Scaling without growth? The scaling approaches of Social Agricultural Cooperatives in Italy
Date: 17 February 2020
University of Exeter
Doctor of Philosophy in Management
This research is an exploratory study into the scaling approaches of Social Agricultural Cooperatives (SACs) in Italy. Indigenous to the Italian context and rooted in the Civil Economy tradition, SACs are Social Cooperatives that operate in the agricultural sector. They are a rapidly-expanding type of social enterprise, combining a ...
This research is an exploratory study into the scaling approaches of Social Agricultural Cooperatives (SACs) in Italy. Indigenous to the Italian context and rooted in the Civil Economy tradition, SACs are Social Cooperatives that operate in the agricultural sector. They are a rapidly-expanding type of social enterprise, combining a non-profit institutional identity (i.e. the social element), an entrepreneurial core (i.e. the agricultural element) and democratic governance (i.e. the cooperative element). SACs are framed in the wider context of diverse organisations – i.e. holding different ethical approaches and different modus operandi from the capitalist enterprise. This research focuses on scaling as a grand challenge for diverse organisations. While in the context of capitalist organisations scaling is often considered as a synonym for organisational growth (e.g. scaling is mostly expressed in terms of scaling-up), diverse organisations consider scaling as a more complex matter (e.g. introducing concepts such as scaling-out and scaling-deep). Embracing a social constructionist view of management and organisation studies, this research adopts qualitative multiple-case-study methods to advance a diverse theory of scaling. Scaling is considered as the combination of processes that allow an organisation to fulfil the needs it was constituted to address, while undertaking its vision of system change. In the context of SACs, needs and system change emerge in close relation to ecological standpoints and environmental virtue ethics respectively, while scaling routes emerge as multi-layered and multi-faceted processes, including, but not limited to, organisational growth. These include: scaling-up-inwards (i.e. vertical organisational growth), scaling-out-inwards (i.e. horizontal organisational growth), scaling-down (i.e. organisational de-growth), scaling-up-outwards (i.e. organisational impact on policies), scaling-out-outwards (i.e. organisational multiplication), scaling-deep-inwards (i.e. organisational impact on internal culture), scaling-deep-outwards (i.e. organisational impact on societal culture), scaling-with-inwards (i.e. organisational aggregation of existing organisations) and scaling-with-outwards (i.e. organisational aggregation of new organisations). Rather than in scaling-up, the key process to fulfil SACs’ needs while undertaking their vision of system change was identified as scaling-deep. At the same time scaling-up was never considered as exponential growth. On the contrary, it emerged as being a limited (i.e. by social and environmental values), temporary (i.e. until a point of equilibrium is reached) and contextual (i.e. small scale) process. The importance of ecological relations and ecological virtues for SACs allows a redefinition of the traditional mission of Social Cooperatives (i.e. from human to ecological promotion) as well as their vision (i.e. from human to ecological flourishing). In addition, appreciating scaling and growing as two different and related processes allows the decoupling of scaling (i.e. including growth) from the growth paradigm (i.e. exponential growth in a planet with finite resources), opening up the understanding of scaling to degrowth approaches. In turn, that enables a focus on local initiatives, appreciating the transformative and emancipatory potential of their actions.
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