Viewed predominantly as service-based institutions, the contribution of social enterprises to civil society has not received much attention. In the discussion that follows, I draw from a variety of primary sources, including an in person survey of presidents and directors of 140 Italian social cooperatives, as well as in-depth interviews with leaders of the Italian Cooperative Movement, to investigate the capacity of social cooperatives to generate collective benefits for Italian civil society. Combining a social economy framework with emerging conceptual work on civic capital, I analyze the relationship between this unique form of social enterprise and two key challenges to community development in Italy: parochialism and clientelism. By combining systematic empirical research of Italian social cooperatives, as a novel though increasingly important form of social enterprise in Europe, with a conceptual framework which focuses on the solidaristic aspects of these organizations, for which there is very little published research in English, l hope to broaden our understanding of how third sector organizations are able to cope with challenges endemic to community development in contexts that extend well beyond Italy.
Keywords: civic capital; clientelism; cooperative movement; Italy; social enterprises
Much has been written about the weakness of Italian civil society. Anglo-American scholarship in particular has focused a great deal on Italy's propensity for amoral individualism, familialism, and social hierarchy--characteristics frequently linked to a host of economic and political dysfunctions (Banfield, 1958; Chubb, 1982; Davis, 1973; Putnam, 1993). Less recognized are the vibrant social movements Italy has spawned, particularly its student and worker movements of the late 1960s and 1970s, the deinstitutionalization movement of the 1980s, and the more recent flourishing of its third sector.
In a political environment characterized by wide spread reform away from the post-war ideal of the universal welfare state toward a social development model strongly connected to economic goals, the third sector has become an important focal point in seeking opportunity amidst constraint. The centrality of the third sector in Italy's social and institutional agenda in recent years is linked to three overlapping forces: 1) Domestic political crisis and changing dynamics in Italy's political culture 2) Decentralization and other structural opportunities derived from well known deficiencies within the Italian public sector and 3) Pervasive skepticism and distrust concerning a larger role for private enterprise in the social sphere.
While Italy's post war political system has been infamous for its instability and inefficiency, the spectacular collapse of the Italian party system in the mid 1990s following the unearthing of systematic corruption and widespread problems within the Italian bureaucracy, have engendered a broad sense of alienation from the political elite and a more generalized questioning of the hegemony of political institutions in structuring participation in governance (Pasquino, 2008). Although a considerably decentralized polity whose local politics and public administration reflects the diverse origins of the Italian state, the widespread perception of excessive hierarchy, unresponsiveness, and lack of transparency, has led Italians to seek greater democratic accountability and closer connections with citizens through a variety of experiments with civic engagement, from deliberative policy making and participatory budgeting, to facilitating social dialog and the proliferation of a variety of social forums. This trend toward greater pluralism in the political system has paralleled developments in Italian society, most notably, the ossification of formerly vibrant social movements, a renewal of territorial identities, and changing understandings of membership. By opening up political space for civil society action and generating new ideas about the public good, these developments have placed a higher premium on the intermediary role played by the third sector, its capacity for social and democratic innovation, as well as its role in protecting individuals and societies from new social risks.
A number of structural opportunities have likewise favored the development of the sector. Driven in large part from pressures emanating from the European Union, the Italian public administration has taken significant steps to modernize different modalities of organization, regulation, provision and financing in order to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness. (1) In so doing, it has designated third sector organizations a variety of significant roles, from filling gaps, to generating new services, to representing citizens' needs and interests. The creation of so-called social markets, with various ways of contracting in with providers, has been particularly relevant in both legitimizing third sector organizations as competent economic actors, while wearing down resistance to the third sector on the basis of a strong social rights agenda, a widespread understanding of the public sector as the sole representative of the general interest, and the limits of voluntarism.
While attempts to liberalize the state tend to emphasize the considerable assets and competitive strengths of the private sector, the call for greater social responsibility and a more "social investment" oriented Italian welfare state, has focused primarily on the third sector. Although there has been some attempt to emphasize the comparative advantage of the private sector in terms of service delivery, due to the strong presence of traditional third sector organizations associated predominately with the Catholic Church, the private sector has never had a strong presence in Italian social policy. Moreover, continuing conflict over the blurred lines between private interests and public duties, high profile scandals within the private sector, and widespread cynicism about business ethics, have created a strong distaste for attempts to forge a larger role for private entrepreneurship in areas where public wellbeing is directly at stake.
Thus, shifting attitudes regarding the legitimacy of the third sector as a force of positive social change, combined with national political dialog on cultivating a robust democratic society, and the increasing mobilization of key social groups within the political sphere, have helped to generate legislative and regulatory actions to consolidate the legal and fiscal standing of the third sector. (2) The result has been a considerable expansion of the sector overall. The first official national census of the Italian third sector undertaken in 1999 reported approximately 221,412 active third sector organizations in Italy (ISTAT, 2001). As activity, membership, and management of the sector has become more diverse, the non-traditional aspects of the Italian third sector have enlarged (Ascoli, 1999; Friscano & Ranci, 1999). While religious based mutuals and traditional assistance agencies have declined as a portion of the third sector overall, interest-based associations and social enterprises have increased.
Among the most noteworthy developments in the Italian third sector has been the emergence of Italian social cooperatives. While the first Italian social cooperatives appeared in the 1970's, since the late 1990s they have become the dominant form of social enterprise in Italy. Providing a variety of services, programs, and activities in the area of human services--from social assistance to health care, education, and labor market integration--Italian social cooperatives share much in common with social enterprises in other contexts. They are neither statutory entities of government nor privately owned organizations, yet they are designated by statute to fulfill a public interest and subject to a limited profit distribution constraint. Beyond their value as economic entities, they have a particular public valence for social and community development. While social cooperatives are found in a number of European countries, including France, England, Spain, and Sweden, what makes Italian social cooperatives distinct is their connection to the Italian cooperative movement as well as their unusual blend of elements of traditional mutual societies with contemporary forms of civic participation and social entrepreneurship.
Despite growing interest in the development of social enterprises as a unique third sector form, and a recent proliferation of research devoted to their study, our understanding of how and to what extent specific types of social enterprises impact the development of civil society at different levels of analysis within diverse political and cultural contexts, remains considerably limited. In the discussion that follows I draw upon my extensive research of Italian social cooperatives to discuss the capacity of this novel form of social enterprise to generate collective social benefits to strengthen Italian civil society. More specifically, I look at their relevance for the formation of civic capital and provide an extended analysis of their contribution to overcoming two key "vices" within Italian society, parochialism and patronage. By focusing on the civic capacity of social cooperatives, I hope to contribute to a broader understanding of the capacity of social enterprises to generate collective social benefits that extend beyond those linked to individual service consumers.
Italian social cooperatives: a unique class of social enterprises
Italian social cooperatives embody the ideals of the social economy perspective of social enterprises (Borzaga & Defourney, 2001; Evers & Laville, 2004; Pestoff, 1998). This perspective underscores the solidaristic properties of social enterprises, thus emphasizing product innovation, strategic collaboration, and ethical business practices, while de-emphasizing individual entrepreneurship, competition, and capital endowment. Promoting a broader based understanding of social enterprises as building blocks of social as well as economic development, the social economy perspective emphasizes these organizations' unique, hybrid qualities and their increasingly critical role as interlocutors between state, society and economy (Evers, 2004). In addition to providing traditional forms of care giving and mutual self-help such as day care, residential care and home help, social cooperatives generate programs and activities related more centrally to social solidarity and community development objectives.
Though social cooperatives were most prevalent in central and northern Italy throughout the 1970s and 1980s, in 1991 the Italian government created national legislation for social cooperatives (law 381/1991). (3) This had the effect of both consolidating the existing reality while encouraging new social cooperatives, whose pace of growth has greatly outstripped that of more traditional Italian third sector organizations. While in 1991 the number of Italian social cooperatives totaled fewer than 1500 organizations, by 2006, there were over 7000 such cooperatives widely dispersed throughout the country.
Equally important, law 381/1991, provided a unique legal framework establishing social cooperatives as a model form of social enterprise, distinct from both voluntary associations (law 266/1991) as well as traditional production cooperatives (law 59/1992). (4) According to the Italian civil code social cooperatives are subject to many of the same rules applied to other cooperative societies regarding their organizational and structural parameters (i.e., the regulation of their constitution and liquidation, requirements for membership, the structure of governance and the budget process). In addition, they exhibit a number of related properties--chief among them paid employment, limited profit distribution, and democratic management structures. However, social cooperatives are also quite distinctive from traditional cooperatives. Because Italian civil society assigns them a public mandate to "pursue the community's general interest for human promotion and for the social integration of citizens" social cooperatives incorporate explicitly social and civic aims. Attempting to establish a unique role for social cooperatives within Italian civil society, law 381 establishes that social cooperatives must pursue the common good vis-a-vis the provision of benefits for third parties. Because the law limits the proportion of volunteer to worker members (no more than 50% of their membership base may be comprised of unpaid volunteers), and workers are not the primary service beneficiaries, their membership base tends to be more extensive than that of traditional cooperatives. As multi-stake holder organizations (Borzaga & Mittone, 1997; Pestoff, 1994), social cooperatives are thus less oriented toward promoting class interests than they are expanding the civic participation and social wellbeing of citizens.
Though the Italian third sector is heavily dependent on public funding, tax reforms aimed at fostering the development of the sector (ONLUS 460/1997) combined with the establishment of collaborative policy making measures (59/1997; 112/1998) and the comprehensive overhaul of the Italian social service system (328/ 2000) has substantially shifted the relationship between the Italian third sector and the state. Whereas the Italian third sector has typically oscillated between supplementation, whereby the state and third sector operate in separate spheres, and heavy interpenetration, with the state virtually colonizing the third sector, the advent of competitive tendering and more transparent contracting regulations combined with more formalized processes of coordination and collaboration, has elevated the position of the third sector, thus establishing greater opportunities for partnership. For social cooperatives, with their unique multi-tiered structure involving a network of local consortia linked to vertically integrated Cooperative Associations active at the provincial, regional, and national levels of governance, this has meant a greater role not only in the production of social services, but in endeavors aimed at promoting social inclusion and community development more broadly.
Civic capital as a form of capacity building
Conceptualizing civil society as a conglomeration of multiple public spheres, Adalbert Evers (2001) underscores the capacity of social enterprises to act as catalysts of large scale change. Although often masked at the societal level, he argues that social enterprises often play a critical role as co-producers of social as well as economic development. To capture the way in which societal organizations function as co-producers of social patterns of interaction and community development dynamics, he employs the concept of civic capital. In contrast to social capital, which within an institutional framework, tends to be understood as an alternative rather than a complement to state policies, Evers (2001) locates the creation of civic capital at the interstices between government policies and social interaction. Like other forms of capital, he argues that it is, "... reproduced, maintained and even extended when working with it. Consequently, there is no clear separation between using and creating [it]" (Evers, 2001, p. 303). Thus, beyond merely reproducing social interactions that take place among individuals located in a particular social and historical context, as hybrid, multi-stake-holding organizations, social enterprises extend beyond their role as service producers generating primarily private benefits to individuals, to help generate civic capital in unique ways by structuring and shaping people's physical connectivity as well as their socialization and inter-personal interactions through the creation and dissemination of particular values, ethics and norms.
Building on Ever's work, Laville and Nyssens (2001), advance the idea that civic capital develops, in part, as a result of production processes linked to social enterprises. For example, in areas where social capital is densest, and therefore already affects the structure of public life, they argue that social enterprises can convert social capital into civic capital by enforcing mutual bonds and social ties through efforts to promote community development. More generally, the social economy literature underscores how the socio-cultural underpinnings of citizen-interaction--often associated with norms of trust and reciprocity--can stem from an institutional foundation. Consequently, civic capital is more than simply the product of "psychological states" or "indigenous" practices inherited from historical legacies of cultural development. Because interpersonal relations do not develop in a vacuum, civic capital embodies a set of practices and ideas about what is logical and appropriate within particular institutional settings. Beyond sensitizing us to the institutional basis of civil society, the social economy literature illuminates the important role played by social enterprises--viewed as particular organizational forms rather than generalized community-based resources--in the development of civil society. Thus, rather than acting as net consumers of social capital, social enterprises serve as important producers of civic capital. (5)
Combining a social care function with citizen involvement, Italian social cooperatives represent an important potential nexus for fostering civic capacity, both in terms of transcending intra-group parochialism and linking resources and ideas across institutional boundaries. While studies adapting a social economy perspective have recently begun to explore the ways in which social cooperatives-and social enterprises more generally--foster greater social inclusion (Devastato, 1999; Gonzales, 2007; Restakis, 2010), promote "spheres of socialization" and contribute to "activating citizenship" more broadly (Borzaga & Defourney, 2001; de Leonardis, 1998), systematic conceptual and empirical work related to their broader collective social benefits is lacking.
Social cooperatives and civic capital formation
In the following discussion, I contribute to a growing body of literature that seeks to understand social enterprises within a broader civil society lens, by exploring how social cooperatives contribute to the creation and regeneration of civic capital. (6) More specifically, I focus on whether and how social cooperatives are helping to mitigate against two pervasive threats to a robust civil society, parochialism stemming from the development of a vast 'shadow state' of special interests (Dente, 1997; Ferrera, 1993; Paci, 1989) and patronage, as a consequence the "colonization" of civil society by socio-political interests (Granziano, 1979). Because parochialism and clientelism represent two of the most pressing challenges to community development not only in Italy, but in many places throughout the globe, looking systematically at how social cooperatives mediate state-society relations helps us both to better conceptualize the mechanisms by which the social enterprises (re)generate, shapes and/or undermine civic capital while contributing to the accumulation of empirical evidence about the capacity of different types of third sector organizations', located in different environmental settings, to fulfill this role.
Data and methods
My analysis draws primarily from data I collected over the course of a year and a half of extensive field research on social cooperatives in two key regions in Northern Italy: Lombardia and Emilia Romagna. Because of the significant cultural and socioeconomic differences between southern and northern Italy the experience of social cooperatives within these two regions are by no means representative of Italy as a whole. Aside from Italy's five autonomous regions, Lombardia and Emilia Romagna have among Italy's 20 regions with the strongest legacies of cooperativism and associationalism as well as those in which social cooperatives are the most developed, both in terms of numbers as well as the degree to which they represent a consolidated reality. Consequently, it is reasonable to expect that social cooperatives in these regions will be among those most likely to demonstrate a systematic role in developing civic capital, and thus provide a particularly useful baseline for further study.
While my empirical research is informed by a variety of methodologies, including participatory observation and meta-analysis of secondary materials gathered from Italian archives, cooperative consortia and associations, the analysis presented here is based primarily on data I collected in 2001 from an in-person survey of leaders of 140 type A social cooperatives as well as 31 in-depth interviews I conducted with cooperators at the provincial, regional, and national levels within each of Italy's two largest cooperative associations, Lega and Confcooperativa. For the survey, I randomly selected social cooperatives from regional registries to generate a random sample of social cooperatives from four provinces in Lombardia (Milano, Brescia, Lecco and Cremona) and four provinces in Emilia Romagna (Bologna, Reggio Emilia, Parma and Ferrera). I then conducted a one hour in-person interview with the cooperative president or other administrative head, of each cooperative. (7) Interview subjects, primarily social cooperative presidents, were asked to respond to a variety of open and closed ended questions relating to both structural and institutional features of the cooperative as well as attitudes regarding its activities and performance during the calendar year 2000.
While relying primarily on survey data presents a number of obvious limitations, such as having to rely on static, one-dimensional indicators, the insights from my extensive field research enabled me to look more systematically at the capacity of social cooperatives to contribute to civic capital formation and thus provides a useful first cut in developing a more fine-grained analysis of how external political, social and economic forces combined with dynamic interactions within and between social cooperatives at the local level, impact social cooperatives' role in specific community development efforts.
Social cooperatives and the challenge of parochialism
Parochialism essentially denotes a set of attitudes, perspectives and behaviors which exert a centrifugal force within society. As a feature of Italian civil society, there are two relevant forms of parochialism of interest: campanilismo which reinforces self-referential identities and behaviors which insulate territorially-defined communities from the national community of citizens and pillarization which cross-cuts territorially defined boundaries to segment society into distinctive subcultures or pillars, in accordance with deeply rooted socio-political cleavages. In the following two sections I discuss how social cooperatives both reinforce and challenge these distinctive forms of parochialism.
Social cooperatives and campanalismo
The overlapping socio-economic and cultural cleavages that have historically separated Italy's south from its center and northern regions are well known. However, outside of Italy much less attention is paid to the problem of what Italians identify as campanalismo, or pervasive and narrowly self-referential localism--a phenomenon which is arguably as relevant to Northern Italy's small, somewhat isolated villages as it is to many parts of Southern Italy.
As in the South of the country, the majority of the population in Northern Italy resides in small towns of less than 20,000 inhabitants (ISTAT, 2005). While growing attention has been paid to demographic shifts in the south--most notable the urbanization and subsequent concentration of the southern poor in large urban metropoles--much less focus has been placed on the impact of changing demographics in the north. Despite a higher poverty rate in the South--in 1994 the poor accounted for an estimated 23% of the southern population, compared to 5% and 7% of those living in the North and Center (Ginsborg, 2003, p. 60) the problems of small towns and urban peripheries in the North are considerable. While urban centers such as Milan are the locus of growing social marginalization on a scale similar to the big cities of the south, many northern municipalities are suffering from rapid depopulation. Of Italy's 7619 towns with a population under 20,000, 57% are located in Italy's northern-most region, a figure that rises to 62% when looking at Italy's smallest 3600 towns with a population of under 2000 (ISTAT, 2005). Moreover, while every city with 80,000 or more people has at least one third sector organization, Pavolini (2000) reports that among municipalities with less that 20,000 (where the majority of the Italian population lives), nearly 75% do not have any third sector organizations. Thus, the considerable absence of third sector organizations from those contexts most vulnerable to the negative effects of campanelismo presents a considerable challenge in the North as well as the South.
Apart from demographics, the problem of territorially defined parochialism turns critically on cultural and political responses to these changes. Extending well beyond a commitment to local traditions and customs, campanalismo entails an inward focus which undermines both the recognition of common cultural and social interests and needs as well as collective efforts to respond to them. While self-referential and anti-cosmopolitan attitudes and behaviors are frequently attributed to cultural prerequisites, such as the presence or absence of certain religious beliefs and practices, territorial parochialism has complex and multifaceted origins ranging from geographic isolation to poorly educated and poorly endowed community leadership to heavy-handed state interference (Perlmutter, 1991). Within this context, social cooperatives play a multifaceted role. In areas where social cooperatives are reliant on local public officials as their primary source of funding, yet local public government officials fail to appreciate or recognize their value as independent institutions, social cooperatives are deprived two key elements Knapp, Robertson, and Thomason (1990) identify as critical for exercising autonomy, a multiplicity of funding sources and the presence of countervailing oligopsony power.
As is the case with Italian social cooperatives more generally, social cooperatives in Lombardia and Emilia Romagna are highly dependent on public funding, both through subsidies and formal contracts. My survey data reveals that on average, public funding accounts for 88% of social cooperative revenue, most of which comes from municipalities and local entities connected to Italy's Public Health Service (SSN). While approximately 60% of social cooperatives I surveyed indicated receiving over 75% of their operating budget from public entities, only 5% reported receiving funding from private sources alone. This corresponds with substantial reliance on the public sector more broadly with over 84% of social cooperatives reported frequent contact with public administrators. Though I find that neither social cooperatives' participation in competitive contracting nor their level of collaboration with public authorities have a direct impact on their social output per se, in areas where a proactive policy making process has been sustained and public administration has pursued a more integrated approach to the development of local social service systems, supported by higher levels of funding and explicit mechanisms for promoting quality over cost controls, social cooperatives have tended to generate higher quality services. In other areas where the policy process has operated under emergency conditions, and has thus been more reactive in nature with public administrators focusing primarily on economic efficiency as opposed to larger social development projects, their role as social innovators has been far more circumscribed.
The variegated impact of government sponsorship on social output masks, however, key indirect effects on social cooperatives in the form of greater professionalism and more widespread efforts to seek and achieve greater access to resources and more structured avenues for influencing policy development and implementation. While this has generally had a positive impact in the context of established community development agendas, in the absence of an Italian tradition of private philanthropy, the increasing dependence of social cooperatives on fee for service contracts has provoked a substantial focus on service outputs, a development further reinforced by social cooperatives' general lack of broad-based ties to organizations typically engaged in community mobilization and/or broader change-oriented activities. While 92% of social cooperatives report frequent to occasional contact with other social cooperatives, only 37% of cooperatives report either frequent or occasional contact with advocacy groups. Because many social cooperatives are unwilling or unable to either develop ties to advocacy organizations or establish partnerships with a diversity of public officials and administrators, in circumstances whereby public administrators are motivated to use them instrumentally as arms of the state, social cooperatives can exacerbate rather than mitigate campanilismo.
This dynamic is particularly evident in instances where concerns over jurisdiction both horizontally between different entities within local government as well as vertically between different levels of government (i.e., local, provincial and regional authorities) cause public officials to demand their own programs or services rather than working collaboratively with cooperatives to facilitate broader social networks across multiple constituencies, as frequently happens in Lombardia. Moreover, because the scope of social cooperatives community networks do not typically extend beyond a single municipality, they are largely unable to catalyze civic capital formation outside of relatively narrowly focused, often professionally dominated, service-based networks. Roughly half of the social cooperatives I surveyed reported no subsidiary locations in which they organize programs, projects or services outside of the municipality in which they are legally registered, and among the other half, only 19% report subsidiary locations outside of their province of origin, which in the case of both Lombardia and Emilia-Romagna, represents a geographic size considerably smaller than that of the average county in the United States.
Despite these difficulties, social cooperatives appear to help mitigate campanilismo in three key ways, two of which set them apart from traditional voluntary organizations. First, the infrastructure provided by the cooperative movement--peak level representative bodies at the national and regional levels supporting a vast web of consortia linking together small individual cooperatives at the local level--has enabled many social cooperatives to extend social networks to populations that would otherwise lack third sector organizations, often across vast geographic distances (see Figure 1 below). Whereas in 1994, 66.9% of Italian social cooperatives were located in the north, 14.6% in the center, and 18.5% in the south and islands of Sardegna and Sicily (CGM, 1994), by 2000, a tenfold increase in social cooperatives within Italy's southern regions had led to a more even distribution, with 41% located in the North, 19% in the Center and 40% in the South (CGM, 2005). In some cases, social cooperatives themselves directly facilitate this process by "spinning off" seedling cooperatives, thus helping to form institutional responses to new and emerging social needs. In these instances, social cooperatives introduce new ideas to cope with old problems and encourage greater involvement of community members in helping to deal with these problems. Cooperative consortia often play a similar role. By connecting cooperatives to one another across different municipalities' cooperative consortia often create strong internal synergies between cooperatives operating across different social sectors. Linked to cooperative associations at the provincial and regional level, these consortia cross-cut both geographic and jurisdictional cleavages, understood as the established boundaries of public administrative units, to pursue common interests, share ideas, and implement best practices. Thus, whereas third sector organizations typically come together only on a temporary basis around specific issues or action, the cooperative movement's translocal networks serve as a support structure for more permanent alliances, sustaining and coordinating action on more long term goals.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
A second way in which social cooperatives help mitigate territorial parochialism is by fostering social entrepreneurship. Although social cooperatives' formal interorganizational networks tend to be thin outside the cooperative sphere, interpersonal networks are extremely robust. Frequently, cooperative members use their personal networks to ease tensions and mediate potential conflict among different organizations, as well as promote common objectives and projects. Cooperative members are also often active participants in or members of other community groups and the cooperative leadership often wears multiple hats, occupying positions of leadership in other community organizations, such as foundations, religious associations or user groups. In this way, they are able to act as part of an informal social regulation process to help overcome some of the key factors that help to exacerbate campanilismo such as intensification of competition for scarce resources. Within small villages in particular, where local public administrators generally lack specific competence in the social sector, cooperative Presidents and other members have often been successful in stimulating synergies between community members and local public officials, thus creating conditions for more broad based efforts at community building.
Third, social cooperatives demonstrate a considerable commitment to community building, both in terms of their priorities as well as their actions. When asked about their social relevance to their communities and society more broadly, 62% of cooperative leaders surveyed indicated that "changing or influencing society" was either an "important" or "extremely important" motivation for their cooperatives' founding, and over 61% indicated, "promoting an alternative conception of disadvantaged people than that found in the dominant culture," to be either "important" or "extremely important" to their core mission. Turning from attitudes to activity, the vast majority of respondents (85%), indicated that their cooperative had engaged in some form of community outreach over the last two years. While, focusing predominately on producing informational flyers and attending and/or organizing conferences, roundtables or conventions, this outreach activity signals an effort to enhance visibility and work with others to tackle pressing social issues faced by local communities. Focusing on the issue of social inclusion more specifically, a sizeable minority of respondents (45%) reported that their cooperative had engaged in one or more activities to raise awareness about the concerns and difficulties faced by vulnerable populations, thus indicating a considerable commitment to community cohesion. In Emilia Romagna in particular, where regional legislation has embedded social service objectives within a broader framework of fostering social citizenship and local governments have made significant efforts to promote sustainable local partnerships, social cooperatives have been important in fostering collaborative discourse and underscoring the multidimensionality of social development issues. Thus, through coalition building, overlapping membership, and outreach, social cooperators often act as mediators and bridge-builders between distinctive elements of Italian civil society (i.e., religious-based voluntary associations, user groups, and unions).
Social cooperatives and the legacy of pillarization
Throughout much of Continental Europe the development of distinctive sociopolitical subcultures have played a key role in shaping the character of the third sector (Anhier, 1990; Ascoli, 1984). This is particularly true of Italy, where class dynamics and deeply seated divisions between the Catholics and the Socialists have historically bifurcated the country into two distinctive 'white' and 'red' pillars, (Ginsborg, 2003; Hine, 1993; Spotts & Wieser, 1986), each served by a vast network of societal organizations heavily subsidized by the state (Kramer, 1981), thus forming the basis of what noted Italian political scientist Giovanni Sartori (1976) has termed the "pillarization" of Italian politics and society. The more prominent 'white' pillar has traditionally formed around the Roman Catholic Church, the Italian Christian Democratic Party and the Catholic unions (CISL and ACLI), as well as associated national and local institutions (i.e., Caritas, Catholic Action and Comunione e Liberazione). The 'red' pillar, a legacy of the Italian Socialist Movement, has largely consisted of the Italian Communist Party (PCI), which in 1991 became the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS), along with its respective social partners, most notably, CGIL, Italy's largest union and the Italian cultural association, ARCI. Embodying distinctive ideologies, interests, and value rationalities and reinforced by separate media outlets (TV stations, newspapers, and Radio channels) as well as a broad cultural infrastructure of 'red' and 'white' sports bars, clubs and neighborhood associations, this pillarization of Italian politics and society has greatly influenced the development of the Italian third sector.
Within the 1948 Italian Constitution the Italian cooperative movement is expressly tied to the development of Italian civil society, and thus, its division into two distinctive Cooperative confederations, Lega and Confcooperativa, reflects its historic embedded within each of Italy's two distinctive subcultures. Because over 80% of social cooperatives are members of either Lega and Confcooperativa whose traditional role has been to function as peak level interest associations promoting the interests of the 'reds' in the case of the former and the 'whites' in the case of the latter, the character of the broader cooperative movement and its relation to social cooperatives is of obvious concern.
With the collapse of the Italian party system in the early 1990s and the rise of personalistic politics, embodied most notably in Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, substantial structural changes have begun to undermine the red-white divide. While not as deeply entrenched within the cultural fabric of Italian politics and society as they once were, these political subcultures nevertheless continue to inform the way that scholars and practitioners characterize and understand the institutional fabric of Italian civil society (Ranci, 1994; Stanzani, 1999). At the same time, as the political landscape in Italy has changed and new third sector actors have emerged over the last decade, the power of these political cultural distinctions to determine the interests, values, and behaviors of particular groups within society is less clear.
Two factors are of particular importance for understanding the capacity of social cooperatives to open up greater space for civil society versus simply reinforcing pillarization. The first involves the organizational culture promoted by ANCST and Federsolidarieta, the two associations affiliated with Lega and Confcooperativa which represent social cooperatives (see Figure 1 above). For most social cooperatives, the cooperative movement is a key intermediary, shaping the scope and depth of their socio-political networks as well as influencing to varying degrees their internal organizational cultures. (8) Thus, the normative orientations, ideologies and values promoted by cooperative associations are critical understanding social cooperatives civic capacity. A second key factor relates to how Cooperative Associations interact with third sector organizations, particularly within the policy arena. To the extent are they pursuing a broader public interest role versus perpetuating divided loyalties within and across the third sector, suggests that they are promoting rather than undermining civic capital.
While both ANCST and Federsolidarieta continue to maintain parallel infrastructures and are keen to emphasize their distinctive strengths, the contemporary relevance of their distinctive origins is considerably muted. This is particularly evidenced in social cooperatives and consortia's rationales for joining cooperative associations. Among those social cooperatives surveyed, only 14% indicated that their primary motive for joining a given cooperative association was political, while 39% indicated cultural/ideological affinity and 47% indicated technical and other types of assistance. Whereas in the past, the decision to join a particular association was based primarily on the perception of a shared ideology and/or common political culture, a social cooperative's decision to become a member of one cooperative association over another is now based more on pragmatic considerations (i.e., convenience, cost, competency, etc.). Although their parallel infrastructures lead to a high level of redundancy, thus creating a variety of inefficiencies in their technical and logistical support of social cooperatives, as revealed in interviews with a variety of cooperative officials, both ANCST and Federsolidarieta regularly collaborate with another, pursue broadly similar objectives, and share overlapping interests. These developments are emblematic of a high level of cross-fertilization, which over the past decade has allowed each entity to complement the other in a way that has reinforced inter-community solidarity. While ANCST has tended to assign a high priority to advocating for workers' rights and the development of more comprehensive social services, Federsolidarieta has invested heavily in strengthening the social bonds within local communities and generating bottom up responses to locally defined needs. In working together each Cooperative Association has developed a broader-based support structure not only for cooperative managers, but for a variety of community stakeholders as well. Thus, intra-cooperative partnerships have not precluded, but rather reinforced linkages among a broad array of other third sector actors, particularly in areas where local governments have pursued a broader social development agenda thereby offsetting the competitive dynamic unleashed by the formalization of social markets and their concomitant emphasis on efficiency, performance, and choice. (9)
A second key consideration in analyzing the Cooperative Associations' role in Italian civil society is their ability to reconcile their traditional role as economic interest groups for labor and business, with the broader public interest role promoted by social cooperatives. Historically, the Italian cooperative movement has sought to synthesize two key social objectives: the liberation of the worker and the production of benefits through entrepreneurship (Viviani, 2000). Along these lines it has supported and represented its members' interests by advocating for better market position, protection for workers, and democratic management. Yet, in representing social cooperatives, Italian Cooperative Associations have a potential new role in promoting a broader community development agenda. To the extent that the cooperative movement promotes social cooperatives as community development organizations versus economic or labor organizations, social cooperatives are better able to generate civic capacity.
Although both ANCST and Federsolidarieta appear to be adapting and updating old strategies and objectives to better meet a broader variety of issues, their ability to balance economic and social objectives presents considerable challenges. On the one hand, regional and national cooperative representatives demonstrate a considerable degree of solidarity with regard to the necessity to support broad based social objectives such as community development and social integration. They have been instrumental in forging multi-sectoral partnerships with local and regional governments and in Emilia Romagna, have been successful in getting social cooperatives' social accounting practices and quality criteria integrated into regional law. On the other hand, most of the key strategic initiatives undertaken by both Lega and Confcooperativa, as well as day to day support generated by ANCST and Federsolidarieta focus on the productive dimension of cooperative development, and thus bolstering social cooperative's organizational and managerial capacity in the production of human services. Thus, while their strategies and institutional designs may promote positive social outputs related to quality control, accreditation, and social responsible budgeting, in the absent of partnerships with other types of community organizations, they can also limit opportunities for civil society participation in the definition of local common goods.
This uneven balance sheet reflects the fact that both Cooperative confederations represent a wide variety of sectors. While a number of more traditional cooperative sectors, such as housing and credit cooperatives have a clear community development agenda, the base of cooperative members are in sectors such as construction and transportation which identify themselves predominately as producer cooperatives. Overall, social cooperatives constitute less than a fifth of all cooperatives represented by either Lega or Confcooperativa, and generate considerably less employment and revenue than other consumer cooperatives. Social cooperative membership constitutes only 4% of total membership and 3% of total revenue in Lega and only 5% of both total membership and total revenue for Confcooperativa (see Table 1 above). As a consequence, their representation and influence in the governance of the cooperative movement is fairly weak. Combined with a pervasive, and deep seated normative commitment to solidarity between users, workers and professionals, this tends to perpetuate an organizational culture that is strongly committed to a productivist ethnic and a strong and pervasive believe in the fundamental congruence of interests between cooperatives and communities. While fostering a broader normative commitment to community development, the absence of an explicit community development agenda combined with limited human resources and financial capital, tends to undercut the cooperative confederations capacity to promote social cooperatives' as vehicles for fostering civic capital.
Social cooperatives and the challenge of clientelism
Of equal, if not more importance, in understanding social cooperatives contribution to a vibrant and robust Italian civil society is clientelism, broadly defined as corrupt and unfair practices in the distribution of jobs, contracts, licenses and allocations of resources and activities on a political basis. In Italy clientelism has been widely viewed as a cultural phenomenon--a set of relations and practices that limit the space for horizontal solidarities in Italian society by what Italian anthropologist Amalia Signorelli describes as 'mass socialization in the practices of illegality" (1988, p. 267). While the traditional clientelism of rural Italy can be traced back to peasant-landholder relations established during Roman times, in northern Italy, clientelist relations have been more closely associated with political corruption linked to political parties. As Italy's dominant form of interest intermediation, the Italian party system has historically functioned as a kind of partitocrazia--a concept developed by Sartori (1976) to describe the extreme way in which Italian parties have penetrated the Italian governance structure to channel societal interests and public resources. Acting as a transmission belt between Italy's major political factions and the societal sub-cultures described in the discussion above, this system was long viewed as a key source of discord and dysfunction within Italian politics and society (Paci, 1989).
Historically, Italy's Cooperative Movement has been closely aligned with political parties, and thus implicated in the country's extensive system of patronage politics. Both individually and as a whole, cooperatives have been accused of serving as vehicles for their respective party patricians. While anti-corruption campaigns launched by the Italian judiciary (Mani Pulite) in the early 1990's and the decline of "partyness" within Italian society (Bardi & Morlino, 1994; Mair, 1994; Pasquino, 2008) have significantly undercut the pervasiveness of patronage systems, the resurgence of neo-corporatist forms of interest intermediation--what Martin Rhodes (1996) and others have referred to as concertation, first within Italy's economic and industrial policies in the mid 1990s and more recently within the social arena, have rekindled concerns that third sector organizations are undermining Italian civil society by siphoning off public (human and capital) resources, thwarting the administrative and legal mechanisms, and circumventing civic participation. (10) Thus, in analyzing the capacity of social cooperatives to promote civic capital, and thus collective social benefits, it is critical to understand their role in undermining, perpetuating, and/or fostering clientelist practices. Two forms of clientelism are of particular interest include: 1) political patronage, understood as cultivating an unjustly advantaged position through political favor trading, bribery and kickbacks and 2) personal patronage, which refers to promoting cooperative development primarily as a vehicle for advancing the personalistic prerogatives of individual leaders, such a financial wellbeing and professional security. While the former relates primarily to the role of cooperatives in the political arena vis-a-vis their relations with politicians and public authorities, the later relates to dynamics internal to social cooperatives.
Social cooperatives and political favor-trading
Though cooperative membership in social cooperatives represent only a small portion of cooperative membership overall, social cooperatives rely on Cooperative Associations for a wide range of information, support, and monitoring (of budgets and quality control) and are their main interface with Italian citizens outside the economic arena. In addition, cooperative associations and consortia constitute social cooperatives main source of representation within most regional and national policy arenas. While Lega and Confcooperativa's have tended to occupy a fairly weak position within the political arena vis-a-vis the national hierarchy of "special interests" their propensity for pursueing their objectives through close connections with Italian political parties implicated them in a vast system of political patronage prevalent throughout Italian politics from the 1970s into the early 1990s (Viviani, 1993). (11) Within this system, Cooperative associations would deliver cooperative members' votes in exchange for political parties' promises to protect cooperative political and economic interests. This historical connection to the Italian party system combined with the cooperative movements' role in generating an extensive network of ties between social cooperatives and the communities in which they are embedded, make social cooperatives particularly vulnerable to the accusation of political favor-trading.
Focusing on the shifting political and social landscape in Italy over the course of the last two decades reveals significant changes in the structural and strategic underpinnings of political corruption in Italy, which, linked to internal reform processes, have strengthened the role of Cooperative Associations as legitimate interest intermediaries within the political arena. The collapse of the Italian party system and the development of a powerful anti-corruption movement in the 1990s produced a stream of key legislative reforms introducing more formal mechanisms for collaborative policy making. While accomplishing little in the way of undermining political patronage in and of themselves, combined with a succession of electoral and administrative reforms designed to increasing accountability and regulatory scrutiny, they have opened the door to more institutionalized interest intermediation. Whereas in the past, the cooperative associations could rely on largely informal ties to party politics and public administration to achieve material and economic advantages, these changes combined with new legislation aimed at developing a broader array of third sector actors, has eroded their status as "privileged insiders." At the same time, demands for greater transparency and stricter scrutiny of cooperatives' financial practices have substantially diminished Cooperative Associations' capacity to engage in bribery or other forms of illicit deal making.
These developments have been accompanied by an evolutionary process of change within the cooperative associations themselves. Working actively to increase their autonomy from parties and reinvent themselves along the lines of business associations, both Lega and Confcooperativa have sought out broader, more flexible relationships with the Italian public administration. They have also sought to enhance professionalism by wedding entrepreneurialism to a high level of expertise, thus eroding clientelist relations from the inside out (Pietrogrande interview, 2001; Viviani, 2000). Although parties continue to be a key target of lobbying efforts, my interviews with cooperative officials reveal that they have adopted more formal lobbying strategies. As opposed to engaging in exclusive relations with particular parties, they interact with parties from across the political spectrum. And while interpersonal communication and interaction continue to be highly valued, instead of automatically seeking out party officials on the basis of personal ties, cooperative representatives indicate that they prefer to pursue their agenda with a wide range of parliamentarians, the particular party or parliamentarian determined less by political ties than the particular issues or situations in question.
In addition to the shifting political terrain, the socio-demographics of the cooperative movements' base have shifted as well. As a result, significant theoretical and ideological differences have been superseded by new challenges, which have given greater weight to voices within the cooperative movement calling for a more pragmatic approach to politics. This, in turn, has led to greater focus on ethics issues and a greater emphasis on "external mutuality." Lega's leadership role in pioneering "social budgets," thus introducing corporate "social responsibility" to Italy in the 1990s, is a particularly noteworthy example. (12) Among those developments most specifically related to the Associations representing social cooperatives, ANCST has expressly committed itself to pursuing "projects and interventions for the general benefit" and the promotion of "active citizenship," by creating opportunities for more direct involvement of citizens in making choices about service use (Associazione Nazionale Cooperative Servizi E Turismo, 1999). For its part, Federsolidarieta has sought to strengthening social bonds within local communities by generating bottom up responses to locally defined needs (Figoli interview, 2001) and has established a Code of Ethnics which upholds the values of democratic participation, community involvement and, "an open door policy and social integration between paid workforce and volunteers and clients" (Federsolidarieta, 1997).
Although external reforms combined with a renewed commitment to ethical principles provide strong disincentives for social cooperatives to engage in patronage politics, the lack of systematic forms of favor trading does not necessarily rule out more localized forms of corruption. Of particular concern is the threat of special or exclusive rights and concessions delegating public tasks to third parties within the contracting process. While there is evidence of public administrators exploiting the contracting process to circumvent public pay scales and minimize social costs, the disintegration of the old party system and substantial reform of the contracting process at both the national and sub national levels have minimized opportunities for corrupt practices involving kickbacks and collusive redistribution of resources and/or influence. Recourse to competitive tendering in the public procurement process has slowly supplanted quasi automatic grants, often doled out on the basis of political ties. As the contracting process has become more formalized, third sector organizations have sought and achieved greater political independence. Social cooperatives in particular, have conscientiously pursued a wide array of political alliance and have sought and achieved a more flexible relationship with public administrators.
Focusing on aggregate data generated by the social cooperatives I surveyed in Lombardia and Emilia Romagna suggests that far from being interpenetrated by political and/or hierarchically imposed social agendas, individual social cooperatives have been quite successful in warding off institutional capture by external interests. The fact that over 89% of social cooperatives I surveyed reported no contact with politicians and/or political parties, combined with the fact that only 11% self identified as having an expressly political identity, indicates that social cooperatives are not, by and large, engaged in partisan activity. Focusing on leadership more specifically, among those I surveyed, the majority of whom were social cooperative presidents, 70% reported a history of previous work experience either within other cooperatives or secular third sector organizations, while only 10% reported having worked within unions, 12% within public administration or political parties, and 16% with private sector firms, thus providing little evidence to suspect that social cooperatives are systematically being used by private or public entrepreneurs to favor-trade and/or subvert the regulations governing the third sector.
Social cooperatives and personal fiefdoms
Beyond their relationship to the cooperative movement, social cooperatives are implicated in clientelist practices associated with the complex interpenetration of private and public interests that have long characterized the Italian social welfare system (Cassese, 1988). While decentralization, liberalization, and other reform processes described above have reduced the number of quasi-state enterprises and mitigated the interpenetration of the Italian public administration by special interests, worries over failure to implement reforms combined with the perception of social cooperatives as poorly institutionalized alternatives to more traditional third sector organizations, raises concerns about whether social cooperatives are simply old wine in new bottles, operating less as innovative hybrids than new vehicles for individualizing potentially collective gains. Thus, the notion of social cooperatives emerging, and subsequently consolidating themselves as personal fiefdoms turns principally on the perception of their weak institutionalization, both structurally as well as managerially. Weakly institutionalized organizations that lack managerial capacity and/or mechanisms to foster cooperative governance arrangements are vulnerable to colonization by individuals who attempt to utilize the privileged status of incorporation as a social cooperative to pursue their narrow self interest at the expensive of other legitimate stakeholders, cooperative members, and community members who would otherwise benefit from social cooperatives' services and/or programs.
The fact that the vast majority of social cooperatives are nested within a broader cooperative infrastructure, complete with its own set of norms and practices, ensures an institutional identity beyond that of particular community leader, thus making it virtually impossible for social cooperatives to survive as individual fiefdoms. In keeping with the "strawberry patch" model of development promoted by Gino Mattarelli (CGM), a large consortium of social cooperatives operating at the national level, social cooperatives frequently promote and mentor new cooperatives. Nearly a quarter of the social cooperatives I surveyed reported starting off either as a spin-off of another social cooperative, or under the direct tutelage of a cooperative. In addition, the vast majority of social cooperatives are directly connected to one another via their joint membership in local cooperative consortia. These consortia help to discourage the colonization of the cooperative form by private interests by serving as a check to cooperative governance while also enhancing communication and managerial capacity vis-a-vis the pooling of resources, program coordination and training. (13)
Also embedded within the cooperative network are a variety of checks and balances generated by the cooperative associations. Representatives of the cooperative associations at the regional and provincial levels provide a host of support, including oversight of key fiscal and managerial aspects of social cooperatives, which make it extremely difficult for businesses to simply reincorporate as social cooperatives for personal advantage. Though it is clearly advantageous for cooperative associations to assist as many would-be cooperatives as possible, a number of internal mechanisms help ensure that these organizations will thrive as cooperatives. Cooperative associations assist in developing social cooperative statutes and thus encode cooperative principles and strategies into them, which are then reinforced through ongoing conferences, continued consultation, and organizational assistance, all of which help to form a loosely defined behavioral code of conduct that reinforces the cooperative ethic. This is further reinforced by a host of normative and legal barriers which mitigate against co-optation by external organizations and/or individuals, for example, social budgets which social cooperatives submit to Cooperative Associations every two years and a three year term limit imposed on cooperative presidents' tenure in office.
Because actual practices can deviate substantially from prescribed institutional design, it is important to examine empirical evidence at the level of individual cooperatives. Two indicators related to leadership in particular, suggest a considerable degree of democratic accountability among the social cooperatives I surveyed. Looking specifically at the issue of tenure in office, only 3.6% of cooperative presidents indicated that they had held office for longer than three years, while 10% indicated that they held office for only one or two years as a result of cooperative policy to rotate the office among a higher percentage of their membership. (14) Moreover, cooperative leaders responses to questions regarding the occupation and experience of the cooperatives' founders, makes it clear that most social cooperatives developed out of collaborative efforts among a variety of local community members representing a wide array of occupational backgrounds. While a small number of cooperatives appear to have been founded by a dominant, charismatic leader, thus significantly increasing the potential for developing a more personalistic orientation, for the most part, these cooperatives focused on behavioral-health and substance abuse issues begun by prominent religious figures or community activists seeking to better meet the needs and interests of the most marginalized members of their communities. Moreover, in virtually all of these cases the initial founders were either no longer in the organization or had subsequently taken on an advisory role.
Turning from leadership to governance more broadly, I find that social cooperatives' organizational structure is considerably flat and their statutes, particularly those affiliated with Confcooperativa, reveal a considerable degree of internal democracy. Further evidence that social cooperatives are neither emerging nor consolidating as private fiefdoms is provided by their decision making structures. On the basis of a weighted scoring system in which participation of all three key decision-making bodies among social cooperatives (the executive, administrative council and membership assembly) indicates the highest capacity for democratic decision making and the sole participation of the executive (president and/or director) the lowest, I found that the vast majority of social cooperatives I surveyed display a high (34%) to moderate (58%) capacity for democratic decision making, while only 9% of social cooperatives demonstrate a low capacity for democratic decision-making. At a minimum these findings suggest that the internal governance structure among social cooperatives provides considerable assurance against the development of personal fiefdoms which benefit individual personalities at the expense of a broader array of stakeholders.
While cooperatives considerable organization, professionalism, and managerial capacity vis-a-vis voluntary organizations has allowed them to gain significant autonomy as well as a number of responsibilities typically assigned to the public sector, such as accrediting social cooperatives and monitoring their budgets, within the context of contemporary contracting regimes, these very characteristics also raise the possibility of cartel like behavior focused primarily on procuring public contracts. Within the context of a more general contraction of social rights, the value for money principle which pervades market driven procurement processes, suggests a more subversive threat to cooperatives' social mission. Thus accompanying the threat of subversion by particularistic interests, lies the prospect that social cooperatives' pursuit of social excellence will be either inverted or subverted by the quest for commercial success.
Although Italy has moved less decisively toward the commercialization of the third sector, and recent regulatory developments have emphasized quality over price point, the introduction of contracting regimes has set up multiple tensions both within the third sector and between the third sector and public authorities. In provinces where public administration has adopted a hierarchical model of governance and cooperative associations are weak and only loosely connected to a broader array of civic organizations, social cooperatives are more susceptible to market fundamentalism. Within these contexts mechanisms designed to enhance public accountability, such as technical specifications on quality standards and roles on how operating expenses and investment costs are shared between public authorities and providers, tend to focus on organizational processes and procedures. Combined with public administrators' emphasis on performance management and economies of scale, the contracting process tends to subvert broader based community objectives related to social goals and outputs. Thus, it is not surprising to find that only a small minority of social cooperatives exhibit overt strategies of community mobilization such as petition drives, participating in marches or other direct forms of advocacy.
By the same token, where local governments have coupled their emphasis on the economic efficiency of the third sector with broader support for its role in generating social synergies, publically enforced standards of accountability combined with democratic processes of governance within and among social cooperatives, have enabled social cooperatives to play a boundary spanning role. A dynamic component of the third sector, they cross cut territorial and functionally defined communities to foster democratic legitimacy and the further opening of public administration to new forms of participatory governance. In this context, social cooperatives act as an important countervailing force against rampant marketization, understood as a trend towards a less public and less civic notion of the "active" Italian welfare state. In addition to advocating for increasing transparency and greater quality control within the service sector, they have played a key role in pairing the economic dimension of community care with a social dimension emphasizing cooperation and community rather than competition and cost. Aligning themselves with the "critical public," they tend to promote solidarity based models of governance which in addition to representing a considerable array of stakeholders, they favor direct citizen involvement in policy formation and implementation over a more limited understanding of community participation involving greater client choice in service delivery.
Despite growing interest in social enterprises both in Europe and the United States, there is surprisingly little systematic empirical research on an important subset of this sector: social cooperatives. Often touted as engines of economic growth, these organizations are increasingly viewed as champions of civil society as well. Yet, the relationship between the development of social cooperatives and civil society is a complex one. If we understand social cooperatives as community-based institutions, and thus part of a broader public sphere, it is critical to recognize that their impact on civil society is intertwined with the historical, institutional and cultural context in which they emerge, as well as the dynamic interplay between internal process of development and the political and social environments in which they occur.
To the extent that our interest in the civic dimension of social enterprises is linked to the ability of this emergent organizational form to influence those aspects of civil society traditionally deemed most problematic, I have grounded my empirical investigation of Italian social cooperatives in a contextual analysis which recognizes the importance of Italy's historic legacy of party interpenetration into civil society, the development of a large number of small, somewhat isolated municipalities, and the complex intermeshing of private and public actors within the Italian welfare system, in contributing to parochialism and clientelism as the key challenges to community development in Italy. Using this analytical framework as a baseline, I have sought to investigate Italian social cooperatives capacity to develop civic capital understood as their contribution to ameliorating parochialism and clientelism, thus fostering a more robust civil society.
What emerges from my descriptive analysis is a variable geometry of civic capital formation. In contrast to speculation that social cooperatives are inherently particularistic and thus unable to generate collective social benefits at the community level, I find that at least in regions where they are most consolidated, social cooperatives play a constructive role in mitigating if not actively undermining parochialism and clientelism in a multitude of ways. By fostering synergies between otherwise disparate community members and generating new and different types of responses to social problems and concerns, social cooperatives function as important nodes of civic capital formation. Perhaps most interestingly, this contribution to community development has been considerably enhanced by social cooperatives' relationship to more traditional civil society organizations, in this case organizations linked to the Italian Cooperative Movement, whose origins date back to the 19th Century. Although fraught with internal tensions related to divergent interests among their membership, the Cooperative movement's network like infrastructure and unique blend of solidarity and entrepreneurialism, has allowed social cooperatives to play a largely boundary spanning role.
While social cooperatives contribution to social life is strongly influenced by their interactions with the state, it would be a mistake to characterize public authorities' as either dictating cooperative outputs or simply transmitting cooperative preferences to policy. Rather, public authorities play a key role in orienting social cooperative performance within an increasingly dynamic socioeconomic governance system characterized by complex trade-offs involved in "activating citizens," from increasing employment opportunities, to emerging communities, to generating innovative responses to increasingly individualized service needs. Though fraught with ambiguity, where it functions well, the relationship between the government and social cooperatives approaches a cooperative partnership, featuring extensive coordination and mutual adaptation. In a number of provinces, particularly in Emilia Romagna, where broad based mechanisms for partnership have been established, including relatively stable funding streams, more inclusive policy forums, and on-going dialog with social partners, social cooperatives are able to work in tandem with public officials to build civic capital. Within these environments, social cooperatives play a key role in pushing for greater quality and accessibility and in identifying actions and policies necessary to meet and minimize the root causes of need. For their part, public authorities are both willing and able to invest in more integrated frameworks for social and territorial development, thus enhancing social cooperatives contribution to social development more broadly defined.
In other environments, social cooperatives role as building blocks of civic capital is significantly circumscribed. The breadth and depth of their linkages to community organizations is uneven and as primarily service-based organizations they are not, for the most part, active in mobilizing communities in so much as members and service beneficiaries, who tend to represent the more marginalized segments of their communities. Though liberalization of the state has been significantly less pronounced than in other European contexts, given social cooperatives' heavy dependency on public financing, the threat of state cooptation is considerable, with predominately negative effects in areas where public administrative capacity is weak, the governing coalition is unstable, and there is a strong separation between economic and social agendas. Under these conditions local government are generally unable to develop and sustain funding for social welfare and/or invest in the infrastructure necessary for effective communication, accountability and evaluation. As a result, social cooperatives are often viewed by public administrators as a substitute for broader public solutions. In these situations, cooperatives' social activism is compromised by their service role, thus stifling the impetus for developing what Fulton and Laycock (1990) term "movement-bolstering activities" or broader civic initiatives. While this can positively impact their relationship with the clients they see themselves as representing, primarily marginalized, social excluded segments of Italian society, where other types of civil society organizations have failed to mobilize, and social cooperative networks have largely been limited to the cooperative movement itself, they can end up fostering particularism at the expensive of broader synergies needed to generate a more comprehensive community development agenda.
Though clearly reflective of the broader governance systems in which they are embedded, overall I find that social cooperatives make a significant contribution to fostering civic capital in northern Italy. Understanding the historical context in which they have developed, in particular the dispersed and fragmented character of the Italian third sector and the traditional interpenetration of state and societal interests, further reinforces their transformative role. Constructing new social realities at the local, regional and national level, they represent much more than "old wine in new bottles." And while their primary societal contribution may be quite typical of social enterprises more generally--increasing citizens' choices as consumers of services and enhancing their opportunities to participate in mutual aid, Italian social cooperatives play an important nested civic function and can thus be considered critical engines of community development.
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Vanna A. Gonzales *
School of Justice and Social Inquiry. Arizona State Universio,, PO Box 870403, Tempe, 85287-0403, USA
* Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
(1.) These developments are closely related to broader European Union efforts to move forward with its economic development agenda. In order to generate widespread citizen support for this agenda and reconcile the tension it generates in trying to promote social inclusion and other core aspects of Europe's more explicitly "social" agenda, the EU has been a noteworthy advocate of the third sector, particularly "social enterprises," both in terms of putting forth strategic initiatives as well as directly funding these institutions and research designed to support them.
(2.) A number of key national laws have focused specifically on the development and consolidation of Italian civil society (n. 266/1991; n. 381/1991; 460/1997). Largely the project of initiatives generated by L'Ulivo, Italy's leftist coalition government (1996-2000), these reforms have been accompanied by extensive social and economic policy reforms and a far-reaching social agenda designed to alleviate "social exclusion" and cultivate more "active citizenship," through the promotion and consolidation of civic-based initiatives and programs.
(3.) The law categorizes social cooperatives into two types. The first category, (designated A-type Cooperatives), operate in the fields of recreation, health, social assistance and education. The second category of social cooperatives (Cooperatives B) are engaged primarily in activities related to labor force integration, providing stable work and remuneration to disadvantaged and marginalized persons in the labor market (i.e., the physically and psychologically disabled, recovering drug addicts, long term unemployed, youth with low skills and ex-convicts).
(4.) A recent legal development is the adoption of a new law defining social enterprises as distinct from social cooperatives more specifically (law 155/2006). The law provides that the term "social enterprise" cover a broader terrain of organizations, encompassing all "private nonprofit organizations that exercise, in a stable and principal way, an economic activity of the production or exchange of socially useful goods or services, aimed at fulfilling objects of general interest," thus repositioning Italian social enterprises within a legal framework much more oriented toward promoting conventional businesses.
(5.) The conceptualization of civic capital, although considerably distinct in its emphasis on institutions, overlaps with the recent introduction of the concept within the urban governance literature (Wagner, 2004; Nelles, 2005). The concept of civic capital in this literature is distinguished from social capital by its link to place--in other words, geographically defined spaces in which people interact and derive meaning about their lives. In articulating a model of urban redevelopment, William E. Wagner, III (2004), for example, defines civic capital as, "a commitment of citizens to a specific place" (p. 159). Although the social economy literature goes further in locating civic capital within particular organizations, it shares the view that civic capital is linked, at least in part, to territorially defined locales.
(6.) While recognizing that the formation of civic capital involves broad patterns of social interaction, state intervention, and dynamics located in the interstices between government policies and social interaction (Evers, 2001), I focus here on whether and how social cooperatives, as a specific subset of organizations, help to create and reproduce civic capital.
(7.) Though the Cooperative president was my target interview subject, of those cooperators participating in the survey, 68% identified themselves as cooperative presidents, 14% as cooperative directors, 13% as members of the administrative council, and 5% as other.
(8.) ANCST represents the sector based association for services and tourism for Lega while Federsolidariefft represents only social cooperatives within Coopfcooperativa. Each association is one among a total of eight associated with their respective cooperative confederations. As the legally recognized bodies representing the Italian Cooperative Movement, these Cooperative Associations occupy a major role in promoting, protecting and assisting social cooperatives, and serve as the primary interest intermediaries between social cooperatives and the political, economic and social arenas in which they operate, particularly at the regional and national levels.
(9.) A particularly noteworthy example is their involvement in developing the Third SectorForum, a new arena for interest-based representation among a wide variety of social actors, which since the late 1990s, has played an important bridging role among an otherwise fragmented and unorganized third sector both in terms of attracting growing numbers of organizations as well as the attention of Government and Parliament (Zerboni, 1999).
(10.) While on the one hand concertation signals a more formalized system of interest intermediation thereby undercutting personal patronage networks and filling the institutional vacuum created by the rapid decline in party control, on the other hand, it assigns a higher level of policy influence to non-public actors and thus arguably opens up the policy arena to more political forms of patronage.
(11.) The full depth and scope of Italy's vast system of political patronage during this period only came to light in the culmination of a large scale criminal investigation of bribery and corruption which came to a head in Milan in 1992. This infamous "tangentopoli" or bribesville scandal, as it was called, exposed a vast system of kickbacks and vote-trading for government contracts which implicated political, administrative and business elites throughout Italy.
(12.) Social budgets, otherwise known in Italy as bilanci sociali, are a form of social accounting that provide information about the social base of an organization (i.e., labor and training, democratic activities, external relations, etc.) in addition to traditional information for evaluating the economic efficiency of the organization. In 1995, Lega made social budgeting compulsory among all its cooperatives.
(13.) According to a study of professional training conducted among cooperative members of CGM, 60% of cooperatives engaged in some form of on-going professional training, of which 13% was provided by the cooperative itself, 25% by CGM, 33% by cooperative consortia, and only 29% by outside organizations (CGM, 1997).
(14.) Because this information was provided by cooperative presidents, there is an obvious bias toward reporting compliance. However, at minimum, these results suggest presidents' knowledge about, and concern for, the regulations that they are supposed to follow. Moreover, I found the individuals I interviewed to be quite candid about their experiences. In two cases, for example, directors indicated that elections were formally held every three years but candidates were essentially rubber stamped due to their historic commitment to the organization and their particular expertise, which were seen by the cooperative as establishing them as the best choice for heading the cooperative.
Table 1. Data on the cooperatives affiliated with Lega and Confcoop (2000). Affiliated Individual Cooperative Coops Members Associations LEGA All Coops 11,000 5,000,000 Social Coops 1200 177,000 (*) CONFCOOP All Coops 17,762 2,685,289 Social Coops 2758 127,373 Sources: Confcooperativa statistical office, December 31, 2000; Ancst-Legacoop, "La Cooperazione sociale" brochure, 2000. (*) Data from December 31, 1999.…