Carpetbaggers and credit unions : a sociological study into the paradox of mutuality in the late twentieth century
This thesis explores the apparent paradox of mutuality in Britain at the turn of the millennium. It contrasts the relative decline of building societies via demutualisation, against the continual governmental support for and growth of credit unions. It begins by constructing a cultural conceptualisation of mutuality, which comprises of four interrelated elements: trust, reciprocity/habit, longevity, and caution. These are formalised in an organisational model of cooperation, which seeks to explain how mutuals function in reality. Both these models are employed to assess the validity of competing explanations of contemporary mutuality. First, a functionalist interpretation, which assumes that demutualisation is an inevitable result of growth, is examined. Second, a neo-Marxist analysis, which believes resource appropriation by building society management, was the motivation for change. However, neither theory was substantiated by the evidence because they could not fully explain why demutualisation did not occur earlier or why new mutuals, namely credit unions, were being established. Consequently a third interpretation synthesising the Neo-Marxist thesis with a cultural post-modern glocal turn was developed. Accordingly, demutualisation occurred because building societies became disembedded from society. First, the culmination of paternalism produced a transformation in the trust relationship between members and management. Second, in the political and economic spheres, Thatcherism and globalisation marginalised any alternative perspectives to the neo-liberal narrative, through the commodification of the personal; discrediting and abasement of the mutual; and the imposition of a crypto-Utopian discourse. Alongside this assault on mutuality a counter-culture of opposition to globalisation, glocalism, created spaces for new mutuals, such as credit unions. Many of these entities deliberately prioritised social over economic objectives and based their attachment on a small locality. By examining mutuals holistically it is hoped that this thesis contributes to a sociological understanding of how cooperative organisations are affected by the state and hypercapitalism.