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Cooperatives in New Orleans - Collective Action and Urban Development

Cooperatives in New Orleans

Collective Action and Urban Development

By Anne Gessler
Hardcover : 9781496827616, 296 pages, June 2020
Paperback : 9781496827579, 296 pages, June 2020

A potent history of a most vital contributor to urban growth in New Orleans


Cooperatives have been central to the development of New Orleans. Anne Gessler asserts that local cooperatives have reshaped its built environment by changing where people interact and with whom, helping them collapse social hierarchies and envision new political systems.

Gessler tracks many neighborhood cooperatives, spanning from the 1890s to the present, whose alliances with union, consumer, and social justice activists animated successive generations of regional networks and stimulated urban growth in New Orleans.

Studying alternative forms of social organization within the city’s multiple integrated spaces, women, people of color, and laborers blended neighborhood-based African, Caribbean, and European communal activism with international cooperative principles to democratize exploitative systems of consumption, production, and exchange. From utopian socialist workers’ unions and Rochdale grocery stores to black liberationist theater collectives and community gardens, these cooperative entities integrated marginalized residents into democratic governance while equally distributing profits among members.

Besides economic development, neighborhood cooperatives participated in heady debates over urban land use, applying egalitarian cooperative principles to modernize New Orleans’s crumbling infrastructure, monopolistic food distribution systems, and spotty welfare programs. As Gessler indicates, cooperative activists deployed street-level subsistence tactics to mobilize continual waves of ordinary people seizing control over mainstream economic and political institutions.


"[T]his book makes a significant contribution by revealing how New Orleanians on the city’s economic, political, and social margins forged their own collective institutions as bulwarks against unchecked capitalism."

- Rebecca Tuuri, Journal of Southern History

"Cooperatives in New Orleans: Collective Action and Urban Development represents a new generation of scholarship in New Orleans’s history. Despite limited archival footprints and the clandestine nature of early cooperative movements, author Anne Gessler has given a voice to people who fought valiantly for economic survival and social equality for themselves and generations to come. As Gessler makes abundantly clear, a book on New Orleans’s cooperatives is long overdue."

- Melissa Daggett, author of Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans: The Life and Times of Henry Louis Rey

"In Cooperatives in New Orleans, author Anne Gessler demonstrates that working-class and poor people in New Orleans have not passively accepted economic policies that enriched wealthy elites at the expense of their own communities. Instead, they engaged in various forms of cooperative endeavors that attempted to secure a fairer distribution of resources, enhance democratic participation, and provide working people with a voice in policy making."

- Greta de Jong, author of You Can’t Eat Freedom: Southerners and Social Justice after the Civil Rights Movement