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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

A Central Place for a Healthy Community: Exploring Exclusion and Privilege in Retail Consumer Food Cooperatives
by Conway, Jennifer Lynn, M.A., The American University of Paris (France), 2014, 78; 10305755
Abstract (Summary)

Once considered leftovers of the anti-capitalist movements of the 1960s and 70s, retail consumer food cooperatives, grocery stores that are democratically owned and operated by the individuals who shop at them, are currently popping up throughout the United States and elsewhere with enthusiasm. These cooperative businesses share a commitment to providing locally grown and organic food products to the communities in which they are located. Academics and activists generally agree that the democratic principles that govern food cooperatives foster community inclusion and collective decision-making, thus allowing co-ops to transcend the social problems often associated with profit-seeking businesses. However, a growing body of literature calls into question the efficacy of food cooperatives as spaces for democratic participation. In this thesis, I join these theorists in questioning the role of food co-ops as spaces for democracy. Drawing on participant observation, in-depth interviews, and survey questionnaires with members and supporters of the Doylestown Food Co-op, a startup cooperative located in Pennsylvania, United States, I argue that food cooperatives can function as spaces of exclusion. Because food cooperative participation is intimately linked to one’s identity as an alternative food consumer, food cooperatives reinforce the value-based boundaries associated with unreflexive localism, a position that prioritizes the normalization of standards and expectations of an advantaged community over the incorporation of diverse political processes aimed at improving the food system for a broader population. In the case study presented in this thesis, the need to create a community of like-minded (health-conscious) people supersedes collective aims to fix the broader food system. Thus, the inclusive democratic aims of the food cooperative rarely extend beyond the community of like-minded people who participate in it.

Keywords: food cooperatives, unreflexive localism, local food, alternative food networks, civic consumers

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Shields, Christy
Commitee: Mihalache, Irina
School: The American University of Paris (France)
Department: Global Communications and Civil Society
School Location: France
Source: MAI 56/02M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Social structure, Organizational behavior
Keywords: Alternative food networks, Food cooperatives, Unreflexive localism, Value-based boundaries
Publication Number: 10305755
ISBN: 978-1-369-49319-1
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