“Being a good customer is not enough”. Cooperatives and consumer society in the American Midwest (1917-1940)

Politicising the economy: A fresh look at cooperatives
By Alexia Blin

This paper offers a case study of a federation of consumers’ cooperatives in the Midwest, the Cooperative Central Exchange (CCE), between 1917 and the 1930s. It aims to show the importance of this kind of business for historians of consumption, while contributing directly to several important debates within this field of research. Organised in 1917 by Finnish immigrants, mostly farmers and socialists, in order to counter the power of local merchants, the CCE soon became a very successful business and sought to compete with the powerful chain stores of the region. Drawing the portrait of this federation is a way to highlight three elements that have too often been neglected. Firstly, it emphasises the possibility for stakeholders to maintain an active and politicised role in the advent of the consumer society. Then, the CCE illustrates the important and specific role that rural territories played in the changing modes of consumption. Finally, the case of the CCE shows the persistence of the powerful links between the worlds of consumption and production, at the very core of the transitional process towards mass consumption.

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