Joyce Rothschild, Virginia Tech

Pushing the Organizational Envelope: Can Cooperative Organizations Thrive in a Digital Era?
Joyce Rothschild


Fall 2017
Lecture Time: 
Friday, December 1, 2017 - 1:30pm to 3:00pm
Lecture Location: 
R0220 Ross School of Business
Introduced By: 
Kathryn Gabriele


Over the last couple of decades thousands of participatory-democratic organizations have been created at the local level. Some of these are in the public sector, some are for-profit and some are not-for- profit enterprises, but all are looking for effective ways to bring their citizens, workers or members into the decision-making process. They are searching for ways to get people more engaged and committed, along with ways to build social solidarity and community. This talk examines the beginnings of such organizations in the mid-1970s, emphasizing their essential anti-hierarchical and anti-bureaucratic origins. It then travels forward to the economy we now face—an increasingly automated one, and asks if there will be a place for cooperative, co-owned and co-managed enterprises in this new economy. Dr. Rothschild argues that digital companies may avoid the provision of the sorts of labor intensive goods and services that are attractive to cooperative organizations, leaving a large space for cooperatives in the new economy. Since democracies are defined by their decisional processes, the last part of this talk will drill down on the decisional processes used by cooperatives and collectives, asking how their decision-making processes may have evolved over the past decades, and in what ways they have managed to become efficient and effective.

Additional Notes

Dr. Joyce Rothschild is Professor of Sociology in the School of Public and International Affairs at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia. Her research and scholarship focus on two main subjects: (1) the nature, history and potential for cooperative relations and organizational democracy both in the community and in the workplace; and (2) assaults on the free speech rights of whistleblowers. In both cases, she is primarily concerned with building a solid foundation for actual voice and democratic control in our society and in organizations. She is widely published on both of these, with over 30 articles in academic journals and 7 edited or authored book volumes, and her research has been widely cited among scholars and has been featured as well in many popular magazines and newspapers. Her book (with J. Allen Whitt), The Cooperative Workplace: Potentials and Dilemmas of Organizational Democracy and Participation (Cambridge University Press), won the 1987 C. Wright Mills book award. In it, she proposes and develops a post-Weberian model of organization, the collectivist-democratic organization, that arises from a fourth and new principle of legitimacy that she argues is emergent in a knowledge-based economy and society. Grounded in field work in collectives and cooperatives, she describes why these organizations reject bureaucratic practices, what sorts of practices they create to replace hierarchal forms, and proposes nine specific conditions that allow such enterprises to thrive. She can be reached at

Reading List

Rothschild, J. (2016), The Logic of A Co-Operative Economy and Democracy 2.0: Recovering the Possibilities for Autonomy, Creativity, Solidarity, and Common Purpose. The Soc. Quar., 57: 7–35. doi:10.1111/tsq.12138