In the last few years, you’ve probably seen some articles about the flaws and failures of the what’s been called the “sharing economy”. Critics often cite the disingenuous use of the word “sharing”, and the exclusion of users as potential stakeholders or owners of the intermediary platforms. Much of the public criticism for these and other issues has been aimed at high-profile online platforms, usually Airbnb and Uber, with good reason.

Two cooperative movements are important in this discussion: Platform Cooperativism, and Open Cooperativism. One may be more publicly visible right now, but they have much in common. These movements marry the power of digital networks with the rich history of the cooperative movement.

How do these approaches compare? Are they redundant, complementary, mutually exclusive? What exact problems do they solve, and what outcome do they seek? In this article, we explain their origins and characteristics, and see how the actions proposed by these movements can work together, helping us form resilient livelihoods in our networked age.

From Platform to Open Cooperativism

Rather than assuming a digital backbone, Open Cooperativism explores how open data, ecological stewardship, and the active production of Commons might expand and revive established cooperative traditions, even reclaim the idea of a Cooperative Commonwealth. Open Cooperativism argues that it’s not enough to have a better Uber or a more democratic AirBnB: we must tackle issues like housing and transportation head on. The root causes of our dysfunctional, destructive economies can’t be danced around.

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