Embeddedness, social capital and learning in rural areas: The case of producer cooperatives

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

To pursue development goals, policymakers and scholars alike have proposed that actors in rural areas may usefully engage in collective actions, e.g. by forming community groups, producer associations or multi-actor networks. One proposed benefit of such collaborations is the enhanced knowledge exchange and learning which may be created, and in the literature the dynamics of this are often explained via the concepts of embeddedness and/or social capital. To date however, studies tend towards a somewhat narrow, territorial, interpretation of these concepts, with the result that current understanding of how collaborations and learning evolve between rural actors is rather constrained. This paper aims to explore a broader interpretation of these concepts, through case analysis of a producer cooperative in the Scottish shellfish sector. In the case, the realities of member and management relations are revealed, along with the types of knowledge generated and the processes by which these are, or are not, shared between actors. In terms of embeddedness, our analysis reveals that, rather than the local community context which tends to dominate the literature, it is sectoral norms and habits which shape actor relations and learning most significantly in this case. In terms of social capital, we identify that tension-fuelled social relations are not in themselves a barrier to collaboration, again in contrast to existing claims, particularly where key actors have appropriate interpersonal skills, and where a values-based mindset (‘cooperative know-how’) is held in common. The findings therefore challenge popular assumptions about how embeddedness and social capital shape collective action and learning in rural areas, and illustrate the value of interpreting these concepts more expansively.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-110
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Rural Studies
Issue numberC
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jan 2016

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • small firms
  • networks
  • knowledge exchange
  • Collaboration
  • case study
  • producer cooperatives


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