Rethinking Co-operatives

Thumbnail Image
Lee, Jo-Anne
Smallshaw, Brian
Peredo, Ana Marie
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Measuring the Co-operative Difference Research Network
Our research poses different questions about co-operatives from an anti-racist, decolonizing perspective. We research ethnic minority co-operatives in Canada, a subject that has received very little research to date. Investigating ethnic minority co-ops can contribute to rethinking how co-operatives impact the economic, cultural, social and political life of Canadian communities. Our three current Case Studies look at the racial exclusion and marginalization underlying the development of Japanese Canadian Fishing Co-operatives, Japanese Canadian Farming Co-operatives, and the Strathcona Housing Co-operatives. Co-ops are often portrayed in competing and complex ways. On the one hand, co-operatives are depicted as democratic, anti-corporate, community-oriented, an innovative engine for local economic development, and a powerful local -global movement. On the other hand, they are also perceived as corporatized, self-interested, parochial, and/or outdated. Despite their different emphases, dominant approaches to understanding co-operatives seek to generalize or speak about co-operatives universally, abstracting from the always contingent and particular nature of co-operatives in different contexts, localities, etc When we position co-operatives as a model for enterprises & alternative to global capitalism, what are we missing? How do unequal relations of power operate in and through cooperative enterprises? We need to question and problematize the hegemonic views of co-operatives, and examine the impact of co-operatives through the lenses of power, race, gender, and other critical theories. Implications For Future Research • Investigate ethnic minority cooperatives cross-sectorally to reveal contingency of cooperatives within context of racial state formation. • What factors are needed for cooperatives to be a tool of empowerment? • What difference does diversity make in cooperative governance? •How are seemingly distinct spheres of cooperative activities linked in their effects on the marginalization/empowerment of marginalized communities and individuals? Implications For Practice • Uncover alternative strategies of survival and resistance. • Better engagement with diverse challenges within co-operatives. • Diversity: build stronger co-operative movement. • Nurture alternative forms of social change. Implications For Policy • Policy formation: look at how racial, sexual, gender and class inequalities have shaped cooperative policies with differential effects. • Policy impacts: Government policies regulate entitlements and access to resources. • Co-operative policies at the organizational level: who benefits? Whose voices are heard or not heard under what conditions? • How are different policies used to contest racism, sexism, violence, etc? How are co-operatives used to promote social justice and not just economic advantage? Key Takeaways • To achieve its democratic promise, cooperative scholarship must be more critical; • Conventional narratives of cooperatives leave out many stories, consequently, our understanding of the scope of cooperatives is diminished; • ‘Social differences’ are socially produced, cooperatives are a site of struggle and constitutive of identities as well as being constituted by struggles over power; • There are no neutral actors; unequal power relations must be considered at the outset; • Need to move beyond making the “business case” for cooperatives; there are many social and economic justice implications for research, theory, policy and practice; • This task is urgent if we are to meet challenges of global 21st century without reproducing problems of the past.