About 6,000 financial cooperatives, called credit unions, with more than 103 million members manage over $1 trillion in collective assets in the United States but are largely invisible and seen as inferior to private banks. In contrast to banks that generate profit for outside investors and do not give voice to customers, these not-for-profit institutions have a democratic governance structure and a mission to provide good services to their members. We use diverse economies and critical/feminist GIS approaches to theorize them as noncapitalist alternatives to banks and possible sites of social transformation toward a solidarity economy.
Using the case of cooperative finance in New York City, we analyze spatial patterns, characteristics, and place-making practices of credit unions with different kinds of the common bond, a principle that unites a financial community, and in relation to urban geographies of class and race. We find that credit unions provide a historically proven mechanism for collective resistance to marginalization by racial capitalism and, depending on the common bond type, make place by (1) providing financial inclusion in poor and minority neighborhoods; (2) scaling up solidarity finance through participation of middle classes; and (3) diverting assets from capitalist investment into social reproduction and livelihoods. Credit unions express the racialized wealth of their communities, however, and create spatial exclusions that pose a challenge to postcapitalist movements such as solidarity economy. These findings are applicable to other places marked by segregation and call for further inquiry into possibilities and barriers to solidarity finance.
Pavlovskaya M., C. Borowiak, M. Safri, S. Healy, and R. Eletto. 2020. "The place of common bond: Can credit unions make place for solidarity economy?" Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 1-22.