A vocabulary of ‘co-operative keywords’

A new project wants to produce a vocabulary of co-operative 'keywords' that are of key significance for co-operators

The Co-operative College is collaborating with Manchester Metropolitan University to produce a vocabulary of co-operative keywords.

The idea for the Co-operative Keywords Project came from a shared interest between Dr Cilla Ross (a work historian, sociologist and vice-principal at the Co-operative College) and philosophers Dr Keith Crome (Manchester Metropolitan University) and Dr Patrick O’Connor (Nottingham Trent University): how have ‘co-operative’ words been used historically? And how have they shaped what is often referred to as ‘the co-operative character’?

To that end they have produced a list of words associated with co-operation, following consultation with many co-operators. Now people from across the co-op movement are invited to send other entries and definitions, ensuring the project is a product of co-operative research.

“We’ve identified around 65 keywords. But this isn’t a fixed limit,” says Dr Crome. “We want the online Keywords to be an open-access resource and, as well as asking for contributors to write an entry for a word we’ve chosen (or later on, add to an entry for one of those words), we’d like contributors to suggest additional keywords.”

The initial list is of words that have a central place in the co-operative movement and are of key significance for co-operators. In particular, the group was interested in words with multiple definitions, that are ambiguous and contested.

“These words are interesting because they express shifts in our ways of thinking and feeling of which we often may have only a vague awareness,” says Dr Crome.

“We want the vocabulary we end up with to be useful to anyone with an interest in co-operation. We also want it to reflect or capture the dynamism of the co-operative movement. Hopefully, others will suggest words we’ve left out.”

He adds: “The semantic field pertaining to co-operation is vast and ever-changing, and the words, concepts and ideas that are key to the movement are shifting in meaning and developing all the time.

“Identifying the keywords in this field is beyond the capacity of one or two people. A really useful resource must be a co-operative endeavour.”

The project aims to start adding entries over the next three months, but it will be an “open-ended process”. The list will be available in an online version comprising abridged entries for the keywords explaining the meaning of the term, the range of senses it has or has had and an account of its historical uses. A hard copy version of the vocabulary will also be available for sale with proceeds going to the Co-operative College. The book will contain longer entries and examine in more detail the historical transformations of senses and the use of the terms that determine the current meaning of the keywords selected.

The project draws on Raymond Williams’ book Keyword, and similarly, short and succinct entries are at a premium. Dr Ross and Dr Crome have also secured vice chancellors scholarships at MMU, which will result in a PhD around the notion of Co-operative Character.


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