Readings for Sociology 929. The Social Economy


A Preliminary Note on the Readings


Usually when I teach a seminar I am thoroughly familiar with the literature and know that I have selected what I think to be the most interesting and important things to read. I have a clear idea of the sequence of topics that make the most sense, what I feel are the key questions and the punch lines of the course. This is not the case for this seminar on the social economy. I have only begun systematic work in this area in the past year, and while I have developed a preliminary theoretical agenda for the study of the social economy, I certainly do not yet know the literature well. As a result, I am treating the reading assignments for the seminar as an opportunity for me to read new things along with the other participants in the seminar. Of course, this has some risks: I have not read carefully everything that I am assigning, and so some of the items may be fairly uneven.


The readings are mainly of two sorts: pieces which attempt to grapple with theoretical issues in conceptualizing the social economy, and empirical case studies. I have included a number of books that assemble lots of case studies since I think these may be helpful in shaping the research projects in the class. Many of these, however, may not be very analytical, and some undoubtedly will be quite superficial descriptively as well. Especially in the books where there are multiple case studies In recommend reading the most interesting ones quite carefully and skimming those that seem less compelling.

Books ordered at Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative

There are a number of books  in which we are reading extensively. These I have ordered at Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative, 426 W Gilman St (near State Street). This is an independent, community-oriented bookstore, not part of any larger chain or corporation. I strongly urge you to buy the books from Rainbow rather than from an on-line book seller since the store relies heavily on sales of University course books for survival.

Erik Olin Wright, Envisioning Real Utopias (New York: Verso, 2010)

Jack Quarter, Laurie Mook, Ann Armstrong, Understanding the Social Economy: a Canadian Perspective (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009)

Ash Amin (ed). The Social Economy: International Perspectives on Economic Solidarity (New York: Zed Books, 2009)

Janelle A. Kerlin (editor) Social Enterprise: global comparison (Tufts University Press, 2009)

J.K. Gibson-Graham,  A Postcapitalist Politics (University of Minnesota Press, 2006)

Yochai Benkler,  The Wealth of Networks (Yale University Press, 2006)


Weekly Reading Assignments

Session 1.                9/1

Introduction: Social economy & real utopias

The purpose of this introductory session is twofold:  first, to discuss the general framework for thinking about the social economy that I have elaborated in my work on envisioning real utopias, and second, to get a broad sense of the lay-of-the-land in academic discussions of the social economy.  

Erik Olin Wright, Envisioning Real Utopias, chapters 5, 7, 10

Erik Olin Wright, “The Social Economy: a niche in capitalism or a pathway beyond?” paper prepared for the Analytical Marxism Group Conference, Oxford, June 2010

Frank Moulaert and Oana Ailenei, “Social Economy, Third Sector and Solidarity Relations: A Conceptual Synthesis from History to Present,” Urban Studies, Vol. 42, No. 11, 2037–2053, October 2005

Jean-Louis Laville, Benoit Lévesque and Marguerite Mendell, “The Social Economy: Diverse approaches and practices in Europe and Canada” (Montreal: Cahier de l’ARUC-ÉS, Cahier No C-11-2006)


Session 2.                9/8  

Dimensions of the social economy

Defined negatively, the social economy consists of economic activity that is not capitalist, statist, or familial. This includes a fairly broad range of different sorts of economic activities and forms of economic organization. In this session we will examine a number of different ways of defining this domain and its internal differentiations/dimensions.

Adalbert Evers and Jean-Louis Laville (eds).  The Third Sector in Europe (Edward Elgar: Northampton, MA, 2004)

Evers and Laville, “Defining the third sector in Europe.”  pp. 11-38

Evers and Laville, “Social Services by social enterprises: on the possible constructions of hybrid organizations and a civil society.” pp. 237-352

Jack Quarter, Laurie Mook, Ann Armstrong, Understanding the Social Economy: a Canadian Perspective (University of Toronto Press, 2009)

Chapter 1.  An Introduction to Canada’s Social economy

Chapter 2.  Social economy Businesses

Chapter 4.  Social Enterprises

Chapter 6.  Civil Society Organizations

Lester M. Salamon, Helmut K. Anheier, and Associates, “Civil Society in Comparative Perspective”, chapter 1in Global Civil Society: Dimensions of the Nonprofit Sector, Volume One (Baltimore: Center for Civil Society Studies, 1999).  Link to the full manuscript: Global Civil Society: Dimensions of the Nonprofit Sector.

Session 3.                9/15

Alternative perspectives on the social economy

Ash Amin has been one of the leading writers on the social economy. This book collects a range of case studies from different countries, deploying different definitions and addressing different theoretical agendas.

Ash Amin (ed). The Social Economy: International Perspectives on Economic Solidarity  (Zed Books: 2009) 

Session 4.                9/22

A case study: innovative forms of urban agriculture (Growing power)

On Saturday, September 25, we will have a tour of the remarkable agricultural social economy project in Milwaukee, Growing Power. One of the participants in the seminar, Kathleen Doherty, did her Master’s Thesis on Growing Power. I thought we could read her thesis in preparation for our visit and use the opportunity of the discussion to give her suggestions about revisions for publication. Emmanuel Pratt, A PhD student in urban planning at Columbia, is also doing his dissertation on Growing Power. He will attend the seminar and give us in advance some chapters from his dissertation to read.

Kathleen Dohetry. “Mediating the Critiques of the Alternative Agrifood movement: Growing Power in Milwaukee” (Unpublished manuscript, 2006)

Emmanuel Pratt. Chapters from dissertation on Growing Power. 

Supplementary readings: 

    Molly Anderson, "Rights-based food systems and the goals of food systems reform", Agric Hum Value (2008) 25:593-608

          Julie Guthman, "“If They Only Knew”: Color Blindness and Universalism in California Alternative Food Institutions" The Professional Geographer, 60(3) 2008, pages 387–397

          Patricia Allen "Realizing justice in local food systems Cambridge Journal of Regions", Economy and Society 2010, 3, 295–308


Session 5.                9/29

Social enterprises: comparative studies

The term “social enterprise” has become increasing popular in discussions of the social economy and related matters. Generally this term is used to describe enterprises which serve community needs and have a strong social mission and yet derive a significant part of their finances through commercial activity. The Kerlin book brings together case studies of such enterprises from around the world. Under “Additional readings” I have included the case studies from a large European project on the Third Sector and social enterprises. If you have time you might look at a number of these as well.

Janelle A. Kerlin (editor) Social Enterprise: global comparison (Tufts University Press, 2009)

 Additional Readings

National case studies of social enterprise from The emergence of Social Enterprise, edited by Carlo Borzaga and Jacques Defourny (Routledge, 2004):

Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Netherlands, United Kingdom,  


Other material from Borzaga & Defourny book:

      Introduction: from third sector to social enterprise

      Social enterprises as incentive structures

      The Significance of social capital enterprises

      The social enterprise: toward a theoretical socio-economic approach

      Management challenges for social enterprises


Session 6.                10/6

The social economy as a community economy

Julie Gibson and Katherine Graham, who write under the name J.K. Gibson-Graham, have for a very long time been academic activists involved in building what they call “community economics”. You can learn more about their activism and its relationship to their theoretical work on the website of the Community Economics Collective, a group located in Amherst, Massachusetts:  Their intellectual roots are firmly in Marxism – especially the kind of post-structuralist Marxism associated with Richard Wolfe and Stephen Resnick – and Feminism.

J.K. Gibson-Graham, A Postcapitalist Politics (University of Minnesota Press, 2006)

Chapter 3. Constructing a language of Economic Diversity 53-78

Chapter 4. The Community Economy 79-100

Chapter 5. Surplus Possibilities 101-126

Chapter 7. Building Community Economies 165-196


Session 7.     10/13


Matt Hancock, The Cooperative District of Imola: Forging the High Road to Globalization. Progress Report, Research Project on the Cooperative District of Imola. Prepared for MUEC, 2004-2005  pdf

Matt Hancock, Local Development in Emilia-Romagna: Alternatives in Action, 22 November 2005, RIPESS Conference, Dakar pdf

John Logue & Steve Clem, Putting Labor's Capital to work: capital strategies for Ohio Employees, 2006 pdf

Matt Hancock, Compete to Cooperate (Bacchilega Editore, 2007), English pages only


Session 8.                10/27

Information technology and post-capitalist possibilities

Most discussions of the social economy pay very little attention to new information technologies and the emergence of what is sometimes called the network-economy. Economic phenomena like Wikipedia, open-source programming, the creative commons, copyleft, etc., are seen as unrelated to social enterprises, worker cooperatives,  and community economics. I think that there is a connection between these. I thought it would be useful to spend a week on this especially since Yochai Benkler will be visiting Madison later in the semester as a Havens Center speaker.

Yochai Benkler,  The Wealth of Networks (Yale University Press, 2006)

Possible Additional Sessions

I have only planned seven sessions of readings and discussions for the semester. If the participants in the seminar would like to have some additional weeks of reading and discussion, here are some possible topics:

  1. Worker-owned cooperatives: The Mondragon Cooperative Corporation
  2. The social economy as a strategy of overcoming social exclusion
  3. Discussions of specific sectors:

·         The performing arts

·         Healthcare

·         Eldercare

·         Agriculture

·         Transportation

·         Finance