Organizational Imaginaries now published!

With the pandemic and state retreat, more groups are considering forming and adopting collectivist-democratic forms, like worker cooperatives, solidarity economies, and mutual aid.  Such organizational forms could offer avenues for exploring the kinds of futures desired by an increasing number of people – ones that include opportunities for authentic voice, connection, and community.

For the latest research and commentary on such forms worldwide, including their historical roots and policies that are more or less conducive to these forms, please check out Organizational Imaginaries: Tempering Capitalism and Tending to Communities through Cooperatives and Collectivist Democracy, published by Emerald in the Research in the Sociology of Organizations.  

Victor Tan Chen and I have co-edited this special issue; you can click through abstracts on this page:

Or, you can read through all of the abstracts below the jump.

For a 30% off discount, please use the discount code in this flyer! 

Abstracts for 2021 Research in the Sociology of Organizations “Organizational Imaginaries: Tempering Capitalism and Tending to Communities through Cooperatives and Collectivist Democracy”

“What If” and “If Only” Futures beyond Conventional Capitalism and Bureaucracy: Imagining Collectivist and Democratic Possibilities for Organizing

Katherine K. Chen and Victor Tan Chen

This volume explores an expansive array of organizational imaginaries, or understandings of organizational possibilities, with a focus on how collectivist-democratic organizations offer alternatives to conventional for-profit managerial enterprises. These include worker and consumer cooperatives and other enterprises that, to varying degrees, (1) emphasize social values over profit; (2) are owned not by shareholders but by workers, consumers, or other stakeholders; (3) employ democratic forms of managing their operations; and (4) have social ties to the organization based on moral and emotional commitments. The contributors to this volume examine how these enterprises generate solidarity among members, network with other organizations and communities, contend with market pressures, and enhance their larger organizational ecosystems. In this introductory chapter, we put forward an inclusive organizational typology whose continuums account for four key sources of variation – values, ownership, management, and social relations – and argue that enterprises fall between these two poles of the collectivist-democratic organization and the for-profit managerial enterprise. Drawing from this volume’s empirical studies, we situate these market actors within fields of competition and contestation shaped not just by state action and legal frameworks, but also by the presence or absence of social movements, labor unions, and meta-organizations. This typology challenges conventional conceptualizations of for-profit managerial enterprises as ideals or norms, reconnects past models of organizing among marginalized communities with contemporary and future possibilities, and offers activists and entrepreneurs a sense of the wide range of possibilities for building enterprises that differ from dominant models.

Keywords: collectivist-democratic organizations; cooperatives; alternative organizations; participatory democracy; employee ownership; social enterprise

The Emotional Dynamics of Workplace Democracy: Emotional Labor, Collective Effervescence, and Commitment at Work

Katherine Sobering

Collectivist organizations like worker cooperatives are known for requiring high levels of participation, striving towards community, and making space for affective relationships among their members. The emotional intensity of such organizations has long been considered both an asset and a burden: while personal relationships may generate solidarity and sustain commitment, interpersonal interactions can be emotionally intense and, if left unmanaged, can even lead to organizational demise. How do collectivist-democratic organizations manage emotions to create and sustain member commitment? This study draws on long-term ethnographic fieldwork in a worker-run, worker-recuperated business in Argentina to analyze the emotional dynamics of a democratic workplace. First, I show how members of the cooperative engage in emotional labor not only in their customer service, but also through their participation in lateral management and democratic governance. An analysis of individual feeling management, however, provides only a partial picture of emotional dynamics. Drawing on the theory of interaction ritual chains, I argue that workplace practices like meetings and events can produce collective emotions that are critical to maintaining members’ commitment to the group. Finally, I show how interaction ritual chains operate in the BAUEN Cooperative, tracing how symbols of shared affiliation circulate through interactions and are reactivated through the confrontation of a common threat. I conclude by reflecting on implications for future research on emotions in collectivist organizations and participatory workplaces more broadly.

Keywords: emotions; emotional labor; collective effervescence; commitment; workplace democracy; worker-recuperated businesses

Resisting Work Degeneration in Collectivist-Democratic Organizations: Craft Ethics in a French Cooperative Sheet-Metal Factory

Stéphane Jaumier and Thibault Daudigeos

Past research on collectivist-democratic organizations has attributed their distinctiveness to their socio-political goals and democratic decision-making and largely ignored their work processes. This ethnographic study examines how such organizations resist alienating forms of work even in the face of direct competition with for-profit companies. It focuses on Scopix, a French cooperative sheet-metal factory where the first author spent one year as a shop-floor worker. Cooperators there developed various practices to retain an emancipatory dimension to their work, regularly putting forward “craft ethics” as a counterweight to the sheet-metal industry’s drive to rationalize work processes. Drawing on the sociology of worth, we analyze how these practices emerged from the arrangements that workers made between the industrial world on the one side and the domestic and inspired worlds on the other. Our study contributes to the literature in two main ways. First, we refine the sociology-of-worth framework by conceptualizing the emancipatory dimension of work as the result of ad hoc arrangements between different worlds. Second, we highlight the need for the literature on collectivist-democratic organizations to increase its focus on work, introducing the concept of work degeneration as a step in that direction.

Keywords: alternative work practices; collectivist-democratic organizations; cooperatives; craft ethics; sociology of worth; work degeneration

Moral Community as a Yardstick for Alternative Organizations: Evaluating Employee Ownership and Its Place within the Socioeconomic Order

Jonathan Preminger

Following critiques of shareholder capitalism and calls for reform of the corporation, employee-owned firms have attracted public and government attention in the UK and elsewhere, based on the view that these alternative organizations serve a broader public purpose. However, despite attempts to broaden the measures for evaluating organizations and take seriously the social effects of business decisions, we lack a holistic framework for evaluating this public purpose that addresses aspirations like participation, democracy, equality, solidarity, and strong community relations alongside financial resilience and profitability. This study proposes that a solution can be found in Selznick’s concept of “moral community.” Selznick argued that community, conceived as a response to the perceived unravelling of the social fabric, plays a vital role in countering the excesses of capitalism. Using this as a yardstick to evaluate employee ownership (EO) in the UK, I argue that the EO organizational field is indeed an embodiment of a moral community. It successfully infuses a broad range of social values into economic pursuits, nurtures an inclusive sense of the “common good,” and mitigates the alienation resulting from an increasingly marketized society. At the same time, the EO moral community does not reject capitalism as such, aspiring to connect with and reform existing political, financial, and legal structures as opposed to positioning its own institutions as an alternative to them. There are, therefore, limits to the challenge that the EO community levels against the current socioeconomic order.

Keywords: alternative organizations; capitalism; collectivist-democratic organizations; communitarianism; community; employee ownership

The Iron Cage Has a Mezzanine: Collectivist-Democratic Organizations and the Selection of Isomorphic Pressures via Meta-Organization

Carla Young

Scholarship on alternative organizations and cooperatives has argued that networks and intermediaries foster organizational form stability and protect collectivist-democratic organizations from rationalization as well as decoupling. This study of field-level organizing among food co-ops in the U.S. shows that rather than buffering collectivist organizations from conventional market and rationalization pressures, meta-organizations can also serve as a conduit for rationalizing pressures, subjecting vulnerable organizations to what I call quasi-coercive isomorphism. Using interviews of field participants, ethnographic observations of conferences, and content analysis of organizational documents, I examine the formation and impact of National Co+op Grocers, a meta-cooperative created to leverage scale and pool resources among food co-ops. I find that this meta-organization enforced grocery industry-oriented norms of operation, management, and presentation among its member organizations in return for providing mutual liability and economies of scale. This focus on select operationally scalable processes and structures for support generated isomorphic pressures that exposed, rather than sheltered, co-ops, especially smaller, resource-poor ones, from industry standards. The meta-organization thus promoted a sectorized model of more marketized practices for the field’s cooperatives that pushed co-ops to adopt conventional grocery store practices and distanced them from the practices of other cooperative form fields. Moreover, the potential of cooperative form-specific elements for scaling was not realized: collective ownership and democratic governance remained local concerns. These findings suggest that whether meso-level cooperation among cooperatives can support alternative form maintenance is contingent on the structure and scope of the meta-organization and on the perceived scalability of operational and governance elements of the cooperative organizational form.

Keywords: cooperatives; institutional pressures; scaling; organizational form; alternative organizations; meta-organizations; isomorphism

A Matrix Form of Multi-Organizational Hybridity in a Cooperative-Union Venture

James M. Mandiberg and Seon Mi Kim

Abstract: We explore a case example of hybridity between a large worker-owned cooperative and a union through three lenses: organizational forms, multiple institutional logics, and organizational identity. We delineate three types of organizational hybridity: (1) stretching an existing organizational form, (2) creating a new organizational form, and (3) and retaining multiple discrete organizational forms in a common venture. The cooperative-union hybrid shares members from the two contributing organizations, and so can be classified as a matrix sub-form of multi-organizational hybridity. This study describes how the coop-union hybrid manages the multiple logics and identities retained from both contributing organizations. It considers the hazards of combining these logics and identities, and offers some suggestions on how to avoid potential difficulties. Finally, given the complexity and inefficiencies of the matrix form, we explore whether matrix hybridity is a transitional or permanent form in this particular instance of a cooperative-union venture.

Keywords: cooperatives; unions; hybridity; institutional logics; organizational identity; matrix


Economic Democracy, Embodied: A Union Co-op Strategy for the Long-Term Care Sector

Sanjay Pinto

Unions and worker cooperatives have long represented distinct approaches to building worker voice. This chapter draws from observations of the work of the “Co-op Exploratory Committee” of 1199SEIU, the nation’s largest union local, which is seeking to expand the development of unionized worker cooperatives. Described by Martin Luther King, Jr., as his “favorite” union, 1199SEIU has a storied history of organizing frontline healthcare workers and includes large numbers of women of color and immigrant workers among its membership. Since 2003, it has also represented Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA), the nation’s largest worker cooperative. Drawing from discussions among union officials, co-op leaders, and rank-and-file union members about the potential role of unionized worker cooperatives within the labor movement, the chapter examines the creative tension between stakeholder and democratic logics in efforts to expand this model. It argues that continued union decline, heightened interest in economic alternatives, and systemic frailties exposed by Covid-19 may create new opportunities for building unionized worker co-ops at scale.

Keywords: unions; worker cooperatives; worker ownership; long-term care; Covid-19; future of work

Organizational Infrastructures for Economic Resilience: Alternatives to Shareholder Value-Oriented Corporations and Unemployment Trajectories in the U.S. during the Great Recession

Marc Schneiberg

Despite recent advances, neither organizational studies nor the scholarship on economic resilience has systematically addressed how the ecologies of organizations that populate local economies can serve as infrastructures for responding proactively to economic shocks. Using county-level data, this study analyzes relationships between the prevalence of organizational alternatives to shareholder value-oriented corporations within a particular locality and its unemployment levels during and after the Great Recession. The results support the hypothesis that the presence of such alternative organizations can enhance the capacities of local economies to resist and recover from recession shocks. Cooperative, municipal, and community-based enterprises, research universities, and nonprofits more generally were associated with greater resistance to the recession shock and stronger recoveries – specifically, lower surges in unemployment rates from 2007 to 2010 and greater reductions in unemployment rates from 2010 to 2016. By contrast, shareholder value-oriented corporations were associated with greater surges in unemployment and perhaps weaker recoveries. Providing a proof of concept, this study opens up new lines of inquiry for organizational studies by linking organizational ecologies to the promotion of collective efficacy and a more broadly shared prosperity in economic life.

Keywords: alternative organizations; cooperatives; nonprofit organizations; organizational ecologies; resilience; unemployment; universities

It Takes More Than a Village: The Creation and Expansion of Alternative Organizational Forms in Brazil

M. Paola Ometto, Asma Zafar, and Leanne Hedberg

Abstract: Prior research has documented the importance of the state and social movements for the emergence and proliferation of alternative organizational forms. Yet, we lack a comprehensive and interactive understanding of the larger environment that sustains cooperatives and other collectivist-democratic organizations. Using the example of Brazil’s Solidarity Economy Movement, a longstanding social movement to address poverty and inequality, we describe how a multilevel ecosystem of organizations and institutions creates conditions favorable for the growth of alternative organizational forms – in this context, democratic cooperatives that the Movement calls solidarity economy enterprises (SEEs). Drawing from archival data, interviews, and a government survey of over 19,000 SEEs between 2005 and 2012, we map out the key actors at each level of the ecosystem, identifying three primary mechanisms by which these actors collectively enabled the creation and development of SEEs: (1) providing glue for action, (2) organizing for action, and (3) engaging in action. These mechanisms, in turn, allowed for greater communication and cohesion and the exchange of information and experiences among the Movement’s participants, thereby enhancing their interconnectedness and the institutionalization of their practices.

Keywords: solidarity economy; alternative organizations; social movements; organizational ecosystems; strategic action fields; social enterprises

Ownership and Mission Drift in Alternative Enterprises: The Case of a Social Banking Network

Jason Spicer and Christa R. Lee-Chuvala

Alternative enterprises – organizations that operate as a business while still also being driven by a social purpose – are sometimes owned by workers or other stakeholders, rather than shareholders. What role does ownership play in enabling alternative enterprises to prioritize substantively rational organizational values, like environmental sustainability and social equity, over instrumentally rational ones, like profit maximization? We situate this question at the intersection of research on: (1) stakeholder governance and mission drift in both hybrid and collectivist-democratic organizations; and (2) varieties of ownership of enterprise. Though these literatures suggest that ownership affects the ability of alternative enterprises to maintain their social missions, the precise nature of this relationship remains under-theorized. Using the case of a global, social, and environmental values-based banking network, we suggest that alternative ownership is likely a necessary, but not sufficient, condition to combat mission drift in enterprises that have a legal owner. A supermajority of this network’s banks deploy alternative ownership structures; those operating with these structures are disproportionately associated with social movements, which imprint their values onto the banks. We show how alternative ownership acts through specific mechanisms to sustain enterprises’ missions, and we also trace how many of these mechanisms are endogenous to alternative ownership models. Finally, we find that ownership models vary in how well they enable the expression and maintenance of these social values. A ladder of mission-sustaining ownership models exists, whereby the dominance of substantive, non-instrumental values over operations and investment becomes increasingly robust as one moves up the rungs from mission-driven investor ownership to special shareholder and member-ownership models.

Keywords: alternative enterprises; ownership of enterprise; social banking; hybrid organizations; cooperatives; mission drift


Participatory Democratic Organizations Everywhere: A Harbinger of Social Change?

Joyce Rothschild

Keywords: participatory organizations; cooperatives; collectivist-democratic organizations; alternative organizations; alternatives to hierarchy; technology and work

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