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

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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 paper 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 conceptualising 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 paper concludes by offering two ‘lessons from history’ for those interested in alternative economic networks. First, that cooperation can and has conceptualised and sustained an alternative to the dominant (neo)liberal economic paradigm. Second, that the scaling-up of such voluntaristic economic thought and behaviour is unlikely to present a macro-level
challenge to it.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-170
Number of pages28
JournalEconomic History Review
Issue number1
Early online date3 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2017


  • cooperatives
  • alternative economic networks
  • Scotland


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