Is There Life After Degeneration? The Organizational Life Cycle of Cooperatives Under a ‘Grow‐Or‐Die’Dichotomy – Annals of Public and Cooperative – article

Is There Life After Degeneration? The Organizational Life Cycle of Cooperatives Under a ‘Grow‐Or‐Die’Dichotomy

Ignacio Bretos | Annals of Public and Cooperative


This article provides an in‐depth, longitudinal analysis combining real‐time and retrospective data on a set of Mondragon’s industrial cooperatives that are organized as international groups. We examine the life cycle of these international cooperative groups, which is expected to evolve differently to that of small‐ and medium‐sized cooperatives that operate exclusively on a local scale. The article is theoretically informed by the cooperative life cycle theory, as well as by recent insights from the degeneration and regeneration theses. Our analysis yields an intricate picture of the evolution of cooperatives faced with a ‘grow‐or‐die’ dichotomy. On the one hand, our findings reject the highly simplistic and deterministic view of the degeneration thesis by demonstrating that these cooperatives can mobilize resources to revitalize cooperative values and practices. On the other, we find that regeneration may not occur in a consistent, sequential fashion as the previous literature suggests, but rather degenerative and regenerative tendencies can occur simultaneously, even leading to long‐lasting, unresolvable situations. In light of this, the article asks future research to draw on power‐aware and politically informed approaches for further understanding of how cooperatives manage the tensions at each organizational stage of their life cycle, and of which organizational actors benefit, and how, from reversing some degenerative tendencies while maintaining others intact.


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