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Co-operatives, territories and social capital: reconsidering a theoretical framework

Michele Bianchi (Yunus Centre for Social Business and Health, Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow, UK)
Marcelo Vieta (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada)

International Journal of Social Economics

ISSN: 0306-8293

Publication date: 21 October 2020



This paper promotes a critical approach to co-operative studies by contributing new theoretical insights. The aim is to propose a new view on the co-operative firm as a socioeconomic phenomenon embedded into the local contexts in which it is situated. Sociological and economic analyses have mainly explored the relationship between co-operative members and the organization, the economic performance of co-operatives or compared co-operatives with other firm types. Less attention has been given to the co-operative–territory relation, which can reveal insights into members' collective actions, a co-operative's origins from specific social groups or how they establish relationships with certain community stakeholders over others.


The paper begins with a literature review of academic studies that situate co-operatives in relation to community, with a focus on how social capital theory has been deployed to understand this relation. It then proposes a theoretical examination of two fundamental authors in the field of social capital theory: Robert Putnam and Pierre Bourdieu. Drawing on findings from the literature review and considerations derived from the theoretical dialog between Putnam and Bourdieu, the paper proposes a revised social capital-based framework for analyzing key relations and expected outcomes of the co-operative–territory relation.


Reconsidering the role of social capital theory for co-operative studies, this article unfolds a dual reflection. First, it underlines the necessity for research that more closely considers co-operatives' territorial relationships. Second, it critically interrogates and pushes forward social capital theory as a framework for examining the social relations that embed co-operatives and their capacity to activate territorial economies.


The paper highlights the necessity for a further examination of the co-operative–territory relationship. It presents an innovative framework for improving sociological understanding of co-operatives as organizations embedded into their local socioeconomic contexts.



The author would like to thank the Ian MacPherson Legacy Fund for the travel support which allowed to present the draft of this paper at 2018 CASC/ANSER Conference.


Bianchi, M. and Vieta, M. (2020), "Co-operatives, territories and social capital: reconsidering a theoretical framework", International Journal of Social Economics, Vol. 47 No. 12, pp. 1599-1617.



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