Centre for Co-operative Studies - Doctoral Theses

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    Exploring Irish rural social enterprises as neoendogenous development actors
    (University College Cork, 2020) Olmedo, Lucas; O'Shaughnessy, Mary; Hennessey, Thia; Horizon 2020
    Since the 1990s social enterprises have gained growing attention from academics and policymakers as significant actors to address some of the complex challenges faced by our societies due to their aim of combining social, economic and/or environmental goals using entrepreneurial/innovative means. Rural areas have demonstrated to be a fertile ground for social enterprises. Diverse factors such as a tradition of mutual self-help, a great density of social networks, the often unattractiveness for private investors looking to maximise profits or the consequences of neoliberal policies that have left some rural areas without adequate (basic) services have contributed to the presence of social enterprises within rural areas. The main characteristics of social enterprises operating within European rural areas, i.e. strong local focus, development of networks with external actors, ability to mobilise a wide range of resources, intrinsic relation with the rural context and contribution to different dimensions of development, concur with the principles of neoendogenous rural development. This perspective of rural development advocates for an integrated development of rural localities/areas based on the utilisation of local assets, while recognising the importance of linking local with external actors for attracting those resources not available at the local level and the influence of exogenous-structural (global) factors in local/regional development. Despite this link between rural social enterprises and neoendogenous development, established through a (systematic) literature review of previous research, how rural social enterprises work to contribute to a neoendogenous rural development has not been explored to date, constituting the main aim of this thesis. To pursue this aim, the phenomenon researched has been conceptualised drawing on a ‘substantive’ view of the economy as proposed by Polanyi. According to this view, economic actors and relations are embedded within society and nature, and the economy is formed by three ‘forms of economic integration’, i.e. reciprocity, redistribution and market-exchange. This conceptual framework has been complemented with the concepts of ‘spatial scale’ and ‘place’ in order to add nuance to the analysis of rural social enterprises as neoendogenous development actors. The methodology of this study was underpinned by a critical realist perspective which lies in the combination of a realist ontology with a constructivist epistemology. According to critical realism the ultimate goal of social science research is to uncover the mechanisms that can (partially) explain an observed phenomenon. In order to so, two in-depth case studies of social enterprises operating within Irish rural localities were conducted. During 15 months of continuous engagement with the two rural social enterprises, 36 semi-structured interviews with diverse stakeholders, 321 pages of field notes from participant observations and other complementary materials were gathered. These data were thematically analysed through several rounds of coding performed through an iterative process (of five stages) between data collection, the analysis of empirical data and theoretical reflections. This process allowed for an increasingly focused data collection and for the verification and/or refinement of (preliminary) findings. The findings from this study explain three interrelated mechanisms used by these rural social enterprises when contributing to the neoendogenous development of their localities. The first mechanism explains how the engagement of rural social enterprises in plural and multi-scalar (socio-)economic relations and their collaborative and collective resourcefulness practices are related with their capacity to contribute to an integrated development of their localities. The second mechanism explains how rural social enterprises act as ‘supporting structures’ that enhance regular plural (socio-)economic relations among different local actors within their localities. Thus, it explains their contribution to the institutionalisation of substantive ‘forms of economic integration’ at the local level. The third mechanism explains how the work of rural social enterprises is influenced by the specific features of their rural context and, how these organisations engage with their context as a (integrated) ‘place’. Thus, it explains how rural social enterprises harness and (re)valorise locational, institutional, material and identity aspects when contributing to the development of their localities. In conclusion, this study argues that rural social enterprises (can) act as ‘placial embedded structures’ which (re)valorise (untapped) local assets and attract external resources based on their ability to enhance collective action and to develop synergies with different stakeholders. Therefore, these organisations present great potential to contribute to neoendogenous rural development. However, this study also poses some notes of caution to this potential. First, this potential lies in their complementarity to other key development stakeholders such as public authorities or for-profit local businesses. Second, to draw a realistic picture of this potential, spatially sensitive research and policies that address the heterogeneity of rural areas are needed. These notes are based on the empirical evidence presented in this study which demonstrate how substantive ‘forms of economic integration’ and ‘place’ matter for explaining the work rural social enterprises as neoendogenous rural development actors.
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    From private banks to credit unions: a historical geography of financial institutions in Ireland (c.1680-2001)
    (University College Cork, 2019-10-04) O'Connor, Ray; Crowley, John; Maceinri, Piaras
    This research examines the historical geography of financial institutions in Ireland from c.1680 to 2001. It uses financial organisations as a vehicle for generating new social, economic, political and cultural insights. The interrogation of primary and secondary sources produced a series of maps which form the basis of this analysis. Beginning with private banks in c.1680, the evolution of individual financial institutions are traced through the eighteenth century to the beginning of the millennium. Their proclivity for social and spatial selectivity is highlighted and explained. The analysis then examines how attempts were made to spread the use of money down the social order, detailing the financial institutions that developed to facilitate that process. Central to this thesis is the idea that the various types of financial institutions emerged to fulfill different purposes. While savings banks offered a safe place to deposit money for those already engaged in the monetised economy, loan fund societies sought to transition the lowest social classes from a subsistence to a monetised economy. This study reveals that both institutions had significantly different social and spatial geographies. It argues that a key factor retarding the success of these institutions in the first half of the nineteenth century was the levels of poverty among the lowest social classes who remained embedded in a subsistence economy. The decline of savings banks and loan fund societies coincided with the onset of the Great Famine in 1845. In the post-Famine period, increased levels of remittances and a declining population facilitated a transition to monetisation. However, it is argued that in this period many people straddled both subsistence and monetised economies. In the latter decades of the nineteenth century, access to credit became a singular challenge. Rural dwellers were exploited by usurious gombeen men, moneylenders and, for those within the reach of towns, pawnbrokers. Co-operative credit societies were a response to the usury and exploitation experienced by the rural poor, but this movement went into decline in the early twentieth century. It would take almost four decades after Independence for the credit union movement to take root. This delay was due primarily to the legacy of the failure of co-operative credit societies. This research explains how, after 1958, in a new industrialising, urbanising and modernising economic context, the credit union movement emerged, and how the geographies underpinning this movement both reflected and drove social, cultural and economic change.
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    An exploration of the relationship between openness to relationality and context in Irish credit unions
    (University College Cork, 2018) Byrne, Noreen; Ward, Michael
    The purpose of this thesis is to explore how contextual conditions such as perceived openness and proximity trigger a relational openness between the member and the credit union. The researcher theorises, using the relationality literature, that this openness is essential for the emergence of co-operative potentiality and, in turn, the continual reproduction of the credit union as a co-operative business. The relationship between context and relational openness was explored through the gathering of empirical data and through theoretical abduction and retroduction. The empirical field work was carried out between 2011 and 2013, a period prior to the restructuring in Irish credit unions (in 2011 there were 403 credit unions, but following the onset of a statutory supported restructuring in 2013, this number had reduced to 268 by December, 2017). The research involved two member surveys (n = 1,400; n = 715) in addition to a structured interview and a mapping exercise with 78 credit union personnel (staff and volunteers). The field work explored openness to relationality (member value preferences, member openness to relational engagement, credit union openness to member knowledge) and contextual conditions (proximity and perceived credit union openness). The first contextual condition examined was proximity. It was found that proximity matters in terms of triggering openness in both the member and the credit union. For the member, proximity triggers their likelihood of holding a relational rather than a technical value preference for their credit union. Members who value the relational over the technical are more active patrons. For the credit union, proximity influences the personnel’s openness to member knowledge (a pre-cursor to treating members as ‘origins of action’ and to member-driven innovation). The second contextual condition examined was members’ perception of credit union openness. It was found that members who perceived the credit union as open were more likely to be themselves open to relational engagement (a pre-cursor to ‘mutual aid’ or co-creation) with the credit union. Hence, relational openness matters to the development of the credit union as an innovative and member-driven co-operative business. Context matters because of its role in shaping this relational openness. This thesis highlights that credit unions already have, in fact, control over the design of that context in the form of their proximity and openness to the member. These findings indicate that, in the pre-restructuring period, relational openness between the member and the credit union existed and this openness is triggered by contextual conditions such as proximity and perceived openness. These findings imply that, in the absence of or weakening of proximity, openness is less likely to emerge. This has serious implications for the credit union. Firstly, it weakens the relational competitive advantage of the credit union. As relational openness weakens, members are more likely to hold a technical value preference and are less likely to be open to active patronage and co-creation with their credit union. Secondly, it weakens the innovative potential of credit unions, where credit unions are less open to and have less access to member knowledge. These findings suggest that this will weaken the foundational structure of the credit union as a co-operative business. The research highlights the importance of proximity as a triggering contextual condition at a time when the value of proximity and the implications of its loss do not seem to be recognised either in the restructuring literature or in practice. However, the findings also suggest that even with such recognition, it is difficult to see what type of intervention would facilitate the emergence of such relational potentiality or counteract its loss within a centralised restructuring framework. This research suggests that there may be an alternative and makes a case from the membership perspective for a formal decentralised federated-based restructuring of credit unions rather than a centralised merger-based restructuring, as the former, unlike the latter, maintains proximity while building scale. The primary methodological and theoretical contribution of this thesis lies in its relational ontology as applied to a co-operative setting. This allows for a direct focus on context and on the underlying relational process (rather than on relational outcomes) which are often implicit or background variables in co-operative research. This facilitates a deeper and more integrated understanding of co-operatives and, as argued in the thesis, sets a better foundation for the development of co-operative theory. It has been noted by other researchers that a particular gap in the co-operative research is its inability to integrate dualisms in co-operatives, such as, member/organisation; structure/process; social/economic objectives. The relational ontology as developed in this thesis enables co-operative researchers to integrate these dualisms in a more meaningful and more effortless way. This allows co-operative theory to free itself from the constraints of mere justification, comparison and ‘fitting in’ and to develop itself as a generative force innately inspired by a ‘co-operative imagination’.
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    The Irish credit union movement: member participation and organisational effectiveness
    (University College Cork, 2005-09) McCarthy, Olive; Briscoe, Robert; Ward, Michael; St. Gabriel’s Credit Union Ltd, Cork
    This thesis explores the relationship between organisational effectiveness and member participation in Irish credit unions. It is hypothesised that a positive relationship exists between both variables. Co-operative literature suggests that co-operatives require the involvement of the members in identifying and meeting their own needs in order to be effective organisations. Previous research studies into the issue across a variety of organisational types have shown mixed results. Related research into credit unions is sparse. The primary research undertaken is both quantitative and qualitative in approach. Organisational effectiveness is examined in both quantitative and qualitative terms. Member participation, being an organisational process, is examined in qualitative terms. Indicators of organisational effectiveness, specific to credit unions, are drawn up and form a framework through which effectiveness is examined. A typology and indicators of member participation are also developed and form a framework through which member participation is examined. The case study method is used primarily, to examine organisational effectiveness and member participation in Irish credit unions. A case study of a theoretical credit union, which is based on a composite of good practice in credit unions in Ireland and internationally, is also drawn up to develop the analysis further. The case studies allow an analysis of both organisational effectiveness and member participation, as well as an exploration of the relationship between the two. The findings support the hypothesis that there is a direct relationship between the two variables. In order to be effective, credit unions must involve their members in identifying their needs and in designing services to meet these needs. At present, they do not do this to any large extent. In order to continue to meet the needs of their members and to compete in the financial services sector, credit unions will need to find ways of involving members, drawing on good practice in other co-operatives. This will be critical to their continued success.