Co-operative discourse : a multi-level analysis
This research investigates the discourse of co-operative management and leadership. It explores the social construction of the concept of the 'co-operative' and the philosophy that underpins co-operative ideology, culture and values. The research employs a discursive research methodology. More specifically, discourse analysis is applied to a sample of speeches (n=23) given by prominent co-operative figures between 1823 and 1997. These texts are analysed using three discursive methods, namely: content analysis, narrative analysis and intertextuality analysis. These approaches are utilised to explore different levels of discourse, i.e.: the micro-level (the interrogation of words and sentences using content analysis); the meso-level (the examination of embedded stories and plots within texts using narrative analysis) and; the macro-level (the exploration of underlying patterns and recurring themes across texts using intertextual analysis). There are two main findings of this research. First, there is an emphasis on the notion of 'heroic/ideal' leadership within the texts which runs contrary to the espoused core values of shared responsibility and democratic member-based control within co-operatives. Second, and somewhat paradoxically, the discourse of co-operatives is becoming more business like and entrepreneurial in nature while the rhetoric of profit-making organisation is generally becoming more inclusionary, participative and democratic. The research highlights that there is an inherent tension within the co-operative movement between wanting to retain traditional values and the need to incorporate contemporary business practices (e.g. hierarchical leadership) and business values (i.e. capitalistic ideals). Given that co-operatives are caught between traditional commitments and adjusting to external requirements of being profitable, there are implications for identity and there is an need to rethink some of the assumptions, concepts and values which underpin co-operative discourse. Beyond the substantive contribution, this research also offers insights into the scope for, and benefits of, applying a multi-method, multi-level approach to discursive study of organisational phenomena.