Open accesscreativecommonsPeer reviewed/Research article
Published online: Dec 2023

Sidney Pollard’s ‘Nineteenth Century Co-operation’ revisited: Periodisation, utopianism and realism in the British co-operative movement.

Christopher Olewicz

Vol 56 No 3, pp. 25-37

How to cite this article:  Olewicz, C. (2023). Sidney Pollard’s Nineteenth Century Co-operation revisited: Periodisation, utopianism and realism in the British co-operative movement. Journal of co-operative Studies, 56(3), 25-37.


The co-operative movement in Britain has always held within it a utopian strand, influenced by the ideas of Robert Owen, the “father of co-operation.” Motivated by the recent creation of, a new organisation of worker co-operatives, this essay charts the course of this utopianism from the nineteenth-century to the present day. Using Sidney Pollard’s seminal account of co-operative utopianism vs co-operative realism, it asks whether a new periodisation of the British co-operative moment is now required, given the marginalisation of consumer co-operation as a tool for social change since the 1960s and the “rediscovery” of worker co-operation. With both the UK Labour Party and the Co-operative Party promising to “double” the number of co-operatives in the UK going into the next general election in 2024, what are the consequences for the Movement? With post-capitalists identifying producer co-operatives as a potential successor to corporate capitalism, it is useful to consider the current health of utopian and realistic conceptions of co-operation within the movement.



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UK Society for Co-operative Studies is registered in England and Wales as a charitable incorporated organisation Number 1175295. Our registered office is Holyoake House, Hanover Street, Manchester, M60 0AS.
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