When a Business Isn’t a Business: Law and the Political in the History of the United Kingdom’s Co-Operative Movement

21 Pages Posted: 30 May 2012 Last revised: 31 May 2012

See all articles by Tara Mulqueen

Tara Mulqueen

University of London - Birkbeck College; University of Warwick - School of Law

Date Written: May 3, 2012


Contemporary efforts to develop and promote co-operatives and the social economy confront a tension in the competing and often conflicting aims to achieve commercial sustainability in a capitalist market while also promoting social transformation. Through a review of the historical experience of institutionalization in the Co-operative Movement in the United Kingdom, this article attempts to generate insights into these tensions. Despite being seen as unpolitical, co-operatives can be understood as political at the level of re-shaping sociality through co-operative practice. Although the similarity between co-operatives and joint-stock companies produces ambiguities within the movement, this does not in itself detract from the co-operative project. It is argued that the codification of co-operatives in law as bodies corporate constitutes the closure of the political aspect of co-operation and reinforces and gives consequence to the misconception of co-operatives as primarily commercial entities.

Los esfuerzos por desarrollar y promover las cooperativas y la economía social se enfrentan a un conflicto entre los objetivos contrapuestos de lograr la sostenibilidad comercial en un mercado capitalista, a la vez que se promueve una transformación de la sociedad. Realizando una revisión de la experiencia histórica de la institucionalización del movimiento cooperativista en el Reino Unido, este artículo pretende analizar estas tensiones. A pesar de ser apolíticas, las cooperativas se pueden entender como un elemento político por su intento de reformular la sociedad. Aunque la similitud entre cooperativas y sociedades anónimas produce ambigüedades dentro del movimiento cooperativista, esto no va, por sí mismo, en detrimento del proyecto de cooperación. Se argumenta que, al contemplar en la legislación a las cooperativas como personas jurídicas, se acaba con el aspecto político de las cooperativas. A su vez, esto refuerza y termina con la idea errónea de las cooperativas como entes básicamente comerciales.

Keywords: law, history, philosophy, co-operative law, political, politics, social movements, institutionalization, 19th Century, industrial revolution, Derecho, Historia, Filosofía, Legislación sobre cooperativas, política, movimientos sociales, institucionalización, S. XIX, revolución industrial, UK

Suggested Citation

Mulqueen, Tara and Mulqueen, Tara, When a Business Isn’t a Business: Law and the Political in the History of the United Kingdom’s Co-Operative Movement (May 3, 2012). Oñati Socio-Legal Series, Vol. 2, No. 2, 2012, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2050353

Tara Mulqueen (Contact Author)

University of Warwick - School of Law ( email )

Gibbet Hill Road
Coventry CV4 7AL, CV4 7AL
United Kingdom

University of London - Birkbeck College ( email )

Malet Street
London, WC1E 7HX
United Kingdom

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