Present: Monk, Sarah, Adrian, Paul, Mike, Joss, Andrew, Peaceful Warrior
Apologies: Richard, Laura, Lucy
Time 7- 9 pm
Date: 20th February
Venue: Pathways Centre, Lincoln
Paul led the session. We recapped the work we did last week. Paul provided a handout with a framework for discussion and debate (insert photo of framework paper).
The readings for this week were from Ian MacPherson’s One Path to Co-operative Studies. The title of first chapter is “The International Co-operative Movement Today: the Impact of the 1995 Co-operative Identity Statement of the ICA”, which can be found on pages 255-273 at:
The aim for the reading was to try to gain a better understanding of how Co-operatives work around the world in different cultural settings.
We all agreed how much we appreciated the notes that were written up after each session and how they provided a different perspective on the event, enabling us to replay the sessions in our minds, seeing connections and issues that what not obvious when we were part of the group; and how much these different perspectives added to the learning experience, not least the capturing of complexity.
We began with a conversation about community, and what is the difference between the concept of community and the concept of co-operation. We decided that cooperation is an activity with an operator(s) and a sense of purpose, as well as aims and objectives: it is about action with guidelines to inform action. We recognised how much of our current forms of institutional life were established in the period when the first cooperatives were established in the 1830s. Whereas community was more informal, and was about the reproduction of everyday life.
We then worked through the principles established by Macpherson in the reading for this week. We agreed it was difficult to talk about these important principles in the abstract, without grounding them in their real history and a real sense of politics. We agreed that any political understanding and the nature of power must expose its gendered, class based and racist forms. This led us to think about the nature of values and ethics and how they are derived. We agreed that values have emerged out of political struggle and, in particular, struggles against the newly emerging industrial society and the factory system on which it was based. These values, having been achieved, need to be consolidated in practice, so that they are not taken away or lost through neglect.
This provoked a discussion about the values on which the Social Science Centre is based, and what sort of cooperative are we. We decided that to a certain extent we are still working that out. We might call ourselves a worker cooperative, but that would not explain the extent of what we are trying to do.
This then developed into a debate about the meaning of the concept of value. A case was made for making a connection between the philosophical concept of value and value as a form of social practice that has emerged out of capitalist society in which value is a dominant imperative: all things have a financial value. The work of Ellen Meiksins Wood was mentioned as writing that could throw more light on this matter. Also the work of Robert Brenner on the historical development of capitalism in different societies and cultures was recommended.
In this case it could be argued that our sense of morality is heavily influenced by the morals and values of capitalist society. The Cooperative Bank was mentioned as an institution that had been corrupted by the values of money and the market.
Bearing all of this in mind, on what basis can we make a claim for our cooperative values? Rather than want make a claim for the absolute nature of our values we can say that an important aspect of our work at the SSC is that we critically reflect on our politics, and morality, rather than being judgemental about the values and morality of others.
Paul, who was leading the session, got us to focus on what we had read in preparation for the session.
From out of these discussion gender emerged as a significant issue, as well as John Dewey’s notion of pragmatism, defined as a process of working out what it true. Pragmatism works like this: in order to find out what is true, we have to create the conditions in which this truth is true for everyone. So what is good and true, is not simply a philosophical position, but is linked to democratic praxis. One of the participants made a link to the work of Dewey, Ghandi and Paulo Freire. This got us back to a familiar debate in the SSC about the relationship between progressive liberal practice and more radical politics.
John Dewey classroom: learning lab
The debate moved on to look at what circumstances cooperation might be possible in non-capitalist or tribal societies. We discussed this in terms of materialism and idealism. Materialism argues social forms of life emerge out of the historical geographical and political context within which they are situated, whereas idealism implies that new progressive ideas can be introduced by enlightened individuals.
Finally, the question was asked if anyone of us had anything to add to the agreed international principles of co-operation that we looked at last week. We agreed it was important to interpret these principles in our own way so the SSC can play a part in bringing the principles of the co-operative movement to life.