Abstract: Cooperation: A Virtuous Business Model? The Case of Wisconsin Cooperators, 1870s-1930s

Alexia Blin


The paper studies how Wisconsin cooperators—who played an important role in the American movement—consistently sought to define cooperation as a virtuous business model between the 1870s and the 1930s. During those decades, they used different, and sometimes contradictory, lines of argument in order to link their way of doing business to the wider society and to the common good. This definition enabled cooperators to distance their organizations from other kinds of businesses, especially traditional corporations. It was also instrumental in determining cooperators' relations with the state at different levels. From the late nineteenth century to the New Deal era, Wisconsin cooperators maintained an ambiguous relationship with the state and federal governments. Their claim to represent a form of business that benefited the general interest carried a ''public'' dimension, which led cooperators to both seek and refuse state protection. Defining cooperation as a virtuous business model allowed cooperators to combine private and public elements, and to define their organizations as a beneficial middle ground.