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Article

Abstract

The relationship between worker cooperatives and their social and economic environment has sparked interest among the sociological community for the contradictions and harmony typical of these interactions. However, these studies do not examine how firm behavior varies and/or remains constant in different social conditions. With insights from economic sociology, neo-institutionalism, and social movements theory, the paper pursues this issue by answering the following question: how do worker cooperatives respond to different social conditions over time? Using interviews with members of eight worker cooperatives in a Midwestern metropolitan area, the author compares behavior in older and younger cooperatives to observe similarities and differences in their practices under different social conditions. The analysis demonstrates that differences in social support and market competition created variation among older and newer cooperatives. For instance, the decision to start worker-owned cooperatives reflected different political motivations that emerged from distinct socio-economic conditions. However, all firms eventually behaved like businesses because they framed economic activities as political activism, exposing them to fluctuations in the city’s political scene. As a result, these businesses created market niches, attract customers and competent workers, and copy other successful democratic enterprises to survive demographic fluctuations in the market.

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