Co-operatives and Development

While the first consumer co-operative experiment in Rochedale in 1844, inspired by the ideas of Robert Owen, is widely documented, it would seem the sociological study of cooperatives began in earnest from the 1960s onwards. While most of this literature was initially very descriptive (Spaul, 1965) it was only later that attempts where made to interrogate the development impact of co-operatives, the conditions necessary for success or those that contribute to failure, the role of the state in supporting the co-operative movement and other general approaches to co-operative development from below. A lot of this literature also used case studies to highlight experiences, practices and challenges.

At the same time, the Cold War also had a major impact on the literature and general discourse around co-operatives. From within the Soviet Union (Maslennikov, 1983) attempts where made to theorise the role of co-operatives in countries like Asia and Africa and how this linked with the global socialist system. Emphasis was also placed on understanding class formation in co-operatives, the nature of co-operative property, cooperatives in exchange and production, government and co-operatives (both in states with or without a capitalist orientation) and finally the training of experts in socialist countries.

Later on in the 80s and 90s, a policy orientated literature began emerging from the ILO, the World Bank and even the International Co-operative Alliance itself. With the advent of the Internet, the debate and study of co-operatives has become more textured. Comparative information is more easily available. Worker owned co-operatives have also been documented and these studies are available within this general pool of information.

This discussion paper draws from all the above sources.

Co-operatives and Development