Building an alternative economic network? Consumer cooperation in Scotland from the 1870s to the 1960s

D. C. H. Watts
Published Online:
03 Jun 2016
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 70 Issue 1

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There is growing interest in the ways in which, and the values according to which, economic activity is undertaken. For instance, mutual ownership has been identified as one means of helping to ‘redeem’ capitalism. This article engages with such issues by examining aspects of the behaviour of consumer cooperative societies in Scotland from the 1870s to the 1960s. It starts by discussing whether cooperatives represent a means of conceptualizing and undertaking economic activity that provides an alternative to the paradigm of investor‐led (neo)liberal capitalism. From this, and an outline history of consumer cooperatives in Scotland, it identifies two variables—dividend on purchases and funds for education—as proxies for the values underpinning cooperatives’ economic behaviour. Analysis of these variables indicates the existence of distinct cultures of cooperation, notably in the Glasgow and Edinburgh areas. The article concludes by offering two ‘lessons from history’ for those interested in alternative economic networks. The first is that cooperation can, and has, conceptualized and sustained an alternative to the dominant (neo)liberal economic paradigm. The second is that the scaling‐up of such voluntaristic economic thought and behaviour is unlikely to present a macro‐level challenge to it.

© Economic History Society 2016

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