From Counterculture to Corporate Giants: Unveiling the Rise and Fall of Activist Businesses

Joshua Clark Davis’s From Head Shops to Whole Foodsisn’t your typical business history book. This thought-provoking read delves into the fascinating, yet short-lived, phenomenon of activist entrepreneurs who emerged during the 1960s and 70s.

Beyond Profits: Businesses with a Mission

from head shops to whole foods book cover

Davis sheds light on a unique group who challenged the traditional profit-driven model of capitalism. These entrepreneurs, inspired by social movements like Black Power, feminism, and environmentalism, used their businesses to promote social change.

Imagine African American bookstores fostering cultural identity, or feminist businesses offering fair wages and childcare – these were just a few examples of how these businesses defied the status quo.

A Glimpse into Alternative Economies

The book explores how these businesses functioned differently. They often experimented with worker ownership, democratic decision-making, and prioritizing ethical sourcing over maximizing profits. Davis analyzes their strategies within three key areas: product selection that reflected their values, creating community spaces beyond just shopping, and operating outside of traditional hierarchical management structures.

A Cautionary Tale of Co-optation

While many activist businesses ultimately failed due to financial limitations or internal conflicts, their legacy lives on. Davis argues that large corporations today have adopted the language of social responsibility and ethical sourcing, but often without the genuine commitment to change that characterized the original activist businesses. Whole Foods, once a champion of natural foods and community engagement, is a prime example of this co-optation.

From Head Shops to Whole Foods is more than just a historical account. It’s a call to action, reminding us of the power of businesses to be agents of positive change. The book will leave you pondering the potential for a future where businesses prioritize social and environmental well-being alongside financial success.

In this beautifully written, elegantly conceived, and deeply researched book, Davis traces the histories of 1960s-era small enterprises aimed at alternative forms of capitalism. His clear prose and sharp analysis illuminates the U.S. economy’s appetite for reform under capitalism. An essential work.

Who Should Read This Book?

This book is a compelling read for anyone interested in:

  • The intersection of social movements and business
  • Alternative economic models
  • The history of social justice movements in the US
  • The evolution of corporate social responsibility practices

If you’re looking for a thought-provoking exploration of business beyond the bottom line, From Head Shops to Whole Foods is a must-read. Get a copy here.

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by Joshua Clark Davis
Publisher: Columbia University Press (August 8, 2017)
Paperback: 336 pages