This paper analyses the tradeoff faced by social and solidarity economy initiatives when they grow from small-scale initiatives regulated by reciprocity and personal exchange mechanisms to larger scale projects in which social action needs to be regulated by institutions of impersonal exchange. It combines different perspectives from institutional economics to examine the experience of the Trueque in Argentina, a complementary currency system that grew to engage 2.5 million participants. For social and solidarity economy initiatives like the Trueque, this research shows that scaling up is possible within the limits defined by the interpersonal transfer of trust, the reputation of the leaders to act as a linchpin for the system, and the ability to sustain the process of institutional innovation. A necessary condition is the construction of a discourse of scaling up that would structure the initiative and the agents towards that goal.
Georgina Gómez is Lecturer at the Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam. She has published on alternative economic spaces, local development and various aspects of the Argentine complementary currency systems (Redes de Trueque), including Argentina’s Parallel Currency: The Economy of the Poor.