The sustainability and political agency of social cooperatives in Italy during the great recession

Egidio Riva, Emma Garavaglia

Risultato della ricerca: Contributo in rivistaArticolo in rivistapeer review


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to investigate the extent to which social cooperatives in Italy followed and managed to preserve their core values and principles while withstanding multiple pressures during the great recession. Attention is paid to two key issues. First, the concept of political agency is used to understand whether social cooperatives have been sensitive and committed to their role as key political players in the sustainable development of the community in which they operate. A further issue addressed is the impact of the post-2008 crisis on the quality of work and employment in social cooperatives. Design/methodology/approach – This paper adopts a mixed-method social research approach. It integrates quantitative analysis of administrative data on business life cycle drawn from the Italian business registers with empirical evidence collected via in-depth interviews and focus groups on a sample of managers of social cooperatives and representatives of social cooperative associations and consortia. Findings – Findings suggest that the great recession and welfare state retrenchment have worsened the quality of work and employment. Nonetheless, evidence produced through qualitative research also shows that social cooperatives have proved to be well suited to displaying political agency and acting as a key political player at local level. Research limitations/implications – Results of field research are not generalizable. Originality/value – Comparatively higher resilience of cooperatives, which is very much attributable to their specific rationale and mission, may come at a cost. The literature has largely missed investigating this cost, which can also be measured in terms of consistency with core values. Indeed, the sustainability of cooperatives relates to economic indicators, such as employment and economic performance, but also to the social, cultural and political dimension of the enterprise. In this regard, this paper investigates the extent to which, during the post-2008 crisis, cooperative enterprises managed to preserve the quality of work and employment and play a political role in the welfare system.
Lingua originaleEnglish
pagine (da-a)435-455
Numero di pagine21
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2016


  • Political agency
  • Social cooperatives


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