Project 7: Life Capital Social Economy Project

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 Project 7 

Life Capital Social Economy Project



Academic Partners
John-Justin McMurtry, York University (Project Lead)
John McMurtry, University of Guelph
Community Partners
Mary Lynn Objig, Wikwemikong Development Commission
Lauren Fox, Wikwemikong Development Commission
Rick Cober Bauman, Mennonite Central Committee
Mariela Morales, Arauco Housing Co-op
Debbie Field. Foodshare
Bill Barrett, Sumac Worker Cooperative
For further information about this project, contact J.J. McMurtry:


The social economy is usually understood as prioritizing social goals over market goals. (Quarter, Shragge and Fontan) These goals however are normally defined in terms of economic justice within a market framework. Consequently, social relationships which exist outside of traditional economic relationships of monetary exchange are often overlooked by the social economy framework. However there is an established discourse of social capital and social accounting which tries to identify these spaces as having, amongst others, economic importance and impact. (Bourdieu, Merrett and Walzer, Putnam, Warring) This project seeks to investigate the social, cultural and political capital involved in what has been called the 'life economy', 'living economy' or 'life capital'. (McMurtry, Korten, Anielski) This framework has already begun to be taken up by government organizations, such as the Canadian Index of Wellbeing Working group, who are trying in various ways to develop a national indicator inclusive of this critical component of economies. This project will build on this movement by undertaking an investigation of the concept as it applies to social economy institutions, thereby unpacking its value and usefulness for developing and deepening an on-the-ground accounting of already existing community economic capacities. By undertaking this accounting, the concept of social economy itself will be deepened and refined.

1. Objectives - The core objective of this project is to provide a theoretical and practical framework for evaluating the social, as well as the economic, capital of social economy institutions. Specifically it aims at uncovering the pre-existing social, cultural and political frameworks which provide the background upon which all economies, and specifically social economies, rely upon to develop their economic goods. To achieve this goal investigations will be undertaken in a range of communities with distinct social economy institutions and cultural conditions. The initial three sites of investigation will be in Ontario with the Mennonite community in St. Jacobs, the Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island and FoodShare's 'From Field to TableÓ project. After this initial Ontario testing, various other sites across Canada will be examined in comparison to identify different life capital capabilities in various regions and in order to establish national life capital characteristics.

2. Context - This research provides an important contribution to the field of social economy research in three key areas. First, it will provide an analytical tool to discuss the life capital conditions for successful social economy ventures. The blending of the analytical work on the social or life capital (Bourdieu, Merrett and Walzer, Putnam, Warring McMurtry, Korten, Anielski) and a focused, practical evaluation of the relevance of these forms of capital in the Canadian context is a new and necessary project. Many branches of government and businesses are experimenting with various indicators with which to measure the social components of the economy (i.e. General Progress Indicator or the Canadian Index of Wellbeing). Yet the on-the-ground relevance of these models and concepts to particular policies and practices has yet to be determined. More importantly, these studies assume a zero-point capital starting point (i.e. are cultural conditions degraded or enhanced by a particular activity or policy from the starting point which represents 'zero') instead of evaluating these conditions as already built capital capabilities. This study therefore will take the analytical framework being used by these government projects and develop them to include this feature of social economies in a practical setting through case studies. 

Second, the corrective capacity of this type of analysis for the social accounting tool used in other segments of this project means that there is an evaluation framework of the evaluative tool, and a context with which to judge the acceptance or rejection, success or failure of the action research component of this overall application. Third, this research will provide an evaluative tool for the concept of social economy itself by developing a tool for the understanding of social economy capacities within communities themselves. By developing such a tool, development policies and social economy business plans can both research and respond to existing life capital formations, thereby better insuring the success of such projects. 

3. Method - There will be a number of methods employed in this project. There will be: in-depth interviews with key figures in each social economy institution or community; on-site intercept surveys with general members of the social economy institution or community; focus group interviews with select historical figures who helped develop or maintain the social economy in the institution or community in question; and, primary source research analysis of the history and practices of the various institutions.

4. Team - The lead researcher for this project will be John-Justin McMurtry of the Business and Society Program at York University, with consultation from John McMurtry FRSC, University Professor Emeritus at the University of Guelph. Other researchers will be recruited

Plans for communicating research results within the academic community

Presentation to Social Economy Node, article from research, chapter in book

Plans for communicating research results outside the academic community

Distribution of report to community partners