special issue on democratic organizations in The Sociological Quarterly
Interested in recent research on democratic organizations?
The Sociological Quarterly has just published a special issue, organized by Joyce Rothschild, on “The Logic of A Co-Operative Economy and Democracy 2.0: Recovering the Possibilities for Autonomy, Creativity, Solidarity, and Common Purpose.” The articles cover findings, drawn from ethnographic research, interviews, and archival research, about how collectives engage in consensus-based decision making; how decentralization, storytelling, and communication help growing groups; how participatory practices obscure versus reveal inequality; how collectives redress gender inequality; how collectives dampen or harness emotions. Even better: All articles are free! Happy reading!
Here’s the line-up, which includes myself and other researchers:
- Darcy Leach’s “When Freedom is Not an Endless Meeting: A New Look at Efficiency in Consensus-Based Decision Making (pages 36–70)
Abstract: It is axiomatic among scholars of participatory democracy that consensus-based decision making is inefficient, yet no study has systematically assessed that claim. This article examines the efficiency of consensus decision making in 12 social movement groups from the German autonomous and nonviolence movements. Data were analyzed from 62 semistructured interviews regarding how long it took each group to make a typical decision and what types of decisions were the easiest and most difficult to make. A measure of inclusiveness was included to determine whether efficiency was attained by silencing dissent. Most decisions were made in less than two hours. Factors were identified that distinguished more and less efficient groups.
- Katherine K. Chen’s ““Plan your Burn, Burn your Plan”: How Decentralization, Storytelling, and Communification Can Support Participatory Practices“
Abstract: Research has found that compared with larger groups, small ones had fewer difficulties with retaining their participatory-democratic practices and values. However, the endurance and expansion of Burning Man, from 20 friends and family in 1986 to a temporary arts community of more than 66,000 persons in 2014, suggests that collectivities can maintain and augment participatory practices over increasing scale. Using an ethnographic study of organizing activities spanning 1998 to 2001 and follow-up research through 2012, I focus on how the Burning Man organization has sustained its participatory-democratic principles over dramatic growth. Specifically, I show how the Burning Man organization promoted and sustained authentic voice and engagement by (1) decentralizing agency, (2) contextualizing norms and practices via storytelling and discussion, and (3) “communifying” labor.
Abstract: Two major shifts in contemporary work organizations—“employee participation” and “diversity management”—have typically been studied in isolation from one another. Building on theoretical work by Acker (2006a,b), we ask how the interaction of these two constructs has affected the pursuit of workplace democracy at two worker cooperatives in Northern California. Using qualitative methods, we find that distinct “diversity regimes” have emerged at these establishments, substantially affecting the configurations of inequality that evolved. We distinguish two types of diversity regimes—“utilitarian” and “communitarian”—which operate either to obscure the workings of inequality or to foster attention to their presence. Our results suggest that how sociodemographic differences are managed has material consequences for the development of egalitarian structures at work.
- Katherine Sobering’s “Producing and Reducing Gender Inequality in A Worker-Recovered Cooperative“
Abstract: Decades of feminist scholarship documents the persistence of gender inequality in work organizations. Yet few studies explicitly examine gender inequality in collectivist organizations like worker cooperatives. This article draws on the “theory of gendered organizations” to consider how gender operates in a worker-recovered cooperative in contemporary Argentina. Based on ethnographic and archival research in Hotel B.A.U.E.N., this article finds that although gender remains a salient feature of the workplace, the cooperative has also adopted policies that take steps toward addressing gender inequality. It concludes by offering an updated theoretical framework for the future study of “gendered organizations.”
- Elizabeth A. Hoffmann’s “Emotions and Emotional Labor at Worker-Owned Businesses: Deep Acting, Surface Acting, and Genuine Emotions“
Abstract: Members of worker cooperatives—organizations collectively owned and democratically run by their workers—report substantial differences in how they can or must perform various emotions, compared with previous work at conventional, hierarchical organizations. First, some emotions not allowed in conventional workplaces are fully permitted at worker cooperatives, including negative emotions, like anger, but also positive emotions, like enthusiasm. In contrast, other emotions must be displayed, even if insincere. Sometimes, these displays are accomplished through surface acting, like pretending to happily accept the slow pace of committee-led change. Other times, through deep acting, members internalized new emotional reactions, such as pride, instead of resentment, when helping coworkers even after their own shifts had ended.