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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Cooperating in a time of Coloniality

My AFSEE project emerged from knowing, from past experiences and reading, that ubu-ntu imparts a compelling model for cooperative ethics, governance, and economics. There are many competing accounts of the philosophy. I worked with one put forward by philosopher Mogobe B. Ramose. In this account, ubu-ntu proposes that a person is and becomes a person through their relations with fellow beings, both human and not—including the living, living-dead (or ancestors) and yet-to-be-born. Moreover, recognising the full being of others in these relations and seeking on that basis to establish harmonious relations is what makes a person whole and ethical. Ubu-ntu’s person, therefore, is not only an individual but is also a relation or set of relations that are intergenerational and inclusive of fellow living beings and nature. As the beings in these relations interact, they continually construct and configure values, governance mechanisms, and economic arrangements that determine who they are and become. In calling for harmony as the ideal state of such relations, ubu-ntu tends to foster cooperative relations and has historically shaped cooperative organisational forms in Africa and the diaspora.

However, despite being compelling, ubu-ntu and the histories, knowledge, organisational forms and practices it fosters have been mostly overlooked in scholarship and policies on cooperatives, even in African contexts. The philosophy’s knowledge universe is also not recognised officially by the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), a supposed representative of the global movement. As with much of the literature, the ICA explicitly states that its globally dominant ideas of what ‘modern’ cooperatives are developed from Western European traditions.

Like other cooperative knowledge of the global majority such as buen vivir in Latin America and the values of Indigenous communities of North America, ubu-ntu is also not recognised in the Promotion of Cooperatives Recommendation (No. 193) of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), a global cooperatives policy framework that embraces the ICA’s Europe-centred position. Since its adoption in 2002, Recommendation 193 has been highly influential in much of the global South, including South Africa. This kind of disregard for the knowledge of Africans and fellow peoples subjected to European conquest is a function of coloniality, defined by Nelson Maldonado-Torres as “long-standing patterns of power that emerged as a result of colonialism, but that define culture, labour, intersubjective relations, and knowledge production well beyond the strict limits of colonial administrations”.

Read the rest at the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity blog


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