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The dissertation establishes the ability of civil society to shape the outcomes of large-scale economic processes through direct market involvement by hybrid organizations that function as agents of civil society in the market. I analyze the case of Organic Valley, an agricultural cooperative that stands out in its combination of scale and strong social and environmental commitments. The cooperative generates collective goods that are typically thought of as the domain of markets and states: coordinating supply and demand, redistributing value and power, and regulating risk and market volatility. I identify three conditions that allow agents of civil society in the market to realize alternative visions of socioeconomic order. First, to have large-scale impact, an organization needs to establish a structural position of a lead firm in a large value chain, allowing it to determine the division of labor, the conditions of participation, and the distribution of value in the chain. Organic Valley maintains governance rooted in civil society over economic activity that spans a network of over two-thousand firms. It is thus a node between the commercial world of the food industry and multiple fields of social organizing, embodied in the tradition of agricultural cooperatives and the organic and environmental movements. Second, agents of civil society in the market require strategies and governance instruments that would allow them to effectively pursue their alternative goals. Organic Valley innovated new such instruments and adapted common ones to its unique mission, securing prices for its farmer-members’ milk that are high and stable enough to support pasture-based, family-scale dairy farming. Third, agents of civil society in the market need to defy isomorphic pressures and reproduce their civil society identity as they become major economic actors. This has been a challenge for agricultural cooperatives in the US, which turned throughout the 20th century from challengers to incumbents and lost their footing in civil society. Organic Valley’s ability to reproduce its hybrid identity has depended on association with contemporary social movements, structural innovations that buffered it from pressures to maximize company value, and participatory governance processes that facilitated organizational learning and cohesion between farmers and employees.


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