Material to Teach about Cooperatives

Workers’ cooperatives or cooperative enterprises are seldom covered in OB textbooks. This is interesting for two reasons. First, cooperatives constitute a form of organizing work that has the capacity to serve both instrumental needs such, as salary and job security, and social needs, such as solidarity and workplace democracy. Second, cooperatives are not just utopia but have a significant share in our economy and labour market. In this post I would like to share some material that you could use for teaching students about cooperatives. Please note that this is not an exhaustive collection. It should rather serve to supplement your own material.

The principles of cooperatives:

  • Voluntary and Open Membership
  • Democratic Member Control
  • Member Economic Participation
  • Autonomy and Independence
  • Education, Training, and Information
  • Cooperation among Cooperatives
  • Concern for Community

It took these principles from the webpage of the International Co-operative Alliance (, where you will find a short explanation of each of them. You can also find the principles on the webpages of numerous cooperatives that restate them as the ones they adhere to. It may also make sense referring to the history of these principles and thereby to the Rochdale Pioneers, who developed and promoted them in the US (see for example: You can find similar movements in Switzerland, Germany, and elsewhere, as there is a national cooperative movement in almost every country.

Video material:

List of cooperatives on Wikipedia:

Problems of cooperatives:

Much of the material on cooperatives tends to present them in a fairly positive light. Therefore, I also collated some material to critically discuss cooperatives.

Student exercises:

  • Let your students read the principles of cooperatives and ask them if (and why / why not) the principles appeal to them.
  • Ask your students how they would realize the principles of cooperatives if they would be members of a 10-person cooperative or a 500-person cooperative.
  • Ask students to conduct interviews with employees of private firms to investigate these employees’ thoughts on the principles of cooperatives compared to their current place of employment. Do these principles appeal to them? Why? Why not?
  • Ask students to read Storey, J., Basterretxea, I., & Salaman, G. (2014) and to find additional material for (or against) the so-called degeneration crisis.

Selected literature:

  • Ben-Ner, A. (1984). On the stability of the cooperative type of organization. Journal of Comparative Economics, 8(3), 247–260.
  • Ben-Ner, A. and Jones, D. C. (1995). Employee participation, ownership, and productivity: A theoretical framework. Industrial Relations 34(4), 532–554.
  • Cheney, G., Santa Cruz, I., Peredo, A. M., & Nazareno, E. (2014). Worker cooperatives as an organizational alternative: Challenges, achievements and promise in business governance and ownership. Organizations, 21(5), 591-603.
  • C. (1983). Some factors affecting the success or failure of worker cooperatives: A review of empirical research in the United Kingdom. Economic and Industrial Democracy, 4(2), 163-190.
  • Johnson, A. G., & Whyte, W. F. (1977). The Mondragon system of worker production cooperatives. Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 31(1), 18-30.
  • Spear, R. (2004). Governance in democratic member-based organisations. Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics, 75(1), 33-59.
  • Storey, J., Basterretxea, I., & Salaman, G. (2014). Managing and resisting ‘degeneration’ in employee-owned businesses: A comparative study of two large retailers in Spain and the United Kingdom. Organization, 21(5), 626-644.
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Why Do Temp Workers Work as Hard as They Do?

This is the question that Shinji Kojima wants to answer in his article that was published in 2015 (The Sociological Quarterly). Kojima presents the results of an ethnographic study of Japanese factory agency workers, thereby showing that agency work can have intrinsic value for agency workers.

Kojima departs from the two reasons for why agency workers show high levels of work effort that are frequently mentioned in the academic literature. First, there are structural conditions of agency work, particularly related to the tripartite relationship between the worker, the agency (that is their employer), and the so-called user-firm (i.e. the firm the leases agency workers from the agency and that has the right to instruct and monitor their daily work). In this relationship, agency workers do not have much power, though, but are subject to control from both the agency and the user-firm. Furthermore, they are permanently on the verge of becoming unemployed as neither the agency nor the user-firm guarantee long-time employment. The literature argues that due to these conditions agency workers show high levels of work effort, even though they may do so only grudgingly. Second, the literature points to the material and cultural incentives of agency work. Compared to other forms of precarious work (e.g. directly hired temp jobs), agency work has the advantage to regularly get access to paid jobs (so-called assignments) via the agency, because the agency has access to a variety of user-firms seeking to lease flexible labor. Additionally, by working hard agency workers have the chance to earn a certain level of social status within the agency, hence, partially escaping the usually low-status connected to agency work. Finally, there is the opportunity to use agency work as a stepping stone into permanent employment in one of the user-firms. Even though this opportunity often proves to only be a theoretical one, it still offers an incentive to work hard and – together with the above – create a certain degree of commitment among the agency workers to this type of employment.

Shinji Kojima argues that despite the above reasons scholars continue to grapple with understanding why agency workers work as hard as they do. The first of the above approaches neglects that these workers have any agency as it is only the conditions that force them to work hard. The second one reduces agency workers’ commitment to economic and social incentives what implies a pure instrumental work orientation. According to Kojima there are other, more subtle mechanisms at play that explain the agency workers’ high levels of work effort.

Studying Japanese factory agency workers, Kojima shows what drives the workers to work hard. They developed a specific understanding that to be a successful agency worker. This understanding is closely tied to the workers’ ability to survive the physically and psychologically challenging conditions of factory work. To prove that they can master these challenging conditions and, hence, to be seen as successful, the agency workers in this study show extraordinary levels of engagement and effort. Mastering the art of factory work is what constitutes meaning for the agency workers and creates an awareness of being a competent and hard working – and in this sense valuable – worker.

Creating their own sense of what constitutes success in factory agency work, the workers use their creativity to counteract the alienating effects of agency work resulting from its restrictive structural conditions. The workers use their creative potential to learn the art of factory work and to adapt it according to the specific context of each user-firm. They also see the results of their work, e.g. the correct assembly of a module, as outcome of their individual effort, hence, their hard work. According to Kojima both aspects contribute to work satisfaction.

The agency workers‘ high level of effort to achieve mastery in factory work transforms alienating agency work into meaningful work, suggests Kojima. Learning and perfecting the art of factory work established an awareness amongst the agency workers of the value of their work. They see themselves as knowledgeable and hardworking human beings, who have the chance and willingness to secure a certain degree of creativity and individuality in connection to their work. This understanding, in turn, creates a rather high level of commitment to factory work and results in the implicit motivation to continue working hard; because working hard renders the agency workers’ factory work meaningful.

Mind you, the agency workers in this study were not naïve. They were very well able to reflect the problematic circumstances of agency work, such as discrimination by the user-firm’s management, social exclusion by the user-firm’s core employees, or the feeling of unfair treatment in case the assignment was abruptly terminated. Unfair and poor treatment from the user-firm was a particularly painful experiences for the agency workers as such treatment collided with their self-understanding of being a competent and hard-working agency worker.

Overall, Shinji Kojima’s study suggests that agency workers’ assignment in a user-firm could have intrinsic value for them. This insight stands in stark contrast to the often-implicit assumption found in the literature that agency workers relationship to the user-firm is only instrumental. Even though agency work features coercion and control, like other workers, also agency workers use their “humanistic drive“ (p. 378) to make alienating working conditions more social, bearable and thereby meaningful.



Shinji Kojima (2015). Why Do Temp Workers Work as Hard as They Do?: The Commitment and Suffering of Factory Temp Workers in Japan. The Sociological Quarterly, 56(2), S. 355-385).

Posted in alienation, Meaning of work, motivation, work commitment, workers' perspective | Leave a comment

So, commitment in OB is about employees’ commitment to the organization, right? Wrong!

Looking at OB textbooks, you will easily discover that for most textbook authors commitment is about organizational commitment. In this sense, commitment is usually presented as the bond that individuals develop towards the organization they are working for. So, organizational commitment means for example to identify with a particular organization and its goals, while wishing to maintain membership in the organization (e.g. Robbins et al., 2017). This identification can have different types, such as affective commitment (an emotional attachment to the organization), continuance commitment (the economic value of staying), and normative commitment (based on moral or ethical obligations) (see Meyer & Allen, 1991, for these types). Implicit in many textbook chapters is the assumption that organizational commitment is a valid construct to understand the attitudes of employees in long-term and full-time salaried employment contracts.

However, taking into account the developments within the field of work commitment – and I am not talking about most recent developments but those that are observable for many years – I wonder why OB textbooks continue to provide a quite narrow perspective to students. We hardly read – and therefore teach our students – about the processual nature and dynamic interplay between affective, continuance and moral commitment, relational and transactional commitment, as well as other targets of commitment than the organization, such as the work group or the work itself.

Many of these ways to address work commitment differently originate from the research of non-standard employees (see e.g. Ashford et al., 2007; Guest, 2004; Thorsteinson, 2003). Due to employers’ continuous efforts to make the organization, the work, and the employment relationship more flexible, we see more and more temporary work arrangements, part-time and project-based contracts, the leasing of labour (e.g. agency work), and subcontracting in today’s world of work.

These work settings are fundamentally different from the standard employment relationship, because workers are employed in work arrangements other than full-time wage and salaried jobs and in jobs that are of limited or uncertain duration (Hudson, 2001). As a consequence, workers (the term employee is probably no longer valid in this context) undertake work differently, connect to firms differently, and pursue careers with a different outlook (Ashford et al., 2007).

Referring to the above-sketched contemporary work settings, many authors challenge the understanding of commitment as a rather stable bond to the organization because such an understanding has been developed from the assumption of permanent and full-time salaried jobs. In a recent review, Van Rossenberg et al. (2018) aim to consolidate the current knowledge on work place commitment in what they refer to as temporary work and cross-boundary work. Regarding temporary work, they propose that “workers are more likely to develop transactional types of workplace attachment and develop lower levels of commitment” (p. 156), that workers are committed to multiple employers over time, and that they develop commitment to multiple targets. This, in turn, suggests that commitment scholars should also have an eye on possible conflicts between commitments.

On a broader plane, I would like to suggest that the new and different understandings of work commitment, which the research on non-standard employment introduced, might also have value for our general understanding of workplace commitment. For example, do workers (no matter if they have a standard or non-standard employment contract) really only develop commitment to the organization? What about their commitment to other targets within the organization, such as their department, the work group, or particular individuals? How about commitment towards customers or suppliers, hence, targets outside the immediate realm of the employer? And what if workers feel commitment towards the work itself? It might be fruitful thinking of commitment as being developed towards multiple targets, not only the organization. Furthermore, commitment should not be treated as static concept but as shifting between targets, inside and outside the organization. For example, during time of managerially imposed changes, workers may still be dedicated to their work but feel less committed to the organization but perhaps shift their focus of commitment to the immediate work group that is affected by the change.

I also suggest seeing commitment as neither being only affectual, continual or moral, but as a combination of all three aspects. This is not really new, I believe, but I sometimes experience people thinking of commitment as just being either one of these three types. Moreover, the combination of affectual, continual or moral commitment, which might be unique in a given situation, is neither fixed nor stable but may as well change over time. I remember the time when one of my former employers, without negotiating other possibilities with the employees, began to dismiss people for pure economic reasons. Due to this experience, my previously moral obligations to this employer became quite low. I continued working there, however, as I did not have any alternative. Hence, my continuance commitment became rather dominant, whereas both my moral and my affective commitment, which had been quite strong before the incident, almost vanished.

Finally, the potential conflicts between various commitments should be another aspect to learn from the above. Being in various and shifting ways committed to multiple targets may create conflict between the numerous commitments that workers develop. Such conflicts and how workers and organizations attempt to address them should therefore constitute another perspective when we talk to our students about work commitment.

Summarizing, for me the above suggests providing our students a much broader understanding of commitment in organization than the one offered by many current OB textbooks. A multi-facetted or multi-dimensional view on commitment may be better suited to enable our students to understand work organizations.


Ashford, S. J., George, E., & Blatt, R. (2007) Old Assumptions, new work. The Academy of Management Annals, 1(1), pp. 65-117.

Guest, D. E. (2004a) Flexible employment contracts, the psychological contract and employee outcomes: An analysis and review of the evidence. International Journal of Management Reviews, 5/6(1), pp. 1-19.

Hudson, K. (2001) The disposable worker. Monthly Review, 52(11), pp. 43-56.

Meyer, J. P., & Allen, N. J. (1991). A three-component conceptualization of organizational commitment. Human Resource Management Review, 1, pp. 61–89.

Stephen P. Robbins, Timothy A. Judge, Timothy T. Campbell (2017) Organizational Behaviour, Pearson (2nd edition)

Thorsteinson, T. J. (2003) Job attitudes of part-time vs. full-time workers: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 76(2), pp. 151–177.

Van Rossenberg, Y. G. T., Klein, H. J., Asplund, K., Bentein, K., Breitsohl, H., Cohen, A., . . . Yalabik, Z. Y. (2018). The future of workplace commitment: key questions and directions. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 27(2), pp. 153-167.


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Book Suggestion: Understanding Identity & Organizations

Today I would like to suggest a book to you; A book that you could use for teaching the subject ‘identity in organizations’. Since I work with the identity concept I am looking for a book that I could use as the basic text for a course on identity. Do not get me wrong, there is plenty of material available. However, I mostly see articles, anthologies and scholarly books and I miss something that comes closer to a textbook. Understanding Identity & Organizations, written by Kate Kenny, Andrea Whittle, and Hugh Willmott, and published by Sage in 2012 is one of a few exceptions.

I believe that this book could serve as a primary text for a course on identity in organizations, either as stand-alone textbook or supplemented by other texts. It covers all relevant topics of the field and presents them in a reader-friendly way, I think. Here is the list of contents:

Introduction to Understanding Identity

  • Introduction
  • Identity vs Personality
  • Identity on the Management Agenda: A Brief History
  • How Do Individual and Organizational Identities Interact?
  • Introducing the Book
  • Suggested Reading

Theoretical Perspectives on Identity

  • Introduction
  • Social Identity Theory (SIT)
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Foucauldian Perspective
  • Symbolic Interactionism
  • Narrative Approaches
  • Micro-Interactional Approaches
  • Application Exercise – The Case of Frances
  • Conclusion
  • Suggested Reading
  • Sample Exam/Assignment Questions

Diversity and Identity

  • Introduction
  • Identity as a Social Category
  • Identity as a Process of Social Construction
  • Conclusion
  • Suggested Reading
  • Sample Exam/Assignment Questions

Occupational Identities

  • Introduction
  • The Meaning of Work
  • Occupational Cultures and Boundaries
  • Managerial Identities
  • Professional Identities
  • The Dirty, the Deviant and the Degrading
  • Unpaid Work and Unemployment
  • When I Grow Up I Want To Be …
  • Conclusion
  • Suggested Reading
  • Sample Exam/Assignment Questions

Identity and Organizational Control

  • Overview and Introduction
  • Bringing Identity to Work
  • Managing Culture
  • Managing Identities
  • Identification and Dis-identification
  • Conclusion
  • Suggested Reading
  • Sample Exam/Assignment Questions

Organizational Identity

  • Introduction
  • Organizational Identity: What Is It and Why Does It Matter?
  • Organizational Identity – Properties or Beliefs?
  • Types of Organizational Identity
  • Power in (and of) Organizational Identity
  • Conclusion
  • Suggested Reading
  • Sample Exam/Assignment Questions

Virtual Identity

  • Overview and Introduction
  • Competing Perspectives: Technological Determinism and Social Constructionism
  • New Connections and Identity: Online Communities
  • Virtual Identity, Power and Control
  • Teleworking and Identity
  • Conclusion
  • Suggested Reading
  • Sample Exam/Assignment Questions

The Future of Identity

  • Introduction
  • Strong Attachments and Totalizing Workplaces?
  • Weak Attachments and the ‘Flexible’ Firm
  • New Public Management
  • Identity and the Global, Virtual Firm
  • The Future of Diversity
  • Conclusion
  • Suggested Reading

Glossary of Terms


Give it a go!



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An Exercise on Identity in Organizations

Here is a sketch of a little exercise on identity in organizations, which could help to familiarize students with the identity concept.

Ask each of your students to spend one or two minutes to introduce themselves to the other students in the class. If you have a big class divide students into smaller groups.

After this introduction let them discuss the sources of identification they drew on while they communicated, who they are? Sources are e.g.:

  • Name (and what their name ‘communicates’ in terms of their belonging to a group/social category, nation etc.)
  • Membership of organizations (e.g. student at a university, member of sports club)
  • Social categories (e.g. age, gender, sex, sexuality, class)
  • Nationality / regional belonging
  • Social role / social status
  • Education (e.g. former education, current study program)

Students should understand that people use various sources to constitute an understanding of who they are. However, these sources do not determine, who we are, but we actively select and use these sources to construct our identities. Just let your students imagine how they would introduce themselves in a job interview and how this would differ from the little in-class exercise. Hence, in different situations we draw on different sources and thereby we construe various context-specific identities.

Next, lure your students into conducting a little research: What sources of identification do people use when they talk about their membership in an organization (particularly a work organization)? Perhaps let students find someone outside the classroom and ask this person to tell them something about the job / the work and closely listen to the sources of identification that people use, be it the organization, a profession or a professional group, a position within the organization, membership in a department, a team, association to a specific age group, gender etc. Discuss the results!

Afterwards, provide students some input from identity research. For example, use the definition provided by Andrew Brown (2015, p. 21): “Unless otherwise stated, I use the term ‘identity’ to refer to the meanings that individuals attach reflexively to their selves as they seek to answer questions such as: ‘How shall I relate to others?’ ‘What shall I strive to become?’ and ‘How will I make the basic decisions required to guide my life?’”. (Brown, A. D. (2015). Identities and Identity Work in Organizations. International Journal of Management Reviews, 17(1), 20-40. doi:10.1111/ijmr.12035)

You could also refer to the social nature of identity by referring to Tony Watson (2008, p. 131):

“We can formalize the self-identity/social-identity analytical distinction by defining self-identity as the individual’s own notion of who and what they are and social-identities as cultural, discursive or institutional notions of who or what any individual might be. And, to help us analyse any particular setting in which individuals engage with social-identities in framing their self-identities, we can distinguish between five types of social-identity:

  1. Social-category social-identities: class, gender, nationality, ethnicity, etc. (upper class, female, Asian, Hindu, Scottish);
  2. Formal-role social-identities: occupation, rank, citizenship etc. (manager, cleaner, captain, an Italian citizen);
  3. Local -organizational social-identities: an old-style Nottingham professor, a Boots pharmacist, a GPT operations manager (there will be other versions of this: a local-community social-identity, for example: Ryland estate youths);
  4. Local-personal social identities: characterizations which various others make of an individual, in the context of specific situations or events (life and soul of the purchasing office, a good Co-op customer, the Beeston branch clown …);
  5. Cultural-stereotype social-identities: a garrulous Frenchman, a boring accountant, a devoted mother.” (Watson, T. J. (2008). Managing identity: Identity work, personal predicaments and structural circumstances. Organization, 15(1), 121-143.)

This latter quote could also be helpful reminding students that people draw on different social sources in the process of identification.

If there is still time, you could move on addressing the question “How do we construct our identities?”. Refer to students’ introductions and address for instance:

  • Talk / language use
  • Certain behavior / acts
  • Cognition
  • Emotions (e.g. showing vs. managing them)
  • Our body
  • The use of symbols (e.g. the brands of our t-shirts, shoes)

Let students discuss how they constructed their identity while presenting themselves to the others in the class. You could also draw on the little research, asking them to reflect on how their interview partners construed their work-related identity.

Finally, you could continue introducing students to some examples from identity research to familiarize them with the manifold aspects that this research addresses. Some examples could be:

Clarke C., Brown A.D. & Hope-Hailey V. 2009. Working identities? Antagonistic discursive resources and managerial identity. Human Relations. 62(3):323-352

Coupland, C., Brown, A. D., Daniels, K., & Humphreys, M. (2008). Saying it with feeling: Analysing speakable emotions. Human Relations, 61(3), 327-353.

Davies, A., & Thomas, R. (2008). Dixon of Dock Green Got Shot! Policing identity work and organizational change Public Administration, 86(3), 627—642

D’Cruz, P., & Noronha, E. (2012). Clarifying My World: Identity Work in the Context of Workplace Bullying. The Qualitative Report, 17(Article 16), 1-29.

Ezzell, M. B. (2009). Barbie dolls on the pitch: Identity work, defensive othering, and inequality in women’s rugby. Social Problems, 56(1), 111-131.

Lemmergaard, J., & Muhr, S. L. (2012). Golfing with a murderer—Professional indifference and identity work in a Danish prison. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 28(2), 185-195.

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Research Highlights – Managing emotional labour

In this short three minutes video, Anya Johnson and Helena Nguyen introduce us to the concept of emotional labour and its implication for work. A nice one, I believe, to make your students familiar with the concept, which could in turn be used to start a discussion in class.

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Squeezing Identity In

Do you also wonder, why the topic of identity, which gained a lot of prominence in Organization Studies, has not yet found its entry into OB teaching? At least this question appears when one has a look into the numerous OB textbooks that follow the traditional OB perspective of unchallenged managerialism and organizations as driven by economic effectiveness. Even the so-called critical OB textbooks, who call into question such a perspective, remain rather silent with regard to individual, group, and organizational identity and continue to address the established set of topics that one finds in almost every OB textbook.

Turning towards the understanding of behavior in organizations on a more individual level (actually the distinction between individual/group/organizational level is not very helpful, since they are mutually related to each other) textbooks continue to connect to the personality concept and the extensive psychological literature on personality and organizational behavior. Teaching the personality chapter, I observed that this session (or these sessions) constitute a perfect opportunity to squeeze into the course some extra-curricular knowledge on identity. Even though my students, at least in the beginning, seem to swallow the definition of personality as ‘the enduring characteristics that describe an individual’s behaviour’ (e.g. Robbins et al., 2010), they soon become suspicious when we turn towards the nature vs. nurture debate (i.e. whether personality is inscribed into our DNA or shaped through socialization in early childhood, adolescence, and perhaps even later on) and even more critical when I ask them: “Is your personality stable over time? Are you the same person talking to friends over a beer as you are talking to your lecturer or the minister / priest / mullah / rabbi…? (These questions are from Fiona Wilson’s OB textbook.). Discussing these questions students are usually quick to abandon the idea of stable and enduring characteristics defining who they are and therefore predicting their future behaviour. Reminding them that the personality concept builds on these assumptions and therefore enables us to see some things, yet, not others, I use a couple of minutes introducing the students to the concept of identity and thereby to the sociological understanding of people as being actively engaged in the reflexive project to shape their identity in organizations (usually I refer to work organizations). One relatively easy way to do this is to refer to Antoni Gidden’s quotation: “Self-identity, then, is not a set of traits or observable characteristics. It is a person’s own reflexive understanding of their biography. Self-identity has continuity—that is, it cannot easily be completely changed at will—but that continuity is only a product of the person’s reflexive beliefs about their own biography” (1991, p. 53). Departing from this quotation I address the relationship between the self and identity and the distinction between personal and social identity, and the importance of individuals biography (e.g. their upbringing, past work experiences, relationships to other people, and the turning points in their life) for their identity. Explaining these aspects to my students they get at least a bit of an understanding of the notion of identity and that this concept, although not core of the OB course, enables them to see and understand more aspects of organizational behavior.

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