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HomeThe social and cooperative economy: what history?

The social and cooperative economy: what history?

L'économie sociale et solidaire : quelle histoire ?

Dynamics, methods and perspectives for the history of the social and cooperative economy

Dynamiques, méthodes et perspectives pour l'histoire de l'économie sociale et solidaire

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Published on Wednesday, April 10, 2019


L'objectif de ce colloque est de penser une histoire globale de l'économie sociale et solidaire (ESS), tout en mettant en valeur ses spécificités, sources et méthodes. Il invite à revisiter l'histoire de l'économie sociale et solidaire (ESS) à travers deux axes thématiques principaux : la place de l'ESS dans l'historiographie et le rôle de ses études dans l'articulation des théories d'économie politique aux pratiques sociales ; Les liens entre l'ESS et les institutions politiques, syndicales et religieuses qui oscillent entre conflits, reconnaissance et banalisation.


Conference organized by the CEDIAS with the participation of the COMUE Paris-Lumières, the CHS, the GRHIS, the CHRS-UQUAM, the ADDES and the CIRIEC at Paris, Musée Social, February 7-8 2020


The social and solidarity economy (SSE), often defined by its three main components (associations, mutual societies, cooperatives), is the result of a two-century history, linked to the development of liberal capitalism and the work organization it implies. Its definitions, which have obviously evolved and varied from country to country since the 19th century, depend on economic or institutional modes of economic organizations, but also on values, often understood through the lens of politics or culture. This explains partly the difficulties that the SSE and its history have encountered to be studied in a credible and autonomous manner.

However, the history of the SSE should not be restricted to that of utopian projects, even when those are concrete or realistic. It is a business history, a labor history, a history of social classes and struggles, pacifist and internationalist, both at the local and the global scales. And it cannot be understood without apprehending together its theory and its practices. It has to be written as a “total history”, just as Marcel Mauss talked about “total social facts”.

National conferences on the SSE (ADDES, AES, RIUESS, GESS), international forums (CIRIEC, ESS Forum international), and European projects on those topics currently mobilize many researchers in humanities, economics and social sciences. Those research programs have been encouraged by recent legislative changes in this field (2005 legislation on social enterprises in Italy; 2014 Hamon Act on the SSE in France; 2014 Finance Bill in the UK). However, only a few historians are following the movement, which is problematic at a time when the political institutions of the SSE are tempted either to exploit its history in order to serve their own interests or, most of the time, to completely ignore its lessons. Moreover, it would really be an asset to analyze SSE projects that are deemed innovative, through an historical lens. At best, history is enlisted by non-specialists, who are able to provide some insights, but do not always follow a proper historical methodology.

Has the SSE history been entirely covered? Indeed, many important figures took an interest in this topic in the 20th century. Henri Desroche, who was not a professional historian, but worked on this history, was one of them. Important research projects were also conducted under the supervision of André Gueslin at Paris 7 University, Michel Dreyfus at the Centre d’Histoire Sociale du XXe siècle (CHS20). And numerous historians from the Institut d’Histoire Sociale of Ghent, the Canadian Centre de recherche sur les innovations sociales, or from many other universities over the world (Bologna, Manchester Cooperative College, etc.) have also contributed to build this field of research.

There is no doubt that the reconfiguration of political activism in the context of the restructuration of welfare states may have rendered the SSE suspect for the advocates of political orthodoxies, whether neo-liberal or socialist. Its ambivalence towards formal institutions, and its local as well as international variations make it difficult to fully grasp. The history of the SSE makes it necessary to vary both scales and methods of analysis. Its approach must be multidisciplinary – a very important condition in a context where research is encouraged to be always more specialized. Besides, the political context is not favorable to an economic conception which initially sought to go beyond traditional antagonisms between state and markets, labor and capital, or at least to promote social policies that would go beyond these oppositions.

Indeed, the use of public-private partnerships to implement social policies, and the development of philanthropic foundations tend to make the specificities of the social economy blurry. It is especially the case for the sector of associations, whose history is rarely tackled as part of the SSE. If the SSE appeared at the contemporary period, in the context of political and industrial revolutions, its practices are in line with traditions of communities and solidarity that are often centuries old. Research on solidarity, mutual aid, brotherhood societies, and other forms of solidarity communities throughout the ages would benefit from being examined from the perspective of the SSE’s history.

Also, the development of ecological awareness and concerns has led to the emergence of the notion of “commons”, the principles of which can partly overlap with those of the SSE. Through these examples, the historical approach invites us to reinvest the spaces and temporalities of the social and solidarity economy. Its concerns link the local and the global, daily preoccupations and long-term dynamics. Dominated by local studies or monographs, should the history of the SSE refrain from thinking globally, at the risk of indulging in a history of ideas or a political history that would be more militant than scientific? After decades of work showing that the SSE in history is neither just a utopia nor uchrony, should it refrain from thinking about these concepts? (Bouchet, Desmars, Bremand).

These contemporary issues invite us to revisit the social economy’s history through two main topics that allow us to take into account different spatial and temporal scales:

1) The place taken by the SSE in historiography and the role of its studies in articulating political economy theories with social practices.

2) The links between the SSE and political, trade union and religious institutions, which fluctuate between conflict, recognition and trivialization.

The place taken by the SSE in historiography and the role of its studies in articulating political economy theories with social practices

One of the objectives of the conference will be to take stock of the methods for the history of the SSE and the sources that can be used. Steps to renew it will have their place, such as the cross-referencing of textual data with oral or quantitative data.

Of course, the territorial inscription of the SSE is undeniable. But is this inscription not likely to lead to a patrimonialization of the SSE in the way of what happened at la Fraternelle or la Bellevilloise? The evolution of the SSE's heritage deserves particular attention. Should it be treated like all industrial heritages condemned to destruction or restructuring? What future then for its archives? How to save the traces of activists’ actions? The reflections carried out by international networks of historians can help to shed light on these questions and reciprocally inform their work.

Outside the militant sphere, the history of the SSE lends itself to all historical approaches. From the point of view of themes, although it is more in line with the economic and social history valued in the 20th century by the École des Annales, its ideological tradition opens it to the history of ideas. At the same time, it involves methods from business history or the history of institutions by the very nature of its objects and sources. Propitious to monographs (history of mutual societies, associations or cooperatives) and biographies (history of militants), it is open to prosopographies as shown by the associative militants listed in the Maitron dictionary or the cooperators' dictionary. In addition, the careers of SSE activists and the internationalization of many of its structures invite scalar and global approaches with both reticular (networks, exchanges) and vertical (federation, organization) inputs.

André Gueslin's work has shown that the social economy in France was originally part of four ideological currents: socialism, liberalism, Catholicism and Solidarism. Similarly, the history of the SSE is rooted in diverse historical traditions linked to the militancy of its actors who wanted to emphasize their religious or secular traditions, their republican, socialist or communist orientations, as it clearly appears in the numerous monographs produced by these diverse movements.

Since the end of the 19th century, cooperation or mutuality activists have been keen to promote the history of their movement through the pioneering figures of Owen, Fourier, Proudhon and the emblematic experiences of New Lanark, the phalanstères and the first workers' associations founded throughout the world under the influence of the political and social revolutions of 1848. The history of the SSE became a militant history that reached its first peak at the beginning of the 20th century with the Nîmes school and the projects of a Cooperative Republic around Charles Gide and the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA). Desroche's work pursued this militant dimension, before the second phase of institutionalization of the SSE around the 1980s. In the recent decades, more critical research projects have been undertaken, often in multidisciplinary approaches (ADDES, EHESS, Labo de l’ESS, etc.), while many monographs are produced, which do not necessarily include the subject studied in the SSE themes. For example, in the 1980s, the Mutualité française, particularly at the instigation of René Teulade, embarked on the process of enhancing its history, opening its archives to historians and academics. Important books have been published in the “Racines mutualistes” series. But the first and only Colloquium on the international history of mutuality was held in Paris in 1992 and only one Colloquium on the ICA in 2015 was held in Rome.

The links between the SSE and political, trade union and religious institutions, which fluctuate between conflict, recognition and trivialization

SSE projects often carry political or religious references. Their study shows how a social theory is embedded in an economic or political context. Conversely, they show how social experiments can be exploited for political or religious purposes.The history of the SSE touches many parts of religious history and institutions (foundations, charities, patronages, etc.), which, while seeking to fight against liberal capitalism, aim to maintain a religious influence on society. The reaction of secular activists to these religious works prompts a reconsideration of the conflicts between clerics and anti-clerics and the place of the SSE in the development of social policies and the construction of the welfare state.The links between the SSE and labor movements also need to be further developed. Beyond a few emblematic and well-known examples such as New Lanark, the cooperative glass factory in Albi or la Bellevilloise, the links between socialism, trade unions and the SSE should be revisited. Charles Gide considered trade unions as social economy organizations and until the middle of the 20th century, trade unions indeed contributed to the cooperative, associative or mutualist movement. How can we explain the current divorce between the SSE and trade unionism? The rise of foundations and the development of social entrepreneurship do not suffice to explain the lack of interest of trade unions in the social economy.The problems posed by the institutionalization of SSE will also be addressed. How can the original values and practices of an institution be maintained when it has millions of members, when it has to manage very large sums and to negotiate with the public authorities for subsidies or grants? The question of the financing of the social economy, its evolution and comparisons over time and between countries or regions makes it possible to mobilize several disciplinary approaches (anthropology, sociology, psychology) and to revisit old theories on historical relationships to money, work and solidarity.SSE education and training have also been neglected in their global form, yet many SSE activists have also been education, popular education or vocational training activists. The contributions to the conference will also allow to explore all the links that have existed between SSE structures and educational institutions at different scales, such as schools, training institutions or socio-cultural activities.Other areas of reflection can also contribute to the renewal of the SEE history. Gender issues or other forms of discrimination and inequality are one example (SSE structures may have been pioneers, others more reluctant on these issues). SSE institutions have also emerged in colonized areas before being promoted in recent development policies. There is also a rapprochement today between the SSE and issue pertaining to sustainable development, which are often defended by associative structures. The history of ecology intersects with the history of the SSE and they share similarities. More generally, a large number of economic alternatives in history in favor of a more cohesive society can be part of a global history of the SSE, whether in terms of organizational modalities (cohesive community, collective management of resources, etc.) or goals (social justice, common good, rights equality, etc.). It will then be up to the contributors to show how their study can be linked to that of the history of the SSE. Other forms of contributions may be proposed in the form of workshops, presentations of SSE history research projects, archives to be exploited, etc.     

Submission guidelines

The proposals will take the form of a 5000-sign abstracts presenting the problem and methodology, some bibliographical references and a presentation of the author(s). They should be sent at: https://histoire-ess.sciencesconf.org/

before Juny 1st, 2019

Any innovative approach that makes it possible to promote associative, cooperative and mutual values can be accepted if it is part of an historical approach.

Contributions will be in the form of a 20-minute paper and a publication is being considered by an SSE publisher.

An answer will be provided by July, 15 2019. Feel free to contact us in the meantime for more details.

For more informations, please contact :

  • Timothée DUVERGER : t.duverger@sciencespobordeaux.fr
  • Olivier CHAÏBI : olivier.chaibi@u-pec.fr
  • Patricia TOUCAS-TRUYEN : patricia.toucas@gmail.com

Organization committee

  • BELOUET Eric (Cédias)
  • CHAÏBI Olivier (IDHES)
  • DUVERGER Timothée (ScPo Bordeaux)
  • TOUCAS-TRUYEN Patricia (CHS)

Scientific committes

  • BLIN Alexia (CENA, EHESS)
  • DOLINO-BRODIEZ Axelle (CNRS-Centre Norbert Elias)
  • DREYFUS Michel (CHS, Paris)
  • GACON Stéphane (Centre Georges Chevrier, Dijon)
  • GEORGI Frank (CHS, Paris)
  • GURNEY Peter (Essex)
  • LESPINET-MORET Isabelle (CHS, Paris)
  • MAREC Yannick (GRHIS, Rouen)
  • MAURER Catherine (EA ARCHE, Strasbourg)
  • MERIGGI Maria Grazia (Université de Bergame)
  • MIGNEMI Niccolo (École française de Rome)
  • PETITCLERC Martin (CHRS, Montréal)
  • ROUSSEAU Yvan (CIÉQ, Trois-Rivières)
  • SINEY Charlotte (URCA)
  • VAN GOETHEM Geert (AMSAB, Gent)

List of participating institutions

  • Cédias (Centre d’études, de documentation, d’information et d’actions sociales, Paris)
  • COMUE Paris-Lumière
  • CHS (Centre d’histoire sociale des mondes contemporains, UMR 8058, Paris)
  • GRHis (Groupe de recherche d’histoire, EA 3831, Rouen)
  • CHRS (Centre d’Histoire des régulations sociales, Montréal)
  • ADDES (Association pour le développement des données sur l’économie sociale)
  • CIRIEC (Centre International de Recherche et d’Information sur l’Économie Publique, Sociale et Coopérative) 

Selective bibliography

  • BOUCHET Thomas, BOURDEAU Vincent, CASTLETON Edouard, FROBERT Ludovic, JARRIGE François (dir.), Quand les socialistes inventaient l’avenir. Presse, théories et expériences, 1825-1860, Paris, La Découverte, 2015.
  • BREMAND Nathalie, les socialistes et l’enfance. Expérimentation et utopie (1830-1870), Rennes, PUR, 2008.
  • BRODIEZ-DOLINO Axelle, Combattre la pauvreté : vulnérabilités sociales et sanitaires de 1880 à nos jours, Paris, CNRS, 2013.
  • CASTILLO Santiago, Trabajadores y socorros mutuos en la España contemporánea, Madrid, UGT, 1994.
  • CHAÏBI Olivier, Un pionnier de l’économie sociale, Jules Lechevalier : des socialismes « utopiques » aux modèles coopératifs, Paris, LHarmattan, 2009.
  • DEFRASNE Jean, Histoire des associations françaises, Paris L’Harmattan, 2004.
  • DESMARS Bernard, Militants de l’utopie ? Les fouriéristes dans la seconde moitié du XIXe siècle, Dijon, 2010.
  • Desroche Henri, Histoires d’économies sociales : d’un tiers état aux tiers secteurs (1791-1991), Paris, Syros-Alternatives, 1991.
  • Desroche Henri, Le projet coopératif : son utopie et sa pratique : ses appareils et ses réseaux, ses espérances et ses déconvenues, Paris, Éd. ouvrières, 1976.
  • Desroche Henri, Solidarités ouvrières. I. Sociétaires et compagnons dans les associations coopératives (1831-1900), Paris, Éd. Ouvrières, 1981.
  • DRAPERI Jean-François, La République coopérative, Bruxelles, Larcier, 2012.
  • DREYFUS Michel, Financer les utopies. Une histoire du Crédit coopératif (1893-2013), Arles, Actes Sud/IMEC, 2013.
  • DREYFUS Michel, Histoire de l’économie sociale de la grande Guerre à nos jours, Rennes, PUR, 2017.
  • DREYFUS, Michel, Liberté, égalité, mutualité. Mutualisme et syndicalisme (1852-1967), Paris, Éd. de l’Atelier, 2001.
  • DUVERGER Timothée, L’économie sociale et solidaire. Une histoire de la société civile en France et en Europe de 1968 à nos jours, Lormont, Le Bord de l’eau, 2016.
  • Flamand Jean-Paul et Guerrand Roger-Henri, Loger le peuple : essai sur l’histoire du logement social en France, Paris, La découverte, 1989.
  • FURLOUGH Ellen, Consumer Cooperation in France. The Politics of Consumption (1834-1930), New-York, Cornell University Press, 1991.
  • GAUMONT Jean, Histoire générale de la coopération en France, Paris, FNCC, 1924.
  • Gibaud Bernard, Fédérer autrement : histoire de la Fédération Nationale de la Mutualité française (FNMF) 1902-2002, Paris, Mutualité Française, 2003, 196p.
  • Gueslin André, Histoire des crédits agricoles, 2 vols., Paris, Economica, 1984.
  • GUESLIN André, L’Invention de l’économie sociale. Idées, pratiques et imaginaires coopératifs et mutualistes dans la France du XIXe siècle, Paris, Economica, 1987, nouvelle édition augmentée 1998.
  • GURNEY Peter, Co-operative culture and the politics of consumption in England 1870-1930, Manchester University press, 1996.
  • HOLLER Jean, L’Évolution d’une organisation professionnelle, l’Union fédérale des coopératives de commerçants dans le cadre des mutations de la distribution, thèse de droit, Université Paris V, 1991.
  • MENZANI Tito, Il movimento cooperativo fra le due guere. Il caso italiano in il contexto européo, Carocci, 2008.
  • MIGNEMI Niccolo, Coopératives et mondes agricoles: France et Italie (1880-1950), Rennes, PUR, 2017.
  • PETITCLERC Martin, Nous protégeons l'infortune. Les origines populaires de l'économie sociale au Québec, Montréal, VLB Éditeur, 2007
  • Topalov Christian (dir.), Laboratoires du nouveau siècle : la nébuleuse réformatrice et ses réseaux en France, 1880-1914, Paris, EHESS, 1999.
  • TOUCAS-TRUYEN Patricia, DREYFUS Michel (dir.), Les Coopérateurs. Deux siècles de pratiques coopératives, Paris, Éd. de l’Atelier, 2005.
  • Toucas-Truyen Patricia, Histoire de la mutualité et des assurances : l’actualité d’un choix, Paris, Syros/Mutualité francaise, 1998.
  • VAN DER LINDEN Marcel, Social Security Mutualism. The Comparative History of Mutual Benefit Societies, Bern, Peter Lang, 1996.
  • Verdier Roger, La longue marche de la coopération : de la verrerie ouvrière au pacte d’unité (1895-1912), Thèse de doctorat en sciences sociales, sous la dir. de DESROCHE Henri, Paris, EHESS, 1981.
  • ZAIDMAN Sylvie-Esther, Les Sociétés coopératives ouvrières de production en France de 1945 à nos jours, thèse, Paris, Université Paris VII, 1989.


  • Cedias-Musée social - 5 rue Las Cases
    Paris, France (75007)


  • Saturday, June 01, 2019


  • économie sociale, économie solidaire, coopératives, mutuelles, associations, pratiques sociales


  • patricia toucas-truyen
    courriel : patricia [dot] toucas [at] gmail [dot] com
  • Timothée Duverger
    courriel : t [dot] duverger [at] sciencespobordeaux [dot] fr
  • Olivier CHAIBI
    courriel : olivier [dot] chaibi [at] u-pec [dot] fr

Information source

  • patricia toucas-truyen
    courriel : patricia [dot] toucas [at] gmail [dot] com


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« The social and cooperative economy: what history? », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, April 10, 2019, https://doi.org/10.58079/12fn

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