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Investigating the potential of cooperatives to re-embed the economy: a multiple case study of food cooperatives in Belgium

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  • Julien VASTENAEKELS

    () (Centre d’études du développement durable – Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium)

  • Jérôme PELENC

    (Centre d’études du développement durable – Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium)

Abstract

It is now widely acknowledged that the development of conventional capitalist food systems has provoked multiple social, environmental and economic problems which are undermining the sustainability of the agro-food industry. As a response, many bottom-up, solution-oriented initiatives have flourished. Among them, food cooperatives have brought together citizens, producers, entrepreneurs, distributors and other actors to build alternative, sustainable, local food systems along the entire food supply chain. The capacity of these diverse cooperatives to move the economy towards sustainability remains unclear. To investigate this, we conducted a qualitative study involving three food cooperatives in Belgium. By examining how they have implemented two cooperative principles, we explored to what extent they are helping to “re-embed” the economy in society. From an empirical point of view, we offer a typology of food cooperatives and their “re-embedding potential” as a new research hypothesis. The typology has two dimensions: (i) surplus distribution i.e. from “investment-fuelled action” to “community-fuelled action” and (ii) the relationships between consumers and producers i.e. from “purely commercial relationships” to “cooperative partnerships”. It has enabled us to contrast the paradoxes inherent to cooperatives and their potential to transform the economy brick by brick with their values and ethics.

Suggested Citation

  • Julien VASTENAEKELS & Jérôme PELENC, 2018. "Investigating the potential of cooperatives to re-embed the economy: a multiple case study of food cooperatives in Belgium," CIRIEC Working Papers 1805, CIRIEC - Université de Liège.
  • Handle: RePEc:crc:wpaper:1805
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Simon BERGE & Wayne CALDWELL & Phil MOUNT, 2016. "Governance Of Nine Ontario Food Co-Operatives," Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 87(3), pages 457-474, December.
    2. Bernard Gazier & Marguerite Mendell, 2009. "Karl Polanyi et la pédagogie de l'incohérence," Université Paris1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (Post-Print and Working Papers) hal-00635090, HAL.
    3. Mitch DIAMANTOPOULOS, 2012. "Breaking Out Of Co‐Operation'S ‘Iron Cage’:From Movement Degeneration To Building A Developmental Movement," Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 83(2), pages 199-214, June.
    4. Jason Konefal & Michael Mascarenhas & Maki Hatanaka, 2005. "Governance in the Global Agro-food System: Backlighting the Role of Transnational Supermarket Chains," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 22(3), pages 291-302, September.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    Keywords

    food cooperatives; cooperative principles; sustainable food; embeddedness; market economy;

    JEL classification:

    • P13 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - Cooperative Enterprises
    • D22 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Firm Behavior: Empirical Analysis

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