Introduction to the Co-operative Movement

ECON 105 – 01, Introduction Political Economy:


Instructor: Erbin Crowell
Often described as a “Third Way” or economic alternative to both capitalism and state socialism, co-operativism has also been claimed by both of these philosophies. More recently, the declaration of 2012 as the United Nations International Year of Co-ops has raised the profile of co-operative enterprise as a tool for social and economic development. This course will focus on the degree to which co-operation as both a business model and social movement offers a viable economic alternative and tool for social justice, economic democracy and ecological sustainability. Our goal is to acquaint students with the historical context and ideas that gave rise to the co-operative movement; the evolution of co-operative enterprise; comparative models and practice; the relevance of the co-operative alternative to contemporary economic and social issues such as globalization, climate change and the global financial crisis; and case studies in co-operative enterprise. The course will be participatory, including individual work and group collaboration as we seek to address the following questions:
  • What are the origins of the co-operative movement?
  • How do the conditions that gave rise to the co-operative movement compare with contemporary issues?
  • What are the different forms of co-operative enterprise?
  • What is the concept of a co-operative economy or “Co-operative Commonwealth”?
  • How might the co-operative approach be applied more effectively to contemporary challenges and opportunities?
  • Do co-operative principles represent a viable alternative to capitalist and state socialist economic approaches?

Erbin Crowell is an adjunct lecturer on the co-operative movement at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  He serves as executive director of the Neighboring Food Co-op Association and on the board of directors of the National Co-operative Business Association (NCBA).