This study deals with the consumer co-operative in Sweden, specifically The Co-operative Union and Wholesale Society and the ideas that were developed within and disseminated by this organization between the years 1899 and 1939. The main theories used in the dissertation are Max Weber’s ideal-type and Norbert Elias’ civilization process.
Initially, the dissertation describes the roots of the co-operative movement in Sweden and subsequently, the informal program and the organization of The Co-operative Union, formed in 1899.
From the very beginning the co-operative union fiercly attacked consumer credit. The consumer (it was often a women that was implied) would learn how to control impulses and passions and never allow her instincts to influence a decision when making a purchase. Here, the co-operative connected with economic theories that put consumption above production. Through the co-operative, every authentic need could be met through the supply of real goods. Certain products, false and/or bad, were to be avoided. The consumer should continuously debate good taste, i.e. simple, practical and beautiful goods, which answered genuine needs in society. Through debate and discussion in the public arena, insight would be gained into utility and correct aesthetics. The discussion about “natural needs” included campaigns for nutritious food and functional shops and houses. Beside this campaign in study circle activities and co-operative newspapers, the mind of the reader.
Study circles and newspaper articles directed a challenge to the woman to not only be “the woman with the basket” but also to be more efficient, i.e. planning her time in a spirit of Taylorism. This demanded both discipline and rationality in order to avoid credit, but also calmness, peace of mind and responsibility for more than just oneself. In the late 1930s she was supposed to be economist, nutrition expert, cook, cleaner, psychologist and child-raiser, all at the same time. All these were seen as factors that were a part of being a rational consumer.