Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Nonprofit and Social Economy Research

Cultivating Alliances: The Local Organic Food Co-Ops Network

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Nonprofit and Social Economy Research

Cultivating Alliances: The Local Organic Food Co-Ops Network

Article excerpt


Many social movements have opposed the depredations of neoliberalism, but some of them could be considered ineffectual or even co-opted-caught in the narrowing of the "politics of the possible" (Guthman, 2008, p. 1180) that characterizes the neoliberal project. To overcome this problem, some movements have formed alliances in order to leverage their strengths while overcoming their weaknesses. Using a political economy framework, this article will present findings from a recent pilot study of the Local Organic Food Co-ops (LOFC) Network (2013) in Ontario, Canada. It will begin by looking at social movements, and then briefly discuss the co-operative movement, before describing the study and presenting the findings. Analysis of the data from the field research revealed that by cultivating alliances, the LOFC Network, although small in comparison to the overall food expenditures in the province, is creating a potent form of social, economic, and environmental sustainability that promotes participation, democracy, and sharing, supports a collaborative economy, and protects ecological integrity.


A social movement can be understood as "a network of informal interactions between a plurality of individuals, groups and/or organizations, engaged in political or cultural conflict on the basis of a shared collective identity" (Diani, 1992, p. 13). Social movements are generally divided into two types: the so-called "old social movements," composed of organized labour, and the "new social movements," such as the environmental movement, the peace movement, and women's movements. While the old social movements are class based, practice recognized strategies, such as strikes and working to rule, and get involved in organized politics, the new social movements (NSMs) are more issue specific, cut across class lines, employ a wide variety of unconventional tactics, and operate more outside the realm of organized politics (McCarthy, 2000).

NSMs emerge from the near-dissolution of traditional politics. They contain the double prospect of autonomy and consolidation, but also the possibility of descent into sectarianism and political impotence. Should they take root locally and develop strong cords of political connectedness, they may turn out to be the one force capable of cracking the mould of corporate globalization (Ratner, 1997, pp. 275-276).

Corinne Gendron, Véronique Bisaillon, and Ana Isabel Otero Rance (2009) have refined the concept of NSMs by proposing new economic social movements-a new generation of social movements that focuses primarily on the economic sphere and influences the economy toward political or social ends. For example, some social movements engage in "buycotting" strategies, which are "based not only on the education and awareness of consumers but also on measures of traceability and labelling" (p. 72). By doing so, they argue, these movements pressure businesses on a sociopolitical level by using the economic status of the consumer or the investor, thus redefining, re-politicizing, and re-socializing economic transactions.

Social movements of every kind have a long history of resistance and change. From the labour movement through the movements associated with women, civil rights, the environment, and peace to the gay rights movement, antiglobalization movement, and new social economic movements, people have been acting collectively to challenge repressive laws and mores. While not all social movements are progressive (e.g., the white supremacist movement), the large majority ascribes to emancipatory values and seeks a more sustainable world.

The progressive orientation of social movements has been seriously challenged by the rise of neoliberalism, a theory of political-economic practices that proposes that human well-being can be best advanced by the maximization of entrepreneurial freedoms, supported by an institutional framework characterized by private property rights, individual liberty, free markets, and free trade (Harvey, 2006). …

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