Co-ops and commoning

A co-op is a commons of ownership and thus will by definition have some kind of democratic stewardship machinery. But formal ownership and the right to enjoy benefits of ownership are not the same as stewardship and curating: fundamental dimensions of commoning.

Co-ops typically trade in markets and are thus involved in commodity exchange, although wage labour and the extraction of surplus don’t happen in the same way as in classic capitalist firms.

But at the same time it might have a managerial elite, pursue market-accumulationist strategies or produce something environmentally harmful. A co-op is not (necessarily) a commons. The owner-members would have to decide to undertake commoning in some sphere(s) – land, means of exchange and coordination, labour power (see Enclosure) – for the coop to generate benefits of commoning:

  • furnishing means of subsistence and wellbeing
  • under co-governance with the users of their products or services, and
  • ‘within the doughnut’. See Kate Raworth’s doughnut, below

The international Co-op Principles and Values can often be mobilised to support this, but don’t automatically guarantee this.

Kate Raworth’s doughnut:

Economist Kate Raworth identified a space for exploring and weaving a sustainable, fair, use-value economy, within a ‘doughnut’ space which lies

  • beneath a ceiling of catastrophic environmental harm, and
  • above a minimum global social foundation of rights and means of subsistence and wellbeing.

The doughnut is a space for convening alternative ways forward, and developing alternative relations of production in the economic landscape. The challenge is ”living gracefully within the doughnut’.

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