Academic journal article Brazilian Political Science Review

The Solidarity Economy in South and North America: Converging Experiences *

Academic journal article Brazilian Political Science Review

The Solidarity Economy in South and North America: Converging Experiences *

Article excerpt

In the past few years, the solidarity economy has attracted considerable interest both in the North and the South. Since the early 1990s, scholars and activists have highlighted new surges in these initiatives, stressing their element of reciprocity and their tendency of expanding democracy through public spheres, thus involving civil society and generating greater social commitment. These facts have been taken into account in current debates on the major issues facing society, on a national and worldwide scale, thus creating opportunities for collaborative research projects and publications (DEFOURNY and NYSSENS, 2016).

In the North, the solidarity economy has its main antecedents in the historical experience of the social economy, from which it inherited some of its important characteristics, giving rise at times to hybrid designations, like 'social and solidary' economy, or 'new' social economy. The social economy has its roots primarily in France, Belgium and Spain; from these locations, it spread to places outside of Europe, particularly to Quebec, Canada. The concept comprises a set of collective initiatives seeking to establish autonomous and democratic forms of management, which historically have brought about three main subsectors, namely the cooperative, the associative and the mutualist (DEFOURNY, 2005). In these initiatives, the ways in which power is shared and income distributed result from the primacy of people over capital and from the objective being pursued-i.e. providing goods or services to communities and their members. Economic activity and its surplus are a means rather than an end in and of itself. Therefore, they are not primarily concerned with making profit, although they might generate economic profits or surpluses despite being not-for-profit organizations. In respect to this historical legacy, the solidarity economy stands out and is valued for emphasizing democracy and collective participation in local public spheres, as well as for addressing critically the predominant, present-day economic model on the global scale. Alongside similar movements in the South, it aligns itself with the purposes of "another globalization" (LAVILLE, 2004; POIRIER, 2008).

In the South, particularly in Latin America, 'solidarity economy' is the concept most commonly used to refer to collective economic organizations aiming to achieve financial gains and to generate income for their members, as well as benefits concerning quality of life and citizen participation. These initiatives integrate economic and social dimensions, due to their sociocultural foundations and to their rationality, which inextricably links productivity and participation, efficiency and welfare. Because of their social embeddedness, sometimes these initiatives also fulfill functions in the fields of health, education and environmental protection, among other areas. Significant efforts are crucial in achieving such purposes, mainly a strong membership commitment to democratic principles and work cooperation (LIANZA and HENRIQUES, 2012).

As a global movement, the solidarity economy in Latin America offers a critical discourse about the capitalist economic system. As we will see, new initiatives flourishing in North America, in particular in the U.S., share the same social landscape. It is therefore quite interesting to compare these historical contexts, in order to identify not only their singular traits, but also their convergences. This is the general aim of the article. It will try to highlight some elements of comparison between the Latin American experience and the North American one, with a particular focus on the U.S., a country in which many new locally-rooted initiatives, innovative ideas and proposals are currently developing, even though they remain unbeknown to most people not directly involved. The article does not attempt to cover the whole landscape of the solidarity economy in Latin America and in the U.S., which is very diverse and has given rise to many different conceptual and theoretical approaches. …

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