Letter from the Editors of Cooperation

Letter from the Editors

Volume 24, no. 3, Cooperation: Theory and Practice for the Commons

By Dio Cramer

As science and technology workers envisioning and enacting social change, we look to the concept of cooperation to guide our work. In this issue, we define cooperation through exploring its theories and practices at the intersection between science and society. 

The articles collected here begin by trying to answer a few questions. First, what does science say about cooperation? In Manu Raghavan’s editorial, we immediately learn that this question has no easy answer as all evolutionary theories were ideologically constructed in particular historical and social contexts. Against the backdrop of colonialism and imperialism, as Promita Ghosh and Amitava Banerjee show, ecology exaggerates competition and downplays cooperation in its treatment of “invasive” species. Neuroscientists Caio Maximino and Marta Soares, in the same vein, elaborate on cooperative behaviors of fish from their research. What about cooperation in the social sciences? Calvin Wu and Jake Thrasher take us back to Marx with comical illustrations in a lighthearted attempt to elucidate how cooperation can be viewed through a historical materialist lens.

Which brings us to the second question: is cooperation a strategy for social change? Filipino journalists Purple Romero and Raffy Cabristante showcase how cooperation between scientists and community members can push back against corporate and state interests that weaponize environmentalism for privatization and profiteering. Alex Ahmed warns us that cooperation can be institutionalized, coopted, and controlled in a form of “participatory research design” as yet another way to justify marginalization and inequality. Caleb Simone, using examples from the AIDS epidemic, reiterates the importance of bottom-up, grassroot cooperation between scientists and local communities. 

The study of cooperation also brings us to examine critically the practices of cooperatives. Josephine Chinele begins by revealing the harsh reality in Malawi, where cooperatives supported by nongovernmental organizations made lofty promises but failed to alleviate poverty or bring economic development. Turning back to the imperial core of the United States, RK Upadhya analyzes the history and political economy of rural electrical cooperatives, bringing forth the paramount importance of democracy—not just in forming cooperatives, but in our cooperative attempt to change society. 

Lastly, perhaps the most urgent question: how does cooperation challenge capitalism? This question brings us to the concept of the “commons”—because capitalism is antithetical to the commons. Tegan Morton revisits and once again demolishes Garrett Hardin’s “The Tragedy of the Commons” to remind us that enriching the commons should be part and parcel of our collective struggle. Michelle Wenderlich reviews the book Commoning, named after the social practice of self-organization to meet people’s needs and desires, and explains the omnipresence of commoning in various social movements: feminist, antiwar, anti-globalization, and more. Also, don’t forget to check out Cliff Conner’s short essay, “The Goose on the Common,” that pays tribute to the class struggle over the commons in seventeenth century England.

We in the editorial collective hope that this collection of articles reveals a path towards a post-capitalist world, and we hope you join us in cooperatively putting theory into practice. 

For the commons,

Volume 24, no. 3 Editorial Collective

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