio-economic status but also to race, ethnicity, gender, and citizenship status. Associated in large part with demographic and cultural shifts linked to globalization and post-industrialism, these changes have led to a renewed emphasis on the importance of community as well as efforts to catalyze community development through innovation and cooperation. Thus, despite concerns over continuing economic malaise and a general decline in social capital in countries like the United States (Putnam, 2001), large majorities of rural Americans continue to have positive views of their neighbors and communities (Dillon and Young, 2011) and to find innovative ways to foster civic engagement and community action (Sirianni and Friedland, 2001; Rusch, 2001; Alperovitz, 2011). The revitalization of interest in cooperatives is also attributable to a convergence of

intellectual currents reinforcing the legitimacy of the cooperative endeavor. Though the late 20th century has been characterized as the age of fracture (Rodgers, 2011), dominated by metaphors of fragmentation and decay, we are currently witnessing a pendulum shift toward themes of synthesis and renewal. At the heart of this transition, cooperatives represent an attractive fusion of idealism and pragmatism. Working within a theoretical terrain littered with discredited ideologies, political and social theorists have looked to cooperatives as a cornerstone for both (re)imagining future utopias (Fournier, 2002; Wright, 2010) and recasting embedded liberalism as a viable ‘third way’ for the twenty-first century (Giddens, 2001; Pestoff, 1998). For a variety of social scientists, cooperatives have become a driving force within new movements linked to a burgeoning social economy (Laville, Levesque, & Mendell, 2007; Alperovitz, 2011; ILO, 2010) as well as a more radical form of globalization (Reed & Reed, 2009; Williams, 2007). In the face of a seeming paradox between the centrality of enterprise in social dis-

course and the erosion of faith in free market capitalism, cooperative endeavors offer something for everyone. Understood by conservatives to embody the revitalization of ethical values within the basic parameters defined by capitalist economies, cooperatives represent a means of harnessing economic productivity for the promotion of collective goods (Knapp, 1970). For progressives, they have become increasingly salient as an organizational intermediary linking social and economic justice movements to public policy against a backdrop of welfare retrenchment, social marginalization, and

increasing disparities in wealth (Birchall, 2001; ILO, 2010; Rothschild, 2009). For still others, they represent a radical rejection of savage capitalism and the socio-cultural underpinnings of mainstream society (Albert, 2003; Fontan & Shragge, 2000). At the nexus of these convergent trends lie a variety of important, yet unanswered

questions concerning the relationship between cooperatives and community development. In the context of a looming energy crisis, increasingly volatile capital markets, and the prospects of protracted economic recession as a result of the current financial crisis, what properties allow cooperatives to harness collective action toward productive enterprise? How are current trends distinct cross-nationally, and translocally? Moreover, to what degree is cooperatives’ success in fostering community development conditioned by their environment versus factors related to internal governance and decision-making? Our ability to answer these questions remains limited by a lack of basic empirical

information about the depth and breadth of the cooperative experience. Due in large part to the relative marginalization of cooperatives as a focus of academic inquiry combined with the dispersal of research on community development across a wide variety of academic subfields, there have been few large scale research programs devoted to the relationship between cooperatives and community development. Where cooperatives have been the focus of research, the tendency has been to either celebrate the achievements of few, but well known, realities (i.e., Mondragon, Emilia Romagna, and Montreal) or gather case studies of a particular type of cooperative in specific national and/or sub-national settings (e.g., worker cooperatives in the U.S., consumer cooperatives in Sweden, food cooperatives in Ireland). Though important for bringing to light a reality too often hidden from public view, these studies often approach the role of cooperatives in community development descriptively, thus undermining researchers’ ability to translate their findings into conceptual and theoretical advances readily utilized by both policy makers and community development practitioners. To address these issues, this volume gathers together a variety of interdisciplinary

perspectives, utilizing a wide variety of analytical frameworks and methodologies, to explore cooperatives’ contribution to community development. In so doing, it makes several valuable contributions to the literature. First, by including scholars from disciplines across the social sciences (i.e., econom-

ics, sociology, political science, geography, and consumer and natural resource sciences), whose interests and expertise extend across a wide range of sectors and cooperative forms, the book introduces readers to a broad range of conceptual and theoretical frameworks. In so doing, it gives readers a better appreciation of the versatility and flexibility of cooperatives, as well as the common challenges they face in pursuing a variety of overlapping economic, social, and cultural objectives-a perspective currently lacking in the literature. Second, while focusing on the U.S. context, the volume also draws on the experience

of cooperatives in Europe and South America, as well as both rural and urban communities. This provides additional analytic leverage in addressing a host of questions related to the conditions and factors that shape cooperatives’ capacity to develop and sustain their productive efficiencies as economic organizations as well as their capacity to generate a variety of social benefits for the communities in which they operate. Undertaking theoretically grounded empirical inquiry, drawing on both qualitative and quantitative methodologies, this book not only generates a variety of data concerning

the relationship between cooperatives and community development, but also serves as an important foundation for the development of future research programs. Third, by combining different levels of analysis across different types of cooperatives

and communities, the book offers a variety of insights for practitioners as well as researchers. More specifically, it highlights how and why particular strategies, policies, and procedures enable cooperatives to generate mutual benefits among cooperative stakeholders (internal mutuality) as well as between members and their respective communities (external mutuality). As a primer to the key themes of the book, the remainder of this introduction situ-

ates cooperatives within the literature, highlighting the current state of knowledge regarding the conceptualization of cooperatives and the analytic terrain they occupy relative to contemporary scholarship on community development. More specifically, we devote the following three sections to the task of orienting readers to the different ways in which cooperatives are defined and evaluated. We then link cooperative to community development and provide an overview of each of the books’ seven remaining chapters.