IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

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



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

  • Jérôme PELENC

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


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

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    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


    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

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:crc:wpaper:1805. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (CIRIEC). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.