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Building on shifting sands: co-operation and morality in the new Chinese co-operative movement

Stanford, Mark (2017) Building on shifting sands: co-operation and morality in the new Chinese co-operative movement. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.7lk4cpw5pyz9


Since the beginning of China’s transition to a market economy, there have been other voices, calling for a different kind of change. One such voice is the co-operative movement, which has continued to grow in recent years. However, China’s new co-operatives suffer from widespread problems, which vitiate the principles put forward by activists. Based on two years of multi-sited fieldwork in the cooperative movement, this thesis explores the experience of the co-operatives, and the activists and institutions which promote them. Framing the analysis in terms of the cultural evolution of co-operation, it argues that the cooperatives are threatened by a range of factors. The erosion of social capital and material interdependence resulting from urbanisation and modernisation tends to undermine the foundations of the system of mutual aid based on indirect reciprocity. Meanwhile, the trauma of the Cultural Revolution and the uncertainty of the reform era have rendered alternative forms of collectivistic morality equally unable to support co-operation. While many co-operatives have succeeded by carefully avoiding any form of co-operation which requires trust or costly monitoring, some problems cannot be solved in this way. In particular, the thesis argues that participation in democratic decision-making is itself a collective action problem, which co-operatives cannot, by their very nature, avoid. And when activists and the state provide resources to help overcome these challenges, the result is often a ‘crowding out’ of co-operation. Finally, the thesis explores the idea that the difficulties of the co-operatives may reflect a shift in the psychological underpinnings of co-operation in wider Chinese society. Through a combination of life history interviews with young people experiencing moral conflict, and a psychometric survey designed to measure differences in moral reasoning, it argues that non-market forms of cooperation are being undermined by a process of interlinked social and psychological change.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2017 Mark Stanford
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Stafford, Charles and Astuti, Rita

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