Guest editorial: Theorising economic plurality and making it mainstream is crucial

Jérôme Blanc

The special issue of the Journal of Co-operative Studies features three papers selected from the Lyon ICA Conference. All three discuss the specific contributions of co-operatives in the context of organisational plurality.

Editorial - Blanc, 2011

Do French Financial Co-operatives Still Have a Role in Financial Inclusion?

Georges Gloukoviezoff, pp. 5-18.

Historically, French financial co-operatives appeared at the end of the nineteenth century as an answer to the difficulties for farmers and artisans to access credit. Closely linked to the church and quickly supported by the State, co-operative banks have known a constant growth which has led them to become the main banks in France today. Ironically, more than one century after, access to credit is again a problematic issue. But this time, it is an issue for households considered too risky and not profitable enough. This situation raises questions about the strength of the co-operative role. Based on several research studies about financial exclusion and assessments of the impact and effectiveness of microcredit pilots, this contribution underlines why French co-operative banks have clear advantages to succeed in improving access to appropriate forms of credit for these households and why a partnership approach is pertinent, but it also underlines the essential role of banking sector regulation.

Gloukoviezoff, 2011

Organisational Variety in Market Economies and the Role of Co-operative and Social Enterprises: A Plea for Economic Pluralism 

Carlo Borzaga, Sara Depedri, and Ermanno Tortia, pp. 19-30.

To date, the dominant economic approaches have downplayed and marginalised the role of co-operative and social enterprises in contemporary market economies. This insufficient attention derives from the limited applicability to the case of co-operative and social enterprises of two of the main assumptions of orthodox microeconomic theory: the presence of self-interested individuals and profit-maximisation as the only possible firm objective. The mismatch between theoretical assumptions and empirical evidence has led to the underestimation of the growth potential, weight and role of co-operative and social enterprises. An explanation for the persistence and growth of these organisational types has not been provided by institutionalism either. We thus maintain that the assumptions of the main theoretical models must be enlarged to consider firms as coordination mechanisms of economic activities, whose stakeholders are driven by a plurality of motivations and display complex preferences. In order to mange motivational and behavioural complexity, co-operative and social enterprises develop specific organisational routines. Consistently, their objectives are not univocal: they can contemplate private appropriation, mutual benefit goals and public benefit aims supported by altruistic preferences.

Borzaga, Depedri, and Tortia, 2011

The Co-operatives’ Sources of Efficiency: A Catalyst for the Emergence of Stable and Localised Norms  

Marius Chevallier, pp. 31-

A large theoretical literature has identified the deficiencies of co-operatives and deduced they should disappear. However, the empirical literature has not confirmed a significantly lower level of efficiency for co-operatives. A survey of the empirical literature and new data on French co-operatives shows that the theories were right but that their inferences were wrong, since they overlooked alternative sources of efficiencies. On one hand, difficulties of co-ordination occur due to co-operatives’ lack of flexibility and rationalisation. On the other hand, these deficiencies also foster the emergence of another source of efficiency, based on a deep knowledge of the activities by and between the actors. 

Chevallier, 2011

Short articles

ICA European Research Conference: Co-operatives Contributions to a Plural Economy, 2-4 September 2010, Lyon, France 

Jérôme Blanc and Denis Colongo, pp. 43-46

The ICA European Research Conference 2010 was organised in the city of Lyon (France) through a partnership between the university (Université Lumière Lyon 2, LEFI research centre) and the Regional Chamber of Social and Solidarity Economy (CRESS Rhône-Alpes). The call for papers proposed to centre debates on the contributions of co-operatives to a plural economy.

Blanc and Colongo, 2011

Co-operation in France, a Plural Reality

Denis Colongo and Jérôme Blanc, pp. 47-49.

This short paper presents the dynamics of co-operation in France. Co-operatives are part of the “social economy”, along with mutuals and associations, and represent a powerful set of enterprises with regards to their total number of members. They have a leading role in the banking sector and a major role in the agricultural sector and in the retail trade. The general law of 1947 on co-operatives is not sufficient to avoid a fragmentation in the legal conception of them. Moreover, new forms have emerged in the last twenty years. We emphasise the case of the co-operative companies of collective interest called SCIC and the business and employment co-operatives called CAE, both coming from the statute of workers’ co-operatives (SCOP). Eventually, one stress the risk of banalisation and isomorphism, and one conclude on the need of the general recognition of social economy in France as one major factor that could give a further impetus to co‑operatives.

Colongo and Blanc, 2011

Book reviews

People-centred businesses: Co-operatives, mutuals and the idea of membership. By Johnston Birchall.

Reviewed by  Stephen Yeo

Yeo, 2011

Researching the Social Economy. By Laurie Mook, Jack Quarter and Sherida Ryan.

Reviewed by Luc Thériault

Thériault, 2011.

Co-operation: The beautiful idea, including a change agenda for co-operatives and mutuals. By Edgar Parnell

Reviewed by Jim Craigen

Craigen, 2011
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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