Many rural communities in the US have undergone massive de-democratisations of their socio-economies; now variously populated with big-box stores, franchise chain developments, and acquisitions and subsidiarisations by regional, national, and transnational corporations. Mooney (2004) in Democratizing Rural Economy comments that agricultural co-operatives remain one of the few remaining economic forms in the agricultural and rural sectors that continues to bring democratic voice to rural economies. However, Mooney’s comment does not acknowledge a historic weakening of democratic aspects of agricultural co-operatives, given decades of intense competition with investment-oriented firms (IOFs). These pressures have created various dilemmas within co-operatives themselves, causing many to drift from their more democratic beginnings.
This essay will focus within the agricultural and rural spheres, agricultural co-operatives will be used as a point of reference and familiarisation. The essay will also explore how one: larger pressures of socioeconomic growth and expansion have dimmed some co-ops’ democratic promise; and two: how alternative co-operative forms; e.g., a co-op commonwealth, and multi-stakeholder co-ops, represent possible development models that are more inclusive, resilient, and better designed to accommodate various democratic and social, economic and ecological needs.