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Call for Papers: Co-operative municipalism - new directions and possibilities in Europe

The European Research Association 2015 conference Transforming cities, transformative cities, will take place in Sibiu, Romania 17-20 September 2015. This call is for papers to form part of a workshop on track two of that conference, entitled The democratic city: institutional reforms and policy processes.

This workshop will focus on the potential which co-operative forms of governance and social entrepreneurship, have to offer in places which are beset by weak levels of private sector investment and/ or declining funding for public services. In the UK, support for direct, municipal provision of services is declining and increasing emphasis has been placed on consumer control. In reaction, the promotion of ‘Co-operative Councils’ (Reed and Usher, 2012) by some local authorities on the left offers co-operative service provision and management as an alternative to privatisation, while also challenging many of the assumptions that underpinned approaches to development prior to 2007. In Germany and other parts of the world, we can also find transmunicipal, co-operative networks targeting specific sectors such as energy, or procurement.

The term ‘co-operative council’ is potentially transformative. It can be interpreted as a challenge to the use of comprehensive development plans or expensive incentives to attract private development in favour of establishing an asset-based community economy capable of supporting locally rooted growth. Co-operative approaches, however, have a history of association with all parts of the political spectrum (Birchall, 1988) and as such there is no inherent link with the gains outlined above. The pluralisation of public services has the potential to undermine traditions of universal provision. The use of contracts and periodic decisions on whether to renew funding for ‘co-operatively delivered’ public services may substitute notions of public service for tradable outputs (Raco, 2012) and lay the ground for later rounds of privatisation (Peck, 2010). Co-operative enterprises are subject to the same market pressures as private industry and so, in practice, may behave according to similar principles. These issues raise questions about the extent to which co-operative forms of organisation are being drawn on by municipalities and governments across Europe and the consequences for the way in which the social and physical dimensions of places are governed. This call asks for papers that address these questions and others, such as:

  • How is co-operation at the municipal level being constructed in different parts of Europe, and to what uses is the term being directed?
  • What conceptual boundaries demarcate the various political uses and practical expressions of co-operation?
  • Are there any empirical signs of co-operative approaches’ transformative potential, in terms of escaping “growth-dependency” or reinvigorating popular support for “public” services?
  • And does this transformative potential affect all sectors of municipal governance evenly?
  • What is the political-economic geography of co-operation: Does the relevance of cooperation an economic model differ in wealthier or poorer parts of Europe? Or as a sociopolitical model in neo-liberal or (former) socialist countries?
  • How is co-operative practice changing the relationship between municipalities, citizens and the private sector? How are resources and influence being distributed in the context of competing notions of ‘voters’, ‘members’ and ‘active citizens’?
  • What are the consequences and risks associated with promoting co-operative provision or governance of public services? Are there any examples where co-operation has undermined or reinforced the principle of universal provision?
  • What potential exists for increasing co-operation, and what might be the potential consequences for the way we develop and govern places?

Abstracts of 250 words responding to these themes should be addressed to David Webb or Carolin Schröder at who are jointly coordinating this workshop. The deadline for abstracts is January 25, 2015 and accepted abstracts will need to be submitted via the EURA conference website by January 31.

For more information see the call for paper in entire length.



Birchall, J. (1988) Building communities : the co-operative way. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Peck, J. (2010) Constructions of neoliberal reason. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Raco, M. (2012) 'The New Contractualism, the Privatization of the Welfare State, and the Barriers to Open Source Planning', Planning Practice & Research, 28(1), pp. 45-64.

Reed, S. and Usher, K. (2012) Towards Co-operative Councils. Skelmersdale: Co-operative, T.

Rydin, Y. (2013) The future of planning : beyond growth dependence. Bristol: Policy Press.



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