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  • Marcelo Vieta

Article. Co-operatives, Territories, and Social Capital

Updated: Nov 27, 2020

Michele Bianchi & Marcelo Vieta (2020) Co-operatives, territories and social capital: Reconsidering a theoretical framework, International Journal of Social Economics, 47(12), 1599-1617.


Purpose – This paper promotes a critical approach to co-operative studies by contributing new theoretical insights. The aim is to propose a new view on the co-operative firm as a socioeconomic phenomenon embedded into the local contexts in which it is situated. Sociological and economic analyses have mainly explored the relationship between co-operative members and the organization, the economic performance of co-operatives or

compared co-operatives with other firm types. Less attention has been given to the co operative–territory relation, which can reveal insights into members’ collective actions, a co-operative’s origins from specific social groups or how they establish relationships with certain community stakeholders over others.

Design/methodology/approach – The paper begins with a literature review of academic studies that situate co-operatives in relation to community, with a focus on how social capital theory has been deployed to understand this relation. It then proposes a theoretical examination of two fundamental authors in the field of social capital theory: Robert Putnam and Pierre Bourdieu. Drawing on findings from the literature review and considerations derived from the theoretical dialog between Putnam and Bourdieu, the paper proposes a revised social capital-based framework for analyzing key relations and expected outcomes of the co-operative–territory relation.

Findings – Reconsidering the role of social capital theory for co-operative studies, this article unfolds a dual reflection. First, it underlines the necessity for research that more closely considers co-operatives’ territorial relationships. Second, it critically interrogates and pushes forward social capital theory as a framework for examining the social relations that embed co-operatives and their capacity to activate territorial economies.

Originality/value – The paper highlights the necessity for a further examination of the co-operative–territory relationship. It presents an innovative framework for improving sociological understanding of co-operatives as organizations embedded into their local socioeconomic contexts.

Keywords – Economic sociology, Social capital, Community development, Territory, Co-operative studies

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