Theorizing Social and Solidarity Economy

The solidarity (and social) economy is a difficult concept to define, if only because it is defined differently in different regions and languages.

The Brazilian conception of the solidarity economy, for example, places a heavy emphasis upon cooperatives. It also reflects the country’s long history with landless worker movements. In francophone Europe, by contrast, the term is associated with the concept “social economy” which has a longer history and includes associations and mutuals as well as cooperatives. In regions with developing and agrarian economies, the concept of solidarity economy is often influenced by and overlaps with traditional and/or indigenous economic practices. In other, more industrial or post-industrial settings it is associated with the democratic principles of modern cooperativism.

According to the US Solidarity Economy Network:

The Solidarity Economy is an alternative development framework that is grounded in practice and the in the principles of: solidarity, mutualism, and cooperation; equity in all dimensions (race/ethnicity/ nationality, class, gender, LGBTQ); social well-being over profit and the unfettered rule of the market; sustainability; social and economic democracy; and pluralism, allowing for different forms in different contexts, open to continual change and driven from the bottom-up.1

What does this entail in practice? Although the question is still up for debate, there are numerous types of businesses, organizations, and initiatives that fall under the umbrella of solidarity economy as it is understood in the U.S. These include, but are certainly not limited to: cooperatives (both worker and consumer), land trusts, community supported agriculture, ethical purchasing, and community currencies. Given contemporary research’s strong research focus on mapping, developing criteria for inclusion in the solidarity economy is critical. The tension between normative and organizational approaches raises questions about what really qualifies as solidarity economy.


1 US Solidarity Economy Network. “What is the Solidarity Economy?” http://www.ussen.org/solidarity/what