Coordinators: Salvatore Monni
Roma Tre University, Italy
Keti Lelo
Roma Tre University, Italy
Andrea Bernardi
Oxford Brookes University, United Kingdom

Field of Interest and Rationale

This research area welcomes scholars interested in the co-operative sector, an important component of the economy in Europe, in the Americas and in the Asia Pacific, and of developing significance in Africa. The co-operative firm is a very old institution, as is the interest that economics, sociology, history and management have shown in its study. Nevertheless, the attention given to the co-operative economy, in both research and teaching, is limited, if compared to its actual dimension and potential, especially in times of crisis. This research area is interested in all forms of co-operative businesses: workers’ cooperatives; consumer cooperatives; credit unions and banks; users’ co-operatives; mutuals and insurances. We are also interested in community-level forms of collective ownership of services and public goods. Co-operatives operate in the most diverse industries, markets and societies. An interdisciplinary research approach is most welcome given the multi-faceted nature of the co-operative movement, whose symbolic birth is held to be in Manchester in 1844, though much older and more primitive forms of co-operatives have existed in Europe (back to the Roman period), Asia (during early Chinese dynasties) and in the Americas (in Pre-Columbian societies). Some of the recent interest in co-operation has been prompted by the financial crisis and the debate on the failures of capitalism. But even in growth periods, the co-operative model has been praised as an option for very contemporary needs such as workers’ participation and involvement, ownership of standards and systems in the digital economy and in creative industries, alternative currencies and peer to peer banking, and self management of community level services and facilities. Like in the 19th century, co-operatives are active in urban environments and are particularly helpful to address inequality and sustainability issues. Indeed, most economic activities take place in cities and are crucial to their development. In this context, the co-operative sector, and its innate vocation to channel the actions of communities, appear an interesting and almost unexploited field of investigation.

Sample Research Question

  • How do co-operatives distinguish themselves from other organisations?
  • How does the co-operative diversity evolve in time?
  • Can co-operatives cope with downturns better than capitalist firms can?
  • Are co-operatives more sustainable and fair market actors?
  • Can community co-operatives tackle urban inequalities and trigger urban regeneration processes?
  • Is the co-operative firm less or more productive?
  • Is the co-operative model able to face contemporary economic challenges?
  • Can local government benefit from an active citizenship organized in multiple co-operatives?
  • Is social capital necessary to have co-operation, or rather the opposite?
  • Under which conditions do users’ or workers’ ownership prove more efficient than investors’ ownership?
  • What can we learn from the business history of the oldest co-operatives?


This research area welcomes conference contributions based on a plurality of methods: quantitative, historical, qualitative, and conceptual. We are oriented to the policy implications of empirical research and theoretical advancement on the definition and understanding of the co-operative sector. We are particularly interested in an economic geography approach to both co-operation and urban inequalities, in particular, the analysis of the production processes and their socioeconomic impacts in urban areas, the relationships between local economies and urban policies, the spatial mapping of economic, social, environmental, political, and cultural aspects that are useful for the analysis of the economic scene of the city.