Notable theoreticians who have contributed to the field include Robert Owen, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Charles Gide, Beatrice and Sydney Webb, J.T.W. Mitchell, Peter Kropotkin, Paul Lambart, Race Mathews, David Griffiths, and G.D.H. Cole.
Co-operative federalism versus co-operative individualism 
A major historical debate in co-operative economics has been between co-operative federalism and co-operative individualism. In an Owenite village of cooperation or a commune, the residents would be both the producers and consumers of its products. However, for a co-operative, the producers and consumers of its products become two different groups of people, and thus, there are two different sets of people who could be defined as its 'users'. As a result, we can define two different modes of co-operative organisation: consumers' cooperative, in which the consumers of a co-operative's goods and services are defined as its users (including food co-operatives, credit unions, etc.), producer co-operatives, in which the producers of a co-operatives goods and services are defined as its users. (Some consider worker co-operatives, which are owned and run exclusively by their worker owners as a third class, others view this as part of the producer category.) .
This in turn led to a debate between those who support Consumers' Co-operatives (known as the Co-operative Federalists) and those who favor Producers Co-operatives (pejoratively labelled ‘Individualist' co-operativists by the Federalists ).
Co-operative federalism 
Co-operative Federalism is the school of thought favouring consumer co-operative societies. Historically, its proponents have included JTW Mitchell and Charles Gide, as well as Paul Lambart and Beatrice Webb. The co-operative federalists argue that consumers should form co-operative wholesale societies (Co-operative Federations in which all members are co-operators, the best historical example of which being CWS in the United Kingdom), and that these co-operative wholesale societies should undertake purchasing farms or factories. They argue that profits (or surpluses) from these co-operative wholesale societies should be paid as dividends to the member co-operators, rather than to their workers.
Co-operative Individualism 
Co-operative Individualism is the school of thought favouring workers' co-operative societies. The most notable proponents of this latter being, in Britain, the Christian Socialists, and later writers like Joseph Reeves, putting this forth as a path to State Socialism. Where the Co-operative Federalists argue for federations in which consumer co-operators federate, and receive the monetary dividends, rather, in co-operative wholesale societies the profits (or surpluses) would be paid as dividends to their workers. The Mondragón Co-operatives are an economic model commonly cited by Co-operative Individualists, and a lot of the Co-operative Individualist literature deals with these societies.
Please note that these two schools of thought are not necessarily in binary opposition a priori, and that hybrids between the two positions are possible.
Other schools 
Retailers' cooperatives 
In addition to customer vs. worker ownership, retailers' cooperatives also utilize organizations of already constituted corporations as collective owners of the produce.
Socialism and left-wing anarchism 
Socialists and left-anarchists, such as anarcho-communists and anarcho-syndicalists, view society as one big cooperative, and feel that goods produced by all should be distributed equitably to all members of the society, not necessarily through a market. All the members of a society are considered to be both producers and consumers. State socialists tend to favor government administration of the economy, while left-anarchists and libertarian socialists favor non-governmental coordination, either locally, or through labor unions and worker cooperatives.
Utopian socialists feel socialism can be achieved without class struggle and that cooperatives should only include those who voluntarily choose to participate in them. Some participants in the kibbutz movement and other intentional communities fall into this category.
Co-operative commonwealth 
In some Co-operative economics literature, the aim is the achievement of a Co-operative Commonwealth; a society based on cooperative and socialist principles. Co-operative economists - Federalist, Individualist, and otherwise - have presented the extension of their economic model to its natural limits as a goal.
This ideal was widely supported in early-twentieth century U.S. and Canadian leftist circles. This ideal, and the language behind it, were central to the formation of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation in 1935, which became Canada's largest left-wing political party, and continues to this day as the New Democratic Party. They were also important to the economic principles of the Farmer-Labor Party of the United States, particularly in the FLP's Minnesota affiliate, where advocacy for a Co-operative Commonwealth formed the central theme of the Party's platform from 1934, until the Minnesota FLP merged with the state Democratic Party to form the Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party in 1944.
See also 
- Owen, Robert, "A New View of Society" (originally published in 1813/1814), in Gartrell, V.A. (ed.), "Report to the County of Lanark / A New View of Society", Ringwood: Penguin Books, 1970.
- Gide, Charles; as translated from French by the Co-operative Reference Library, Dublin, "Consumers' Co-Operative Societies", Manchester: The Co-Operative Union Limited, 1921
- Potter, Beatrice, "The Co-operative Movement in Great Britain", London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1891.
- Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (1902) (1998 paperback ed.). London: Freedom Press. ISBN 0-900384-36-0.
- Lambert, Paul; as translated by Létarges, Joseph; and Flanagan, D.; “Studies in the Social Philosophy of Co-operation”, (originally published March 1959), Manchester: Co-operative Union, Ltd., 1963.
- Mathews, Race, "Building the society of equals : worker co-operatives and the A.L.P.", Melbourne: Victorian Fabian Society, 1983.
- Charles, Graeme, and Griffiths, David, “The Co-operative Formation Decision: Discussing the Co-operative Option”, Frankston: Co-operative Federation of Victoria Ltd., 2003 and 2004
- Cole, G.D.H., “The British Co-operative Movement in a Socialist Society: A Report for the Fabian Society”, London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1951., and Cole, G.D.H., “A Century of Co-operation”, Oxford: George Allen & Unwin for The Co-operative Union Ltd., 1944.
- Lewis, p. 244.
- This analysis is based on a discussion by Gide, Charles; as translated from French by the Co-operative Reference Library, Dublin, "Consumers' CoOperative Societies", Manchester: The Cooperative Union Limited, 1921, pp. 192-203.
- This analysis is based on a discussion by Gide, Charles, pp. 192-203.
- Reeves, Joseph, “A Century of Rochdale Cooperation 1844-1944”, London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1944.
Further reading 
- Consumers' Co-operative Societies, by Charles Gide, 1922
- Co-operation 1921-1947, published monthly by The Co-operative League of America
- The History of Co-operation, by George Jacob Holyoake, 1908
- Cooperative Peace, by James Peter Warbasse, 1950
- Problems Of Cooperation, by James Peter Warbasse, 1941
- Why Co-ops? What Are They? How Do They Work? A pamphlet from the G.I. Roundtable series by Joseph G. Knapp, 1944
- Law of Cooperatives, by Legal Firm Stoel Rives, Seattle
- For All The People: Uncovering the Hidden History of Cooperation, Cooperative Movements, and Communalism in America, PM Press, by John Curl, 2009