Journal Article

Worker cooperatives for a democratic economy : a conversation with critical theory


The cooperative firm has long been championed as a vehicle for democratising the economy, with radical cooperatives dating back to the 1830s. Our paper unites considerations from the study of worker cooperatives with key insights from first generation Frankfurt School Critical Theory. This conversation sheds light on two enduring debates within the cooperative literature, the degeneration thesis and the spillover thesis. While the degeneration thesis suggests cooperative are ultimately doomed to failure, the spillover thesis suggests that the experience of democratic control within cooperatives has a progressive function, which pushes beyond the cooperative itself. There has not been agreement within cooperative studies on the validity of either thesis, yet the debate on both has raged for many years. By turning to first generation Critical Theory we are able to bring new insights into these conversations. The early Frankfurt School placed a primacy of the subjectivity of social actors, arguing that capitalism serves to impact the consciousness, rationality, and depth psychology of subjects, so as to acculturate them to market societies. By exploring this in conjunction with the literature on cooperatives, we are able to add further weight to the degeneration thesis, and to demand further nuance and concessions from advocates of the spillover thesis. Ultimately, the paper stresses the lack of importance placed to date on subjectivity with cooperative studies and argues that if cooperatives are to play a vital role in the democratic transformation of the economy, this is a lacuna which needs to be remedied.

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Harris, Neal
Jervis, Robin

Oxford Brookes departments

School of Law and Social Sciences


Year of publication: [not yet published]
Date of RADAR deposit: 2023-12-19

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License


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