Seeking a More Just and Egalitarian Economy: Realizing the Future via Co-operatives, Communes, and Other Collectives
Forty years ago, as the most recent wave of economic collectives and cooperatives emerged, they advocated a model of egalitarian organization so contrary to bureaucracy that they were widely called “alternative institutions” (Rothschild 1979). Today, the practices of cooperative organizations appear in many movement organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and even “sharing” firms. Cooperative practices are more relevant than ever, especially as recent political changes in the US and Europe threaten to crush rather than cultivate economic opportunities.
Cooperative groups engage in more “just” economic relations, defined as relations that are more equal, communalistic, or mutually supportive. The oldest collectives – utopian communes, worker co-operatives, free schools, and feminist groups – sought authentic relations otherwise suppressed in a hierarchical, capitalist system. Similar practices shape newer forms: co-housing, communities and companies promoting the “sharing economy,” giving circles, self-help groups, and artistic and social movement groups including Burning Man and OCCUPY. While some cooperatives enact transformative values such as ethically responsible consumerism and collective ownership, other groups’ practices reproduce an increasingly stratified society marked by precarity. Submitted papers might analyze the reasons for such differences, or they might examine conditions that encourage the development of more egalitarian forms of organization.
Submitted papers could also cover, but are not limited, to exploring:
- What is the nature of “relational work” (cf. Zelizer 2012) conducted in these groups, and how it differs – or is similar to – from relational work undertaken in conventional capitalist systems?
- How do collectivities that engage in alternative economic relations confront challenges that threaten – or buttress – their existence? These challenges include recruiting and retaining members, making decisions, and managing relations with the state and other organizations. Moreover, how do these groups construct distinct identities and practices, beyond defining what they are not?
- How are various firms attempting to incorporate alternative values without fully applying them? For instance, how are companies that claim to advance the sharing economy – Uber, airbnb, and the like – borrowing the ideology and practices of alternative economic relations for profit rather than authentic empowerment? What are the implications of this co-optation for people, organizations, and society at large?
- How do new organizations, especially high tech firms, address or elide inequality issues? How do organizing practices and values affect recognition and action on such issues?
- What can we learn from 19th century historical examples of communes and cooperatives that can shed insight on their keys to successful operation today? Similarly, how might new cooperatives emerge as egalitarian and collective responses to on-going immigration issues or economic crisis generated by policies favoring the already wealthy?
- Are collectives, cooperatives and/or firms that require creativity, such as artists’ cooperatives or high tech firms, most effective when they are organized along more egalitarian principles? How do aspects of these new modes of economic organization make them more supportive of individual and group creativity?
Here is info about the mini-conference format:
Each mini-conference will consist of 3 to 6 panels, which will be featured as a separate stream in the program. Each panel will have a discussant, meaning that selected participants must submit a completed paper in advance, by 1 June 2017. Submissions for panels will be open to all scholars on the basis of an extended abstract. If a paper proposal cannot be accommodated within a mini-conference, organizers will forward it to the most appropriate research network as a regular submission. More info about mini-conferences here.
The 2017 SASE conference in Lyon, France, hosted by the University of Lyon I from 29 June to 1 July 2017, will welcome contributions that explore new forms of economy, their particularities, their impact, their potential development, and their regulation.
More info about the SASE conference theme, a critical perspective on the sharing economy, is available at “What’s Next? Disruptive/Collaborative Economy or Business as Usual?”
Joyce and Katherine look forward to reading your submissions!
Graeber, David. 2009. Direct Action: An Ethnography. Oakland, CA: AK Press.
Rothschild, Joyce. 1979. “The Collectivist Organization: An Alternative to Rational-Bureaucratic Models.” American Sociological Review 44(4): 509-527.
Rothschild, Joyce and J. Allen Whitt. 1986. The Cooperative Workplace: Potentials and Dilemmas of Organizational Democracy and Participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Zelizer, Vivianna A. 2012. “How I Became a Relational Economic Sociologist and What Does That Mean?” Politics & Society 40(2): 145-174.