Alternative Solutions: Moving toward a people and place-based approach

As the socialist revolutions of the early twentieth century have taught us, any formal structure that is imposed upon society by over-bearing leaders is going to be doomed to fail, and any form of revolution, no matter the intention will always result in an imposed structure. The solution then comes in the form of malleability. As we will see in the coming sections, power is not about being authoritative, but rather comes from the ability to influence, or to challenge. Thus, a movement from the bottom-up seems like a reasonable approach. However, a true democracy requires the consensus of all citizens, and therefore the top-bottom duality becomes unacceptable, as no one can ever be at the top. Bookchin, in Urbanization without Cities discusses this duality of power, which:

“…advances an appeal for a self-conscious practice in which confederal municipalists engage in local electoral activity to alter city and town charters, restructure civic institutions to provide the public sphere for direct democracy, and bring the means of production under citizen control—not under the particularistic forms of ‘workers’ control’ that tend to degenerate into a form of collectivistic capitalism, or under forms of nationalized production, which enhance the state’s authority with greater economic power…It rests on the notion of a fundamental duality of power in which increasingly independent and confederated municipalities emerge in flat opposition to the centralized nation-state. Indeed, whatever power confederated municipalities gain can be acquired only at the expense of the nation-state, and whatever power the nation-state gains can be acquired only at the expense of municipal independence.” (Bookchin, xxi)

In Urbanization, Bookchin lays down an outline for shifting thought from an individual as part of a large society, to that of a citizen of small, but powerful municipalities. It is this personal connection to the community he suggests actually broadens the scope of the individual and allows one to overcome the many problems they face in an urban structure. He takes the concept even further by proposing a confederation of small municipalities, that are linked together, that form from the ground-up, and begin to overtake the role of the government, thus empowering the people instead of imposing upon them. In this section of the introduction, Bookchin explains that in order to make to change, the new system must grow alongside the current structure, gaining enough influence to challenge the dominant paradigms. He argues that the small-confederated municipalities that are linked together will garner enough strength to decentralize authority away from the state. In a way, this idea is much like capitalism—or even a form of very extreme neoliberal capitalism—in how it allows for individual choice’s as to which is a better lifestyle. However, it does depend on the idea that people will find it better. It can easily be interpreted from Urbanization that Bookchin, who considered himself an anarchist until his later years, is advocated for a secondary structure that for all intents and purposes is always something of a separate structure that develops and eventually supplants the capitalist regime. However, it seems more likely that a secondary system, as it grows more and more influential, will begin to shape the old and a structure will emerge that has characteristics of both. This idea is not dissimilar to the idea that a secondary language in a geographic area will influence the dominant language rather than replace it, as can be seen in the case of the Normans, who’s conquest of Britain in 1066 brought with it a new language, which tried to replace, but ultimately only managed to heavily influence the native tongue.

It is therefore important not forget the capitalist principle of market demand. People will subscribe to a product that works for them. The trick, of course, is creating a product that is inclusive, that they identify with, and that they want. This is marketing 101. SolidarityNYC, a think-tank founded for the research and promotion of a new economy based on collectivist principles in New York City, speaks to this idea well, “A hallmark of solidarity economy initiatives is community control, and a culture of inclusion, which embraces democratic and bottom-up design. Our differences span not only identity but also practice, and an important strength of these initiatives is a willingness to innovate and apply creative solutions to community problems. Any collaboration will require the same spirit and culture of innovation and inclusion to succeed.” (SolidaryityNYC, p.17)

The basic concept of a solidarity-based economy is that there is power in human social relationships. Through several processes that make up the consistence of what is typically referred to an ‘economy’, namely production, exchange, consumption, accumulation and ownership, we can see can that at the elemental building blocks individuals acting in relation to other individuals. The solidarity economy therefore is about strengthening these social relationships to build an economy built on trust and inclusion, where individuals are, first and foremost, a member of society. The U.S. Solidarity Economy Network (SEN) defines the solidarity economy as:

“…a new way of naming and conceptualizing the many types of transformative economic values, practices, and institutions that exist in the U.S. and all over the world. These include, but are not limited to, egalitarian and participatory economic behavior by individuals, workers, and producers, such as by an individual who is an ethical consumer, worker, and/or investor, or by a worker-coop, fair trade business, or progressive union. Solidarity production processes can also take many forms, from self-employed entrepreneurs and local small-scale businesses, to high road businesses and corporations, to worker-owned cooperatives and collectives, to community businesses. Many of these practices and organizations have arisen in response to the injustices and imbalances of neo-liberalism.” (Allard and Matthaei, 2013)

However, the solidarity economy is not simply about making a shift from individual self-interests to collective interests. It is also about the linking together of these individuals in a network of solidarity. SEN therefore defines the economy as having two scales, the micro-solidarity, where individuals act in relation to a particular organization, such as a worker cooperative, as well as a macro-solidarity, or rather “the development of networks aimed at supporting and growing the solidarity economy among individuals and institutions. This involves networks of organizations involved in micro-solidarity, such as the Fair Trade Federation, SAS (Students Against Sweatshops), and national, regional, and international networks of solidarity economy organizations such as RIPESS (The Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of the Social Solidarity Economy), and NANSE (North American Network for the Solidarity Economy). A key aspect of macro-solidarity is organized activity by these networks, in coalition with other progressive groups, aimed at transforming the state and global institutions so as to make them supportive to the growth of the solidarity economy.” (Allard and Matthaei, 2013)

SolidarityNYC’s work has been more focused on the formation of a network of macro-solidarity in the city by linking together the pre-existing elements of micro-solidarity in the city, as well as the promotion of new organizations. In a report called “Growing a Resilient City: Possibilities for Collaboration in New York City’s Solidarity Economy,” which summarizes a nine-month research process of trying to identify the elements of the solidarity economy in the city, the group recognizes the importance of deepening the ties between the city’s solidarity-based organizations: “A recognition and embrace of our interconnectedness is at the hear to of the solidarity economy theory and practice…Rather than offering an either/or perspective on social change—with ‘bundling alternatives’ places at the opposite end of the spectrum from ‘oppositional’ and advocacy work—participants expressed support for deepening the ties between those who work on all points on this spectrum. This attitude is essential to developing a broad movement to support our work…”(SolidaryNYC, p.17) The most important element of the solidarity-based economy, however, is that it is integrated. While Rethink the Block appears to be focused on issues of housing, housing itself is only one component of a larger ecology that must be addressed at once in order to make a change. Likewise, “a key principle at work is that economics, politics and culture are linked. Changing the economic paradigm cannot be narrowly focused, or short term. Many pieces must be addressed at the same time.” (Feldman, 12) And thus, we are advocating for a situated approach; as the problems facing economics, culture and politics of a particular place are specific to that particular place and therefore the solution must also be custom-made. A solidarity approach works not only because it takes into account all of those elements, but also because it is temporal. Organizations that make up the solidarity economy are founded in response to their current climate. For example, the Mondragon network was founded in Spain in response to the specific conditions in Spain at that time.

The SolidarityNYC report focuses on developing a framework for growing a solidarity economy in New York and starts with a simple model broken-down into actionable tactics (See figure) that allows for the easy identification of solidarity economy elements. Here, we see terms like, “co-operative banks,” “collective ownership,” “housing co-operatives,” “worker co-operatives and collectives,” and consumer co-operatives,” that all can be used to explain the solidarity economy as a means of empowerment for the people. ‘Cooperative’ is the operative word and it suggests underlying values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity as well as solidarity. (Bello, p.4) Thus, we also have terms like “self-provisioning,” “self-employment,” and “community currencies,” which also emit sense of sustainability. They are terms that are evocative of the individual. They are terms that are small in scale. They are terms that speak to autonomy. While this of course, aligns with Bookchin, it is interesting to see why they work—because they “articulate values of personal and ethical behavior that cooperators strive to be and the traits they hope to encourage through cooperation. These are honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.” (Bello, p.4)

Cooperatives are broadly seen as often ideal in developing a democratic economy because they “…are community-based, rooted in democracy, flexible, and have participatory involvement, which makes them well suited for economic development. The process of developing and sustaining cooperative models involves the processes of developing and promoting community spirit, identity and social organization as cooperatives play an increasingly important role worldwide in poverty reduction, facilitating job creation, economic growth and social development.” (Bello, 7) Since cooperatives are embedded in a community, the economic, political and social benefits also stay with the community. Even the U.S. government has recognized the potential for cooperatives to spark economic development in localities where it is badly needed. In December 2011, during 112th session of Congress, Representative Chaka Fattah, a democrat from Pennsylvania introduced what was titled, The National Cooperative Development Act. This bill, H.R. 3677, was designed to “authorize the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to establish a national program to create jobs and increase economic development in underserved areas by promoting cooperative development.” (H.R 3677) The bill purports that cooperatives have the ability to spark local development because they 1) support the “advancement of local economic stability, 2) [allow] An increase of local circulation of capital, thereby increasing economic multipliers and the impact of community investment to spur locally oriented economic growth; 3) Developing, attracting, and anchoring new productive capital in low-income communities; and 4) Expansion of investment opportunities and asset creation for low- and moderate-income Americans.” While the bill had broad support, it died when Congress adjourned and it was not acted upon. It was not reintroduced in the following session. In addition to the national cooperative development program, H.R. 3677 also aimed to establish a national cooperative development center with duties to “submit to the Secretary a strategic plan…develop technical assistance, educational, and other materials to assist local cooperative development centers that are receiving national center funds to develop cooperative organizations…monitor and evaluate the performance of such local centers…provide guidance, information on best practices, and technical assistance to communities seeking to establish cooperative organizations; establish the eligibility criteria for projects to be carried out using national center funds…and to develop program and reporting guidelines…”

Additionally, cooperatives can be seen as a means to enable marginalized populations with agency to equalize the balance of power in our economic system. Jonathan Michael Feldman and Jessica Gordon Nembhard editors of Partnership for Multiethnic Inclusion. From Community Economic Development and Ethnic Entrepreneurship to Economic Democracy: The Cooperative Alternative, explain that cooperatives are able to raise economy of scale for poor people by providing them access to wealth required for economic power: “Cooperatives are important because they can help increase the wealth of poor communities and communities of color. A lack of economic power and wealth, by constraining the economic resources that promote political power, can limit who can participate or have influence in a democracy, particularly in urban politics where disparities in power can be quite dramatic…” (Feldman, p.8)

This potentiality for local development is a primary reason for this research’s focus on cooperatives, specifically as a form of worker-owned enterprise, which not only allows for the worker to control the means of production, but used as a bridge to further self-sustainability, namely in housing. In addition to supporting local economic development, cooperatives are also seen as a means of agency for traditionally marginalized groups because they are able to raise economy of scale; providing them access to wealth required for economic power: “Cooperatives are important because they can help increase the wealth of poor communities and communities of color. A lack of economic power and wealth, by constraining the economic resources that promote political power, can limit who can participate or have influence in a democracy, particularly in urban politics where disparities in power can be quite dramatic…” (Feldman and Nembhard, 8) Economic power, however, only makes up a fraction of what is needed to achieve total right to the city. A degree of autonomy is also required. As stated earlier, autonomy is related to power and control. Autonomy implies and existence outside the structure, but still located within its geographic bounds.

As a result the second focus of my research has been about the examination of enclave models. Enclaves are unique in the sense they have developed a ‘self-managed’ model that does not necessarily equate to autonomy from the capitalist structure, but represents a subset within it. Questions this research hopes to answer are what exactly is the nature of their autonomy? What are the economic, political and social conditions that allow for this, and what are the issues that these enclaves face? Ultimately, this report aims to examine issues in both worker-owned businesses and cooperatives as a form of economic enclave, as well as social and political enclaves in the form of the intentional community model and the gated community model. This research also tries to incorporate these issues and lessons learned from the past—historical Native American economic and political structures to propose a new hybrid model where, housing, economic production, food and education come together—not in an enclave—but an inclusive entity that becomes a part of a larger network of such ‘inclaves.’ Articles 7 and 8 both introduce the subjects of this research, worker cooperatives and self-managed communities respectively by providing a historical overview and theoretical framework necessary to understand their value in this research. Articles 9-12 will all focus the specific issues examined. Article 9 examines the issues of identity and homogeneity and how this relates to power and exclusion in these types of communities. Articles 10 address issues of ownership and autonomy as well as issues of personal privacy, which is at the center of the argument. Closely related is article 11, which looks at issues of individuality and the economies of scale. Lastly, article 12 looks at temporal issues such as how generational and macroeconomic wave theory play a role in maintaining the status quo and how these same issues can be used to change it.


Allard, Jenna and Julie Matthaei. “The Solidarity Economy: An Ovewview.” The U.S. Solidarity Economy Network (SEN). Accessed: 10/2013

Bello, Dogarawa Ahmad. “The Role of Cooperative Societies in Economic Development.” Munich Personal RePEc Archive. Pub. 2010. 2005. (

Feldman, Jonathan Michael and Jessica Gordon Nembhard, eds. Partnership for Multiethnic Inclusion. From Community Economic Development and Ethnic Entrepreneurship to Economic Democracy: The Cooperative Alternative. 2002

H.R. 3677, 112th Congressional Session, 1st Session. (December 15, 2011).

Solidarity NYC. “Growing a Resilient City: Possibilities for Collaboration in New York City’s Solidarity Economy.” 2013.

Troy Andrew Hallisey

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