Very process of living together educates: learning in, from and for co-operative life in rural Malta
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This dissertation contributes to our knowledge about the development of Maltese cooperatives, placing the process in a wider historical and ideological perspective. More importantly it delves into the learning that goes on in and around co-operatives. Finally it contributes to the discussion about the potential which co-operatives have in enabling communities to work towards a more equitable world. Three were the guiding questions. What do people learn in the co-op, as they get involved in setting up and running a community-owned enterprise? What do people learn from the co-op, as they interact with it in its day-to-day business? What do people learn for the co-op, as they turn towards co-operation to create a more equitable world? To answer these questions, I first conducted research about the origins of co-operation in Britain, the dissemination of the model across the British Empire, and its development in Malta. Then I conducted a case study research with two Maltese rural co-operatives, one at the village of Mġarr, the Mġarr Farmers’ Co-operative Society, and the other located at Manikata, Koperattiva Rurali Manikata. I interviewed ten co-operators from each case study, followed up by a group discussion with each co-op’s committee. I analysed the transcripts by making reference to authors who have contributed to the discussion around democracy, critical citizenship and critical pedagogy. The case studies show that in co-operatives people learn how to turn personal problems into collective struggles. They develop their personal and collective identities in their activism. They learn to assume responsibility in contributing towards the common good, becoming aware that taking action is a learning process at the individual and the collective level. The case studies also show that people learn from co-operatives in different ways. The co-operatives under study both organised non-formal educational activities open to the members of the community. They provided goods and services to the wider community, and customers learned as they interacted with both co-ops. Activists from both co-ops sought to build bridges with civil society and with political authorities in their search for alliances over to achieve their objectives. In doing so they could open up learning spaces beyond the confines of the co-op. Finally the research makes the case for co-operatives by showing how they have the potential to give voice to local communities. They can ‘claim spaces’ where individual abilities are turned into collective strength through participation in democratic dialogical processes. Cooperatives can scale up the struggle for legitimacy around local structures of feeling as they develop into oppositional or alternative discourses to the status quo.