1963-2018 - 55 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Gender and Development

Feminist Analysis of Social and Solidarity Economy Practices: Views from Latin America and India

  • Project from: 2015 to 2018

This project was coordinated by Christine Verschuur and Filipe Calvão at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID), Geneva. UNRISD participated as a research partner along with other institutions (see Research Teams below). For more information on the related UNRISD project, Potential and Limits of Social and Solidarity Economy, please visit the project page.

About the Project

Social and solidarity economic activities can be found in almost all sectors of the economy. Long ignored, social and solidarity economy (SSE) is receiving growing attention from scholars and public authorities. However, this interest remains for the most part gender blind, even though women play a major role in SSE activities. This research project aimed to address these gaps in SSE research and policies from a feminist perspective, by contributing to both the empirical evidence base and to theoretical debates on social reproduction.

Documentary Videos from the Project

The teams on the six case studies took video footage as they worked. This documentary evidence of the women's collectives studied and the results of the study can be viewed in the following videos:


The Research Issue in Context

SSE practices (re)invent non-capitalist forms of management that allow workers to re-appropriate the means of production and that can re-activate social relations based on cooperation and solidarity.

Public authorities are increasingly recognizing SSE. For instance, several Latin American countries have passed laws and constitutional articles, and have created Secretariats dedicated to SSE. In India, although the term “solidarity economy” is not used, grassroots organizations are increasingly engaging in lobbying activities with public authorities. At an international level, this growing interest has manifested itself through the creation of the United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on SSE. In the face of growing inequalities and climate change, the Task Force is putting SSE forward as a possible alternative model of production, financing and consumption that can deliver on sustainability and social justice.

However, until very recently the interest of both academics and policy makers in SSE has lacked a gender perspective. Their work is not informed by the considerable feminist body of literature on unpaid care and domestic work. Women's informal collectives are not usually considered part of SSE, and data on female participation in SSE are unavailable. Studies of SSE typically lack a feminist analysis of gender hierarchies. SSE activities that relate to social reproduction (that is, by which society reproduces itself) are under-recognized. And the different social relationships at work in SSE, and how they interact with mechanisms in the global economy, lack thorough analysis.

This research project hypothesized that while SSE can contribute to sustainable development and become an alternative to current economic (mal)functioning by offering innovative forms of production, consumption, exchange and financing, it can only be truly transformative if it also addresses the reorganization of social reproduction, integrating the political goals of gender equality and more equitable power relations.

Research Objectives and Questions

This project was located at the intersection between feminist and sustainable development research. It aimed to fill some of the gaps in SSE analysis and policies from a feminist perspective, and to show how feminist debates on social reproduction and the care economy can be enhanced through greater attention to forms of collective and solidarity-based care provision.

What are the practices, social relations and power relations through which social reproduction is organized within SSE? What is the contribution of SSE when it comes to revitalizing public action and policies in the fields of production and social reproduction?

Methodology and Approach

Four research sites from the global South were selected for their relevance to the research questions: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and India. At the micro-level, the research teams conducted in-depth studies of selected SSE organizations, using feminist anthropological approaches. At the meso- and macro- levels, researchers explored the interactions between SSE practices and political debates in these countries, using feminist economics, sociology and political science approaches.

The multi-scalar and interdisciplinary comparative feminist analysis of the SSE case studies in these four countries aimed to contribute to:
  • the production of detailed original empirical information on SSE initiatives with a gender perspective;
  • theoretical debates related to social reproduction, emancipation, public action and policies.

Project Team

Coordinator: Christine Verschuur; Co-coordinator: Filipe Calvão; Research assistants: Yira Lazala, Laïs Meneguello Bressan (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies / IHEID)

Country research teams
  • Argentina: Marisa Fournier and Erika Loritz (Universidad Nacional de General Sarmiento/ UNGS)
  • Bolivia: Ivonne Farah, Gabriela Ruesgas and Fernanda Sostres (CIDES, Universidad Mayor San André); Isabelle Hillenkamp (Institute de recherche pour le développement/ IRD-CESSMA)
  • Brazil: Miriam Nobre (Sempreviva Organização Feminista / SOF); Isabelle Hillenkamp (Institut de recherche pour le développement / IRD-CESSMA)
  • India (Kerala): Rajib Nandi (Institute of Social Studies Trust) with inputs from Sheena Basheer and Sonia George
  • India (Tamil Nadu): Isabelle Guérin (Institute de recherche pour le développement / IRD-CESSMA); Govindan Venkatasubramanian and Santosh Kumar (Institut Français de Pondichéry)
  • India (Udupi): Kaveri Haritas (O.P. Jindal Global University)

Kalpana Karunakaran (Indian Institute of Technology Madras); Jean-Louis Laville (Centre National des Arts et Métiers / CNAM); Ibrahim SaÏd (UNRISD)

Outputs and Activities

  • Stakeholder workshops
  • Participation by project partners in national and international policy-oriented events and dialogues
  • Incorporation of elements of the research into teaching and training
  • Dissemination of results in academic and SSE networks
  • Production of audio-visual materials
  • Raising public awareness of SSE via national TV and radio

The Project Team produced three briefs to summarize the main research themes and findings of the research, and to flag ideas and contribute knowledge that can improve the quality of development debates.
As a project partner, UNRISD's role was to contribute to the comparative analysis of the country research teams' findings and to the production of the final briefs.


The project was funded by the Swiss Network for International Studies (SNIS).