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date: 05 March 2021

Abstract and Keywords

The interpretations hitherto produced on co-operatives firms have been, in general terms, unsatisfactory. The reasons are to be found in the limitations of the dominant theoretical paradigms in interpreting the individual, collective, and social reality of co-operation. Recent theoretical developments allow a new start in dealing with the most relevant economic dimensions of co-operation, by: (i) recognizing co-operation as a peculiar and basic co-ordination mechanism of the economic activity, different from market exchange and authority; (ii) considering collective and mutually beneficial entrepreneurial action, and not only individual action, as legitimate and fruitful; (iii) understanding economic motivations not only as self-interested and opportunistic ones, but also as intrinsically driven, as reciprocal, and as social. Starting from the analysis of the main market imperfections we develop a theory of co-operatives as enterprises that do not, as a norm, maximize net economic returns as their main objective, but instead pursue mutually beneficial and social aims.

Keywords: co-operation, market exchange, economic motivations, mutually beneficial aims, dominant theoretical paradigms, intrinsically driven motivations, social aims

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