The Solidarity Economy in Search of the Common Good – Perspectives from Latin America

1. Objective:

This study will focus on the activities categorized as those of the “solidarity economy”, as defined in the local Latin American understanding, and will analyze their characteristics, the social movements which have led to them, and their political implications in comparison with conventional development policies. Through a comparative analysis covering several cases in seven different countries, the study aims to build a theory of how the institution of a solidarity economy, in itself and in coordination with the state and market, could function to realize the “common good”, which is understood to mean the benefit for most people in the country, which in turn establishes the social conditions from them to develop their lives with dignity.

2. Background:

Since before the coining of the term “solidarity economy”, the historical process of practicing solidarity principles has existed either in the form of cooperative movements derived from the social economy, or as survival strategies of the poor under the spirit of mutual assistance throughout decades of authoritarian regimes (see Hirschman, Albert, Getting Ahead Collectively: Grassroots Experiences in Latin America, Pergamon, 1984). Today, Latin American countries have recovered from a two-decade economic crisis, and have achieved a certain level of macroeconomic stability. However, through the processes of economic liberalization based on a neoliberal political orientation and globalization, social exclusion phenomena such as unemployment and income gaps have become aggravated, which has in turn engendered a new wave of social movements of resistance by common people. Local communities and social organizations in Latin American countries have conducted various economic activities with the aim of enabling common people to establish foundations of their livelihoods with dignity in the face of the contradictions with the global market mechanism. Examples of practices of a solidarity economy include unemployed people working on recuperated enterprise movements, local/regional currency movements, rural cooperatives, producers’ associations, micro credit associations, and fair trade movements among others.
Previous case studies have shown that solidarity practices identified as survival strategies tend to emerge and disappear repeatedly in relation to changing macroeconomic performance. For the solidarity economy to become a stable and sustainable institution, it should derive some new value beyond the competitiveness of the market mechanism, and such value should be embedded in other institutions, namely the state and market, through collaborative linkages between the solidarity economy, market and state. We understand the solidarity economy as an alternative paradigm of development involving searching for the common good, and hope to develop the theory of this new paradigm based on our empirical case studies of Latin American experiences. There already exists and array of case studies of social movements of resistance against social exclusion caused by neoliberal-oriented economic development or against globalization, and empirical analysis shows that these social movements can work as a relevant strategy for vulnerable people to insist on their rights in resisting economic development policies (and policymakers). However, investigating resistance social movements per se will not shed light on the sustainability of these activities. This is why we are concerned with a study of the concepts, principles and practices of economic solidarity as a system for seeking the common good, by building an alternative development model based on local initiatives.

3.Research plan:

This project is financed for four academic years, April 2013 to March 2017.
We have three pillars of research activities:

  1. Theoretical analysis of different ideas on the solidarity economy system, with their foundation in the European school and North American school, in comparison with those based on the Latin American school
  2. Empirical case studies of practices in the solidarity economy system in seven Latin American countries, and a comparative analysis thereof. This analysis will be on the origin of this system and its impact on local societies, in relation with the market and the state. The purpose of this analysis will be to understand how this system may contribute to achieving the “common good” for a given society.
  3. Building a new development paradigm in search of the common good