After Virtue: Cooperation as a Social and Economic Practice

Authors: Andrew Zitcer*, Drexel University
Topics: Economic Geography, Urban Geography, Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: cooperation, co-op, diverse economies, solidarity economy, Philadelphia
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Bacchus, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Over the last 25 years, Gibson-Graham and fellow diverse economies researchers have counted cooperatives as one of the prominent ways in which to practice an alternative to capitalism (Gibson-Graham 2003; Byrne and Healy 2006; Healy 2015). Social and economic cooperation is neither explicitly capitalist or socialist, providing a flexible ‘third way’ to conceive of community economy. This paper draws on research from a variety of cooperative projects in the United States: two consumer owned grocers in Philadelphia, a national multi-stakeholder acupuncture co-op, and a Philadelphia dance collective that uses principles shared with cooperatives but operates outside the cooperative business form.

The main contribution of this paper is to place these projects in conversation with moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s theory of practices. Like Gibson-Graham, MacIntyre offers a critique of modernity and capitalism that is unrelenting, but the solution he offers is the pursuit of the good life through practices, which he defines as: “any coherent and complex form of socially established cooperative human activity” designed to foster virtue and excellence in society (MacIntyre 2007, 187). In this paper, I argue that cooperation as a practice must be enacted at multiple scales, from the body to the collective, from the neighborhood to the broader society. Using lessons from empirical cases makes this claim manifest and urgent. Juxtaposing the theory of practices with the diverse economies approach allows for careful scrutiny of the effectiveness and sustainability of cooperative practice at a time when it is needed most.

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