Article. Impact of information and communication technologies in agroecological cooperativism in Catalonia

Article cover of Impact of information and communication technologies in agroecological cooperativism in Catalonia

Impact of information and communication technologies in agroecological cooperativism in Catalonia

In June 2016 four friends gathered around a table. Ricard was working on his PhD thesis, which I supervised, and summoned the help of a data expert, Toni, and someone knowledgeable on analysing networks of people, Oriol — later on Núria Vega would join the team to improve the whole project and, specifically, bring brains and muscle to the field work.

At that time we believed that ICTs were having an impact on agriculture and people working in agroecology and cooperatives. But we suspected that there was something else. In Catalonia, cooperatives were changing the shape of the agriculture sector in the XIX century. After a long hiatus during the Spanish dictatorship (1939-1978), the agriculture cooperative sector (with quite republican ideas attached) kept on being dormant… until the breakout of the World Wide Web in the mid 1990s.

That was more than a coincidence to us, so we decided to analyze it — it was Ricard’s idea: the rest just followed. But soon we saw that there seemed to be much more than just a rebirth of cooperatives: what was being deployed before our eyes was something new. Beyond using ICTs to improve management and/or make sustainable non-mainstream models that can barely compete with the big behemoths of the food industry, what we saw whas that ICTs seem to be configuring a brand new ecosystem of food production and consumption, including new ways to understand food as a public infrastructure.

Almost three years after comes this article of us, with these reflections formerly put and rigorously analyzed. The result is Impact of information and communication technologies in agroecological cooperativism in Catalonia, just published at Agricultural Economics (AGRICECON).

While we waited for the paper to be published, Oriol left us forever. As we stated in the paper, Oriol, it was fun working with you while you were among us. Now you are gone, but the good work remains. So long, friend. Ricard, Ismael, Núria and Toni.

Article abstract and download

In Catalonia, agroecological cooperativism is part of a set of alternatives that appeared as a response to the current hegemonic food consumption model, controlled by large commercial establishments. It is defined by its promotion of short food supply chains (SFSCs), operates under the values of the social and solidarity economy (SSE) and holds a strong political commitment. This article, on the one hand, studies the setup of agroecological cooperativism understood as the outcome of a network of producers, intermediaries and consumers and, on the other hand, examines the impact of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the development of this consumption model. The data has been obtained through on-site interviews and online research on the 56 consumer groups and cooperatives present in Barcelona. Descriptive statistics and correlation analysis have been used to study them. The results prove the salient role that ICT has as a facilitator in the relational network established between the agents that take part in it, thus becoming a key characteristic element of the new agroecological consumer cooperativism.

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Full article:
Espelt Rodrigo, R., Peña-López, I., Miralbell Izard, O., Martín, T. & Vega Rodríguez, N. (2019). “Impact of information and communication technologies in agroecological cooperativism in Catalonia”. In Agricultural Economics, 65 (2), 59-66. Praga: Czech Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

Article. Alternative economics or technopolitics. Activism from agroecological products cooperative consumption

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¿Economía alternativa o tecnopolítica? Activismo desde el consumo cooperativo de productos agroecológicos (article)

Ricard Espelt, Enrique Rodríguez and I have just published a new article, ¿Economía alternativa o tecnopolítica? Activismo desde el consumo cooperativo de productos agroecológicos [Alternative economics or technopolitics. Activism from agroecological products cooperative consumption] which analyses the relationship between technopolitics and the cooperative movement. Our hypothesis is that some emerging cooperatives go beyond the mere practice of cooperativism for production or consumption, and engage or even are driven by political values. Our findings only partially support this hypothesis, but allow us to characterise three types of cooperatives according to these political values and activism, which we found quite interesting.

Expanded summary

Agroecological cooperativism is made up by an inter-cooperation network articulated by producers and consumer groups that promotes the acquisition of agroecological products in the context of the Social and Solidarity Economy (Martín-Mayor et al., 2017). At the same time, as part of the anti-globalisation and territorial defense movement, it has political resolution (Vivas, 2010). In this sense, it frames its activity as a response to the homogeneity of global food chains (Mauleón, 2009; Khoury, 2014) and promotes a recovery of the «identity of the sites». This re-appropriation purpose is expressed -especially- in the social movements that emerged during 2011 that, according to Harvey (2012), link with the fight against capitalism and the demand for a collective management of common goods and resources. Across the area of Barcelona, where the map of consumer cooperatives is well defined (Espelt et al., 2015), it has been registered an increase of these kind of organizations during the 15M or the Spanish “Indignados” movement in 2011.

As embedded in the era of the Network Society and the expansion of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), this article studies the correlation between agroecological consumer groups, as an instrument to promote an alternative economy, and social movements, as the space where technopolitics develop (Toret, 2013). That is, this article aims to corroborate whether agroecological cooperativism, which emerged in the late 20th century -and grew with remarkable strength during the second decade of the 21st century- and the profound crisis of legitimacy of the democratic institutions, with a rising participation in citizen extra-representative and extra-institutional movements, is connected.

This article has a double goal. On the one hand, to assess the existing relation between consumer and cooperative groups and the 15M movement and their ideological similarities, as selfmanaged movements that aim for social and political transformation. On the other hand, if applies, to study how this relation is shaped.

The main hypothesis of our research is that nowadays agroecological cooperativism possesses an acute activism component, which is why it is reasonable to predict a relative involvement of this activist cooperativism in movements such as 15M. However, former literature has explained and described the 15M movement as a form of activism that eminently operates outside the institutions and through a network organization. From that point on, a second hypothesis is formulated, proposing that activist cooperativism participation occurs individually, rather than collectively and/or institutionally. That is, it is possible to identify overlaps between activists that take part both in cooperatives and social movements such as 15M, but it is not reasonable to foresee a relevant level of involvement of cooperatives, as collectives, in this movement.

In order to respond to the hypothesis, a questionnaire comprising two sets of questions has been designed. A first set aims to determine the level of accomplishment based on the SSE criteria. A second set of questions focuses on the correlation between the studied organizations and the 15M movement, and the relevance of ICT in their organization. Semi-structured interviews were sent between February 2015 and March 2016 with a sample of 44 groups and allowed us to gather information regarding the origins, motivation and functioning of each of them. The questionnaire about the relation between the groups and the 15M movement was sent between December 2015 and March 2016, and 37 responses were collected. Thus, the 37 groups that have completed both questionnaires and the semi-structured interview will be considered the sample for this research.

In order to assess the accomplishment level of the variables corresponding to each of the aspects of the Social Solidarity Economy and the relation of the organizations with the 15M movements, we have performed arithmetic measurements for each of the variables studied. To evaluate the performance of the formulated hypothesis we have applied a correlation and a factorial analysis upon the studied variables (Commitment, Ideology, Technology, Group Involvement and Individual Involvement) to quantify the existing association between variables (correlation) and to identify the latent existing relation between them (factorial), with the goal of gathering additional information that has allowed us to interpret the results of the individual classification (nonhierarchical segmentation). Once the groups have been obtained, significant differences between segments have been determined through a variance analysis (ANOVA).

The results of our research show that consumer groups are part of a larger group of organizations that conform the Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE), which, among others, values the promotion of spaces in which democratic participation is emphasised. If we constrain our analysis to 2011, just in a few cases the creation of new groups can be drawn from the influence of 15M. However, the entities created that year recognise the movement as an agent of change for the individuals in their condition of activists. At the same time, this research allowed us to determine three types of organizations: the traditional cooperative, which shows a low level of social commitment and a moderate level of individual participation, and that barely embraces ICT; the network cooperative, which adds social commitment and ICT usage; and the activist cooperative, which presents a greater group and individual involvement.

Despite the sample is limited in quantitative terms, the results confirm our hypothesis, which is to say, that cooperativism has a strong activist component. This finding points in the same direction with what Cantijoch (2009), Christensen (2011), Anduiza et al. (2014) or Peña-López et al. (2014) have expressed with regards to a strong (and even rising) tendency in extra-representative and extra-institutional practices when it comes to take part in political participation or citizen activism. On the other hand, despite the classification of the groups in traditional, network and activist cooperatives, we dare to say that their relation with the 15M movement must be, therefore, exogenous, depending on a non-identified variable, which is highly probable individual and not consubstantial with consumer cooperativism. That is to say, one doesn’t affiliate to a cooperative – as it’s the case as well with political parties, labor unions or NGOs- in order to achieve other political goals, but rather that one’s active participation in cooperativism constitutes the techno-political action by itself.

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Article:
Espelt Rodrigo, R., Peña-López, I. & Rodríguez, E. (2016). “¿Economía alternativa o tecnopolítica? Activismo desde el consumo cooperativo de productos agroecológicos”. In CIRIEC-España, Revista de Economía Pública, Social y Cooperativa, (93), 293-318. Valencia: CIRIEC.

Article. Digital platforms: consumption groups and cooperatives vs. The Food Assembly in the case of Barcelona

Article cover of "Consumption groups and cooperatives in Barcelona"
Consumption groups and cooperatives in Barcelona (article)

Ricard Espelt, Núria Vega and I have just published an article at on consumption cooperatives: Plataformas digitales: grupos y cooperativas de consumo versus La Colmena que dice sí, el caso de Barcelona (Digital platforms: consumption groups and cooperatives vs. The Food Assembly in the case of Barcelona).

The article compares the emergence of agroconsumption groups and cooperatives in Barcelona since the mid 1990s with the most recent appearance of (presumably) platform cooperativism-based initiatives such as The Food Assembly.

The main conclusions are that while agroconsumption groups and cooperatives are deeply rooted in the social and solidarity economy, and most of the times in the sharing economy, some platform-based initiatives not only do not share this principles but, as it is the case of The Food Assembly, they do not even match in what we understand by platform cooperativism.

The article is in Spanish. An abstract in English follows and then the link for downloading the full paper.

Abstract

The cooperative tradition around the consumption of agro-food products has a strong historical background in the city of Barcelona. Even if we refer to the first modern consumer cooperatives, we realize that their task has twenty-five years of permanence (Espelt et al, 2015). More recently —in July 2014— appears in the city another initiative of consumption to facilitate direct sales between local producers and communities of consumers, called food assemblies. Although the origins and differences between models are evident, they both share some common aspects in their approaches —willingness to self-manage, disintermediation of production and building a community—, articulated as part of the so-called “Collaborative Economy”. For their part, both types of initiatives, although with a very different approach, have in technology an important backbone for their activity. In this article, we analyze the points of encounter and discrepancy between the two actors as a model, placing the research framework in the city of Barcelona, where —in March 2017— we located some sixty groups and consumer cooperatives (Espelt et al., 2015) And thirteen food assemblies, six in operation and seven under construction. Emphasizing as differential factors, economic, technical, legal aspects, type of governance, values associated with the model or linked to the relationship between people, producers, final product or space.

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Article:
Espelt, R., Peña-López, I. & Vega Rodríguez, N. (2017). “Plataformas digitales: grupos y cooperativas de consumo versus La Colmena que dice sí, el caso de Barcelona”. In Redes.com, 15, 145-174. Revista de estudios para el desarrollo social de la comunicación. Sevilla: NMI/Compolíticas.

Communication at IDP2016. Activismo desde el consumo cooperativo de productos agroalimentarios: ¿Economía alternativa o tecnopolítica?

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Since 1995, cooperativism in general, and agro-food consumption groups in particular have grown in number very quickly in Barcelona, after decades of total sleep of the movement. The dictatorship of Francisco Franco killed most of the existing initiatives dating from the XIXth century, but the dictator died in 1975 and democracy was restored in 1977: why did it take so much time for cooperatives to flourish back? Is it a coincidence that their rebirth was at the same time that the Internet went public and digital mobile technologies began to be massively adopted? In other words, does cooperativism has to do with the digital revolution? Even more, does cooperativism has an activist component that is closely related with technopolitics?

This is the starting point that Ricard Espelt, Enrique Rodríguez and I took in Activismo desde el consumo cooperativo de productos agroalimentarios: ¿Economía alternativa o tecnopolítica?, a communication that has been accepted at IDP2016 – Internet, Law and Politics. Building a European digital space, organized by the School, Open University of Catalonia, and taking place in July 7-8 2016 in Barcelona (Spain).

A pre-print of the paper can be downloaded below. Note that some minor issues can differ from the final version to be published in the proceedings of the conference.

Abstract

El análisis de la cronología de los grupos de consumo de la ciudad de Barcelona muestra tres etapas: la primera, a lo largo de la década de 1990, con la aparición de los primeros grupos; la segunda, con el cambio de siglo, con un nuevo auge de cooperativas; y, finalmente, una tercera oleada, coincidiendo temporalmente con el movimiento 15M, caracterizado ―entre otros elementos― por su constitución en asambleas.

A pesar de que todas las organizaciones autogestionadas en el marco del consumo agroalimentario no tienen formato jurídico cooperativista (la mayoría son asociaciones e incluso identificamos algunas sin marco legal), comparten un modelo de toma de decisiones asambleario. Las asambleas son el espacio donde se gestiona el eje central de la actividad que da sentido a la constitución del grupo (el abastecimiento de productos agroalimentarios cumpliendo con los criterios de la Economía Social y Solidaria) pero, también, el compromiso social y político de la organización.

En este artículo se analiza la relación existente entre los grupos de consumo agroalimentario y el movimiento 15M en la constitución de nuevas organizaciones o en el refuerzo de las ya existentes en la ciudad. Por un lado, evaluaremos el papel del modelo de toma de decisiones en asamblea ―liderazgo horizontal y distribuido―, como parte fundamental de su funcionamiento autogestionado y desinstitucionalizado, con especial atención al papel de las Tecnologías de la Información y la Comunicación (TIC) en la organización de la misma. Por otro lado, estudiaremos la relación entre el compromiso social y político que los distintos grupos manifiestan y su vinculación con los movimientos de activismo social y político.

Esta investigación se ha realizado sobre la totalidad (60) de los grupos de consumo agroalimentario de Barcelona, con presencia en todos los distritos de la ciudad.

Dowloads

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Full paper:
Espelt, R., Peña-López, I. & Rodríguez, E. (forthcoming). “Activismo desde el consumo cooperativo de productos agroalimentarios: ¿Economía alternativa o tecnopolítica?”. In Balcells, J. et al. (Coords.), Internet, Law and Politics. Building a European digital space. Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Internet, Law & Politics. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Barcelona, 7-8 July, 2016. Barcelona: UOC-Huygens Editorial.

Communication. Mapping agro-food consumption groups in the city of Barcelona

Cover of Espelt, R., Peña-López, I., Losantos, P., Rodríguez, E., Martín, T. & Pons, F. (2015). “Mapping agro-food consumption groups in the city of Barcelona”

My colleague Ricard Espelt is these days at the XXVI European Society for Rural Sociology Congress, in Aberdeen, Scotland. The motto of this year’s edition of the congress is Places of possibility? Rural societies in a neoliberal world and this is just what Ricard is presenting on behalf of a small team he put up to analyse and map agro-food consumption groups in the city of Barcelona.

The communication he just presented, Mapping agro-food consumption groups in the city of Barcelona, is but a part of a major research project that Ricard is doing and that I have the luck to be a part of. Following can be found the abstract, slides and downloads of our communication, signed together by Ricard Espelt, Pere Losantos, Enrique Rodríguez, Toni Martín, Francesc Pons and myself. Mind that it is only a short paper and, thus, only a small part of the information produced is available. Comments (and/or requests) will definitely be welcome.

Abstract

“Consumption groups” (or “consumption cooperatives”) is one of the types of short circuits of food consumption. They are organized to create an alternative to the dominant model, the agro-food big chain. Breaking the barriers between consumers and producers, this model of organization strengthens the possibility of stimulating social and economic local development.

In this article, we show how consumption groups take advantage of the traditional cooperative move-ment rooted in the XIXth century, and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in the context of Barcelona.

We analyse how the Social and Solidary Economy (SSE) measurement indicators are achieved by agro-food consumption groups, the nature of the networks made up by consumers and producers and the rele-vance of ICTs to maintain the business activity. Using geolocalized data and social network analysis we highlight the significance of local economical connec-tions among the actors involved.

Even though consumption groups stimulate local business and correlate with SSE indicators, they are not represented in the design of public policies. This article wants to draw a different point of view in the promotion of alternative food futures as emerging social and economic actors, and the public policies to promote them.

Slides

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Short paper:
Espelt, R., Peña-López, I., Losantos, P., Rodríguez, E., Martín, T. & Pons, F. (2015). “Mapping agro-food consumption groups in the city of Barcelona”. In Places of possibility? Rural societies in a neoliberal world. Proceedings of the XXVI ESRS Congress, Aberdeen, Scotland, 2015. Aberdeen: The James Hutton Institute

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Slides:
Espelt, R., Peña-López, I., Losantos, P., Rodríguez, E., Martín, T. & Pons, F. (2015). “Mapping agro-food consumption groups in the city of Barcelona”. In Places of possibility? Rural societies in a neoliberal world. Proceedings of the XXVI ESRS Congress, Aberdeen, Scotland, 2015. Aberdeen: The James Hutton Institute

The use of social networking sites and the need to rethink democracy and the forms of participation

Notes from the The construction of a new Mediterranean Sea: women, youngsters and new forms of participation seminar, organized by the Fundació CatDem, in Barcelona, Spain, on December 12th, 2014.

Ismael Peña-López
Social networking sites and democracy: rethinking participation.

Ricard Espelt
The use of social networking sites and the need to rethink democracy and the forms of participation

We’ve talked too much about citizen participation… we’ve been talking too much about it despite the fact that we are still doing too little.

The more global thing always has a very local background. Most big civic actions begin with small, local initiatives.

Representative democracy is old, and has aged badly. Public representatives are seen not only as unable to solve problems, but even to identify them. Will participation turn old representative democracy into a young participative democracy? The problem is that we use a loudspeaker to talk to people and let them decide… on a previously set of options. Participation is not about letting people give their opinions on what is already decide, but about deciding what has to be decided.

Then comes commitment. In participation, is there a commitment to take action? to transform things? Or is it just faking decision-making but, all in all, not deciding anything?

Participation should also raise awareness… on the limits of participation itself: what can be decided and what not, what are the costs of any option/decision, etc. It is crucial that people understands how did we get here, what is the logic and the process and means by which a final decision was made. The solution may be agreed by everyone or not, but the process should.

Participation, and even agreement or decision-making is not about turning diversity into a homogeneous mass. It’s about finding common goals within disagreement. Same with how to lead and how to facilitate a process. Who is an influencer, who is a local leader? Unless one does not know and engage these leaders and influencers, civic action is bound to failure.

Participation has to be inclusive. We should care that everyone participates, that everyone is engaged with both the topic and the process. This engagement many times by setting up places where people can meet each other, interact, do things together… not necessarily related with participation or decision-making, just creating bounds.

Defining clear goals and places for deliberation should be a top priority once a community and problem have been identified. Then, it necessarily comes making participation a collective action. And a collective that is connected. Collective: many people; connective: the collective connected.

If possible, participation should be disruptive, innovative: it is engaging and, most of the times, efficient in optimizing the resources at reach.

The construction of a new Mediterranean Sea: women, youngsters and new forms of participation (2014)