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Knowledge Politics and the Co-operative Difference Michael Gertler Centre for the Study of Co-operatives University of Saskatchewan.

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Presentation on theme: "Knowledge Politics and the Co-operative Difference Michael Gertler Centre for the Study of Co-operatives University of Saskatchewan."— Presentation transcript:

1 Knowledge Politics and the Co-operative Difference Michael Gertler Centre for the Study of Co-operatives University of Saskatchewan

2 Knowledge politics and co-operatives While co-operatives address discrepancies in economic power, they are also promising platforms for addressing problems of unequal access to and control over information and knowledge. There is a growing gap between what people know and need to know in order to make informed decisions—to take control of their lives. Consumer deskilling is as important as worker deskilling (Jaffe & Gertler, 2006). Result of exponential expansion in scientific and technical, information, greater specialization among citizens and experts, industrial changes, lifestyle changes, and disinformation. It is also the result of deliberate initiatives to privatize the knowledge commons (Alperovitz & Daly, 2008).

3 Co-ops and a critical theory of information The so-called knowledge economy does not generally equate to knowledge that serves citizens and is responsive to real needs. Co-operatives can achieve distinctiveness in the eyes of members (and potential members) by modeling and promoting principled co- operative approaches to knowledge co-production and knowledge brokering, and by critical engagement with competing knowledge discourses. Knowledge is in global network capitalism a strategic economic resource; property struggles in the information society take on the form of conflicts on the public or proprietary character of knowledge. Its production is inherently social, cooperative, and historical. (Fuchs, 2009)

4 Co-ops and a critical theory of information Critical Information Science/Theory: Analyses of information in the context of domination, asymmetrical power relations, and control conducted in the interest of the abolishment of domination and the establishment of participatory democracy (Fuchs, 2009). To be relevant, co-ops must engage with the politics of information and knowledge in a manner that sides with those who are reified, dispossessed, and dominated in the present conjuncture. Co-operative and democratic approaches to the decommodification of information are key to the transformation of work and consumption, and the liberation of humans and the rest of nature from the oppressions of privatized control and benefits.

5 Paradoxes of the knowledge-based economy In many organizations, the politics of knowledge—the ways knowledge is generated, used, shared, and legitimated—imposes limitations in terms of discovery, adoption, and optimization of more advanced methods. Knowledge politics in conventionally hierarchical workplaces, limits human development and productive potentials. The politics of knowledge in corporate-dominated spheres of scientific research (both private and public) skews research agendas: there is a bias towards solutions, technologies, or products that can be widely applied, that tap a lucrative market, that can be patented/licenced and effectively controlled.

6 Co-ops and critical analysis of knowledge To create alternatives to dominate models and to domination, co- ops need to work towards a distinctly co-operative approach in terms of their own (internal and external) knowledge politics. Co-ops have a particular need to develop their capacity for critical analysis of information and (expert) knowledge. This is important in order to discover opportunities and options that may be invisible to those who adhere to dominant economic and scientific discourses. Important also to individual co-ops and to the movement because the hegemonic discourse tends to discount co-operative models of organization.

7 Co-ops and critical analysis of knowledge The dominant discourse frames and limits discussion of alternatives to the point that conversion/demutualization may appear to be the only logical step. There is a tendency to legitimate, naturalize, and universalize economic arrangements that are, in fact, social constructions. Ideological assumptions are taken as commonsensical and there is a risk that they will become self-fulfilling through institutional design, social norms, and language (Stofferhan, 2010). And presto… a non-co-operative model of enterprise or demutualization of an existing co-op is the self-evident logical choice.

8 Co-operative knowledge strategies It is important to understand realities faced my members—starting with, but not limited to, experiences with co-op services and products. Co-ops can also assist members in analyzing these experiences and connecting with others. Listening provides valuable feedback but also creates stronger relationships between members and their co-op. Co-operative marketing is, perforce, “relational marketing” that is longer lasting, more authentic, multidimensional….

9 Knowledge politics in co-ops Learning opportunities provide members with important dividends in terms of satisfaction and capabilities that are applicable to multiple spheres of activity. Membership becomes more meaningful, a more important identity. Co-ops have special potential when it comes developing and brokering responses to problems that require joint action, co- management. To do things smarter, and to distinguish themselves in substantive ways, co-ops can and need to involve their stakeholders in problem solving, developing alternative methods or practices.

10 Co-op “shopping” Imagine you walk into your local co-operative hardware and building supply outlet. There is minimal advertising for the usual kinds of specials on seasonal items and toys for boys. Featured items reflect the ability of the buyers to secure quality items at reasonable prices, including items that are salvaged or reconditioned. Explanations are available in print, online, and in-person. Multiple dimensions of quality are communicated including durability, reliability, efficacy, aesthetics, environmental impacts, health risks, provenance, and the characteristics and operating record of suppliers. Trustworthy, locally relevant information is a distinguishing feature of co- op shopping—with learning and informed and disinterested recommendations as a co-product with whatever else is on offer. Patrons of the co-op can learn about the products they are choosing both from co- op employees and from reviews posted by other patrons. The co-op helps members to make considered, well-founded choices.

11 Knowledge politics as societal leadership Co-ops can recognize and integrate diverse knowledges: indigenous knowledge, local knowledge, women’s knowledge, newcomer knowledge, adapted scientific knowledge. These ways of knowing are all critical to sustainable development (development and they are essential to the preservation of cultural diversity (UNESCO, 2000). These ways of knowing are all critical to co-operative development both in the sense of the development of co-operative organizations/enterprises and in the sense of development that is endogenous, participatory, democratic, respectful, and just (see Favreau & Molina, 2012).

12 Co-operatives and knowledge Co-operative knowledge: 1. collectively/co-operatively created/developed 2. about co-operatives, co-operation 3. adapted/appropriate/specific to co-op(s). Knowledge co-operative: 1. a co-op whose principle work/product/service is knowledge/research/education. 2. a co-op that integrates knowledge generation/application as a key activity.

13 Co-operatives and knowledge Knowledgeable co-operative: 1.Adapted and reliable knowledge seen as a key service to members, a mark of distinction. 2.Learning and knowledge generation seen as important for all staff. 3.Understands the politics of knowledge as a terrain of contestation and critical inquiry. 4.Studies its own history, sector, region. 5.Uses research and research partnerships as strategic development tools.

14 Knowledge-based, knowledgeable co-ops Territorial co-operatives in north-west Europe: – link farmers and other rural people in active co-management of landscapes – new learning and research modalities leading to the elaboration of ecologically adapted and economically superior systems of production – and to new public policies (Ploeg, 2009) Seikatsu Club Club Consumer’s Co-operative Union in Japan: – an association of 30 consumer co-ops with 300,000 members, 90 % women – began as a milk buying club in 1965, challenging unsafe food – “mass independent auditing” quality control system for purchase contracts with producers – run own candidates for municipal office, lobby for policy changes re standards – spawned 400 worker co-ops to supply consumer co-ops, mostly women (Restakis, 2010)

15 Knowledge-based, knowledgeable co-ops Agricultural co-operatives and the Campesino-to-Campesino Agroecology Movement (MACAC) in Cuba : – MACAC promotes food sovereignty, boosts production, protects the environment and human health, helps to insulate Cuban agriculture from political, market, and climate shocks. – Most peasants in Cuba belong to Credit and Service Co-operatives (CCSs) made up of families who own their own farms and work them individually but group together to achieve economies of scale in marketing, obtaining credit, sharing farm machinery; or to, Agriculture Production Cooperatives (CPAs), collective farms in which all productive assets are owned collectively. – 110,000 families involved in MACA by 2009—about 1/3 of all peasant households; 12,000 farmer-promoters, 3,000 facilitators, 170 coordinators. Adoption most widespread among CCS members. (Rosset, et al., 2011)

16 Co-operatives & knowledgeable economies Reflexive, principled, learning organizations Co-operating knowledge communities Trustworthy, adapted knowledge

17 Knowledge politics and co-operative futures Societal requisites are broader than economic survival: meaning and personal liberation, social integration, participatory democracy, ecological transitions, and cultural and practical alternatives to neoconservative corporate-led development. Co-operatives can benefit from an alternative, critical knowledge politics that effectively differentiates them from other enterprises while increasing both their viability and societal value.

18 Sources Alperovitz, G. & Daly, L Unjust deserts: How the Rich are Taking Our Common Heritage. New York: The New Press. Favreau, L., & Molina, E Le mouvement coopératif québécois et la solidarité internationale: L’expérience de SOCODEVI. ARUC Développement Territoriale et Coopération and Société de cooperation pour la développement international SOCDEVI. Fuchs, C Towards a critical theory of information. tripleC 7(2): Ploeg, J. D. van der The new peasantries: struggles for autonomy and sustainability in an era of empire and globalization. London: Earthscan. Restakis, J Humanizing the economy: co-operatives in the age of capital. Gabrioloa Island, BC: New Society Publishers. Rosset, P. M., Machín Sosa, B., Roque Jaime, A. M., & Ávila Lozano, D. R The Campesino-to-Campesino agroecology movement of ANAP in Cuba: social process methodology in the construction of sustainable peasant agriculture and food sovereignty. Journal of Peasant Studies, 38 (1), Stofferahn, C. W South Dakota Soybean Processors: The Discourse of Conversion from Cooperative to Limited Liability Corporation. Journal of Cooperatives, 24, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Towards Knowledge Societies: UNESCO World Report. Paris: UNESCO.


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