Co-operative and community owned enterprises: resisting or reproducing the neoliberal consensus?

Co-operative and community owned enterprises: resisting or reproducing the neoliberal consensus?

Co-operative (co-op) and community-owned enterprises (COE) can be understood as alternatives to dominant models of business ownership and control. We seek to explore, through the perspectives of these alternatives, whether they resist or reproduce the neoliberal consensus, and how and to what extent they challenge existing management and organisation theory.

Co-ops and COEs share a number of characteristics which include democratic decision-making and member ownership and are also likely to include equality, equity, and not-for-private-profit. Members may be workers, consumers, or residents within a defined local area or property they may be communities of place and/or communities of interest.

On the one hand, community owned enterprises are a distinct and slowly expanding facet of society, to date largely under-analysed by scholars. They are active within several sectors, including land, forest and property management, renewable energy, retail, and leisure. The emergence of COEs may be partly attributed to the dominant consensus: they are manifestations of community empowerment aiming to locally strengthen civil society as sought by neoliberal policies. COEs have been credited with generating various positive externalities for their communities. Enhanced local democracy, social cohesion and resilience, local economic development, and population stability or growth have all been observed in communities controlling local assets. However, these benefits are accompanied by challenges. Communities may lack people with the management skills or experience to govern trading organisations however where there is a challenge there are creative responses.

Management issues unlikely to be encountered in traditional organisational ownership include aspects such as the reliance on volunteer managers and board members, who can get tired of often time- and energy-consuming work. Such issues may generate alternative and collective managerial responses from communities  responses that subvert and resist neoliberal market managerialism.

The cooperative movement, on the other hand, has for many years suffered from an isomorphism created by a lack of management models and ethics native to its economic movement. In 1995, the International Co-operative Alliance developed a definition of this economic model along with a set of ethics, values and principles. Over the last twenty years, co-op enterprises and their support organisations have worked to incorporate this new paradigm into their operations and governance. However, the co-op model does not, by itself, guarantee that the co-op identity flourishes, nor does co-operation automatically create a new managerial functionality. The development of a management model consistent with the promise of co-operation requires a consistent and conscious effort by management researchers, co-op leaders, and members.

In this stream we do not seek to conflate models of co-op and community ownership, rather embrace their plurality. Both cooperatives and COEs trouble neoliberal discourse through communal asset ownership. Such ownership, particularly of land, challenges norms of enclosure and individual property ownership fundamental to modern liberal democracy. Thus, communities of  place (CEOs) or of interest (coops) controlling and benefitting from their own assets can become places of possibility, where alternative organising and managing practices are performed.

By viewing co-ops and COEs as alternative organisations, we open up a space to critique existing understandings of management, and to explore different organising and managing practices. We therefore invite papers addressing a range of issues, including (but not limited to):

Have the COE and/or the co-op models challenged the hegemony of neoliberal managerialism (and if so, how)? Or do they simply use its difference as a marketing tool without offering a unique function to accompany the form of democratic collective ownership?
Does the form of community or co-operative ownership force a change on the function of management?
What is the role of management in co-ops and CEOs? Including (inter alia) managing without managers; challenges to governance; and the challenges of managing democratic ownership in a global economy dominated by investor-owned enterprises and the ideals of neoliberalism.
COEs in particular, and to some extent cooperatives, are currently concentrated in society geographic or economic periphery. Are there limits which restrict the spread of community and/or cooperative ownership (and if so, what are they)?
How do customers of COEs and coops view their relationships with the organisation and its corporate competitors?
What challenges do COEs and coops present to existing theory? What do we learn about management and organisation theory by analysing these organisations? Does local accountability mean something different in this context?
We encourage presentations from local co-operators or community groups discussing their organisation.

Submission details

Abstract submission (500 words): 31 January 2015

Notification of acceptance: 27 February 2015

Abstracts should be sent to: [email protected] and [email protected]

Stream convenors

Rod Bain, (University of St Andrews, Scotland)
Juliette Summers, (University of St Andrews, Scotland)
John McNamara (St Mary University, Halifax, Canada)
Sonja Novkovic (St Mary University, Halifax, Canada)
Ryzard Stocki (St Mary University, Halifax, Canada)
Sub-streams  University of Leicester

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