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The role of cooperative and social enterprises: A multifaceted approach for an economic pluralism


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  • Carlo Borzaga
  • Sara Depedri
  • Ermanno Tortia


he role of cooperative and social enterprises in contemporary market economies has been downplayed and marginalised to date by the dominant economic approaches. This insufficient attention (Kalmi, 2008 su Cambridge Journal of Economics) derives from the limited applicability of the main assumptions of microeconomic to the case of cooperative and social enterprises. We mainly refer to models. the assumption of self-seeking individuals and of 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 cooperative and social enterprises. We maintain that the improvement of the scientific understanding of cooperative and social enterprises requires to enlarge and deepen the assumption of the relevant theoretical models. Individuals cannot be characterised any more as purely self-interested. Instead, the importance of motivational complexity, and the diverse nature of preferences needs to be introduced in the model as suggested by the behavioural approach. Furthermore, firms cannot be interpreted any more in an exclusive way as profit maximizers. They are instead coordination mechanisms of the economic activity, as suggested by the evolutionary approach. To this end they develop specific organisational routines, and their objectives can be diverse, ranging from purely private appropriation, to mutual benefit based on reciprocity, to public benefit aim supported by other-regarding preferences. (Le teorie economiche dominanti, ed in particolare l’approccio ortodosso e quello neo-istituzionalista, hanno sottostimato e marginalizzato il ruolo delle cooperative e delle imprese sociali nei mercati economici contemporanei. L’insufficiente attenzione a queste organizzazioni deriva principalmente dall’impossibilità di applicare ad esse le assunzioni principali della teoria microeconomica ortodossa, ossia la presenza di individui auto-interessati e di organizzazioni che puntino solo alla massimizzazione del profitto. Anche la teoria neo-istituzionalista non riesce a spiegare la presenza e la crescita del ruolo ricoperto da cooperative e imprese sociali. Per questa ragione, il presente paper è volto a dimostrare come, per spiegare il ruolo di cooperative ed imprese sociali da un punto di vista scientifico, i principali modelli teorici economici debbano essere estesi. Innanzitutto, tanto gli individui quanto le istituzioni non possono essere più assunti come soggetti meramente egoistici, ma ne vanno studiate la complessità motivazionale e le strutture di preferenze, così come proposto dalla teoria comportamentale (behavioural economics). Inoltre, le imprese devono essere concepite come meccanismi di coordinamento delle attività economiche, come suggerito dall’approccio evoluzionista, e devono quindi esserne analizzate le specifiche routine organizzative sviluppate al loro interno e gli obiettivi organizzativi, i quali possono variare tra gli interessi di appropriazione privata dei profitti ed obiettivi pro-sociali sostenuti da preferenze altruistiche.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Euricse (European Research Institute on Cooperative and Social Enterprises) in its series Euricse Working Papers with number 0900.

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Date of creation: 2009
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Handle: RePEc:trn:utwpeu:0900

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Keywords: Cooperatives; social enterprises; organizational pluralism; economic theories;

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Cited by:
  1. Vera Negri Zamagni, 2012. "Interpreting the Roles and Economic Importance of Cooperative Enterprises in a Historical Perspective," Journal of Entrepreneurial and Organizational Diversity, European Research Institute on Cooperative and Social Enterprises, vol. 1(1), pages 21-36, December.
  2. Vera Negri Zamagni, 2011. "The Co-operative Enterprise: A Remaining of the Past or a Proposal for a Better Society?," QA - Rivista dell'Associazione Rossi-Doria, Associazione Rossi Doria, issue 2, June.
  3. Silvia Sacchetti & Ermanno C. Tortia, 2010. "A NEW FRAMEWORK FOR THE ECONOMIC ANALYSIS OF COOPERATIVE FIRMS: Self-defined rules, common resources, motivations, and incentives," Econometica Working Papers wp21, Econometica.


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