Mutualism in the 21st century (Eva Vriens)

The corona crisis requires a different working modus from all of us.  To turn this crisis into an opportunity, the Research Team Institutions for Collective Action will share some of our lectures online here.


We kick off with a guest lecture by Eva Vriens on the role of mutuals in the 21st century. The lecture consists of four parts that can be downloaded and viewed separately.

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Part 1 – What?

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In the first part of the lecture, I discuss what mutualism means in the 21st century by describing the changing definition compared to historic examples and a different interpretation across the world. I explain how risks are shared in rural regions of Asia, Africa, and Latin-America in Rotating Saving and Credit Associations (ROSCA’s), in informal mutual insurance networks, and in formal organisations set up, for example, by NGOs.

Part 2 – Why?

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In part 2 I shift attention to the new type of mutuals that have emerged all over the world in the last decade, particularly in countries that tend to be characterised as having strong welfare states and/or solid insurance markets. I link the emergence to a wider revival of collective action and a growth in the number of cooperatives generally and offer explanations for why we see a revival in mutualism today.

Part 3 – Who?

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In part 3 I discuss how the new small-scale mutuals differ from traditional insurances in the goals they pursue. I explain how this asks a different type of motivation and behaviour from their members and relate this to the general cooperation problem as framed by rational choice theory.

Part 4 – How?

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In part 4, I use the examples of Broodfonds (the Netherlands) and Friendsurance (Germany) to illustrate two different solutions to the cooperation problem, one relying more on social embeddedness, the other on institutional embeddedness. I proceed to analyse these solutions with respect to efficiency, utility, and equity and sketch the different potential future development paths.