Friday, January 13, 2012

Seeking Resources for Thinking About Co-operatives

As part of my temporary foray back into the world of formal education, I have to do a practicum placement -- that is, I have to work for ten hours a week for ten weeks in some kind of community-based setting, and I have to produce scholarly work reflecting on that experience. In my case, I'm working in a local consumer co-operative that has not, in the few years of its existence, been able to fully realize its co-operative character, and my role is to do a few things as part of a larger process that aims to help that happen. As such, I'm looking for resources to use in that work and in reflecting on that work, so among other things I'm soliciting input from the mighty interwebz.

One kind of resource I want is very practical. I will be engaged in what I suppose you could call organizational development or member engagement and mobilization, and I am looking for any tools or ideas or suggestions that can help with that. What are the best ways to get members of small co-ops, or other kinds of organizations, actively engaged in those organizations? What can be done to shift co-ops and other organizations in more actively participatory directions? The material can be specific to consumer co-ops or it can be more general -- I have an idea that perhaps some labour education stuff might be relevant, given that member engagement and mobilization is an ongoing question in that setting as well. It can be written documents or tools for in-person popular education sessions.

Anyone have any suggestions?

The other component of the work is critical reflection about that work in a co-operative setting. I have very broad scope to define what I write about -- the idea is to produce various kinds of less formal written reflections and then a formal essay at the end -- but I'm most interested in thinking through the hopeful but ambivalent character of co-ops. On the one hand, they can be argued to embody a different way of organizing our work and our lives, a kind of seed of a transformed society that exists in the present, but on the other hand they are almost invariably tightly integrated into social relations that exert many of the same pressures that shape for-profit businesses. What potential do co-ops embody? What limitations? Moreover, how should we relate to organizational forms that wrap together both potential and limitation, both seeds of living otherwise and tight ties to current oppressive social relations? How do we dream the future in a way that makes it so while still attending to the practical in a way that allows us to survive? How should we relate to opportunities to do production and consumption differently that, at least in many instances, do not specifically or explicitly challenge the other axes of social relations that organize us into differential experiences of privilege and oppression, and that tend to saturate and disrupt our attempts to create just and liberatory experiments in the present?

To think about these sorts of questions, I'm interested in at least looking at a broad range of different kinds of critical writing. Some of that will probably talk explicitly about co-ops -- I'm thinking about material in co-operative studies, marxist, anarchist, feminist, anti-racist, and other critical traditions that wrestle with the kinds of questions I've posed with specific reference to co-ops. Some might talk about other kinds of organizational forms that embody related kinds of contradictions, such as the emerging sharp critique on the non-profit industrial complex coming out of some sectors in the United States. Some might relate to John Holloway's ideas of being simultaneously within-and-against oppressive social relations, and of the importance of nurturing cracks in capitalism. Some might engage in more general reflection about how those of us with socially transformative intent and desire might relate inevitably imperfect present efforts to visions for tomorrow -- I'm not super familiar with either, but I know there is writing centered on "radical imagination" that might be applicable, and other stuff about "queer futurity" that I might be able to relate to what I'm doing in interesting ways.

What kinds of critical commentary, research, polemic, and writing would you suggest I look into? What specific pieces do you think I might find interesting? At the moment I want to cast my net broadly, read a bunch of disparate material, and see what comes of it.

Anyway, I recognize that casting such a request out in a virtual bottle on the sea that is the internet is a hit or miss kind of venture, but I will be grateful for any suggestions I receive. Thank-you!


hhw said...

Some of the work done by the community economies collective has focused on worker coops: (a 2011 dissertation on coops, partly published as )

JK Gibson-Graham wrote about coops as part of their work on diverse economies. There's a chapter on Mondragon in their book Postcapitalist Politics.

Next Year Country said...

Scott Neigh said...

Thanks, both of you!

I'm particularly keen to get my hands on the Gibson-Graham book...I've seen a number of references to it in some quite different places.

Next Year Country said...