Co-operatives are organizations that, by definition, adhere to a certain set of values and principles. The values were first formulated in Rochdale, where the first co-operative was founded. These values and principles, as any values and principles, should permeate the lifestyles of all those who identify with them. Individuals' exposure to these values and principles will vary between worker co-ops and other types of co-ops. While members of a co-operative bank or consumer coop may only visit once a week, in a worker co-op, people are exposed to the co-operative values for 8 hours a day. Geof Cox noted on LinkedIn that as such, worker co-ops may be considered a "lifestyle business".
Unlike values, lifestyle can easily be measured. Marketing specialists in the USA or Canada may quite reliably identify your lifestyle if you give them your postal code; doctors can conjecture it from seeing you for just a few seconds. Sociologists may deduce how you live from your taste - i.e. aesthetic choices. We simultaneously expose our lifestyle and are exposed, continuously, to the lifestyle of others. Some lifestyles spread like viruses creating a pandemic of consumerism. However, these product-based lifestyles are in complete opposition to the person-oriented lifestyle of: “self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, solidarity, honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.” Indeed, to follow the co-operative lifestyle seems more difficult now than it was in Rochdale times.
One of the first and more important reasons is related to our mobility and flexibility. In 1980, futurist Alvin Toffler predicted that as our society's work patterns become increasingly individualized, it would lead to greater social isolation due to a reduction in common "off-work" time (e.g. Sunday church services, evenings at the pub, community gatherings).
Toffler observes that we structure relationships differently now; rather than spending a lifetime getting to know our neighbours in a small village, we might meet and make new friends every week; and yet, we also drift apart more quickly - as we move on to a new sports team, a new job, a new city of residence. This shortening of the duration of our relationships has impacted many aspects of our everyday life - including our relationship to co-operatives. Now, people follow work, and not the other way round. The Rochdale pioneers did not dream about the challenges a community-based business has to face today.
In slide 7 I show the complexity of a modern lifestyle. I would like to investigate to what degree an individual's lifestyle impacts the functioning of a worker co-op. I am conducting a participatory research project of co-operative lifestyles today. I would like to invite co-operatives and their members not just to fill in questionnaires, but work together on developing them, in a true participatory approach.