Political agency in the economy : cooperatives, solidarity and territory in Euskadi and Aquitaine
Title: Political agency in the economy : cooperatives, solidarity and territory in Euskadi and Aquitaine
Author: ITÇAINA, Xabier
Citation: Bice MAIGUASHCA and Raffaele MARCHETTI (eds), Contemporary political agency : theory and practice, Abingdon : Routledge, 2013, Routledge series on global order studies ; 3, pp. 72-91
In the present global economic crisis, the ‘social economy’– i.e. those forms of economic organization located between the public sector and the private for-profit sector – has aroused considerable public and academic interest. Thus, while considerable attention has been paid to the internal management of cooperatives and to assessing their economic efficiency, less attention has been given to the fundamentally political aspect of these economic actors. However, I contend in this chapter that the current reshaping of the social economy can provide stimulating fieldwork for political sociology. Highlighting the political aspect of cooperatives, I argue in favour of considering them a type of solidarity-based agency. As meso-level collective institutions, cooperatives enable their members both to shape internal democracy and to have an external impact upon local development, social welfare and territorial identity. In terms of theory, I consider historical institutionalism an appropriate framework within which to consider the political aspect of cooperatives. This entails looking in particular at ideas, interests and institutions – that is, at the role played by values and political cultures in cooperatives’ historical development (ideas), at how market pressure has altered their original values (interests), and at the interaction between cooperatives and official public authorities (institutions). This threefold approach allows research to analyse the extent to which the cooperative as a locus of political agency has undergone a process of institutional change. The cooperative value system has had to adapt to market pressure, and new ways of interacting with public institutions has been one means of responding to this pressure. Empirically, given cooperatives’ ties to particular geographic territories the regional and local levels of government are fruitful grounds for studying their political agency. Here I focus on two Southern European regions – the Basque Autonomous Community in Spain, and Aquitaine in France. My chapter is divided into four sections. In the first, I look at how solidarity-based agency figures within a historical institutionalist approach to political agency. In Sections 2 and 3, I apply this concept of solidarity-based agency to the two substate case studies, Euskadi and Aquitaine. In the final section, I compare findings from the two cases to discuss the extent to which each of them fits the notion of solidarity-based agency. My conclusion reflects on the significance of this approach and outlines an agenda for future research.
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