First published on Mon, 2007-04-30
My friend, Rebecca Napier-Moore, has written the following paper about power within workers’ co-operatives in the UK. We interviewed workers together for our different papers (see mine here) and it was an absolute pleasure to work with her. In my opinion, not only is her paper extremely well-written and concise but it also intelligently draws on – and challenges – the academic literature surrounding Steven Lukes’ 3 dimensions of power in relation to the workers’ co-operatives that we visited. It received an A+ mark. I am putting the paper below for you to read but you can also find it online as a Word Document or as a pdf.
When reading it you should bear in mind that there are many many different theorists of power. Rebecca uses Steven Lukes’ 3 dimensions of power as a framework for her paper. Others such as John Gaventa, who Rebecca briefly mentions, has developed a power cube which looks at 9 different aspects of power, which assimilates Lukes’ 3 dimensions (Gaventa was once Luke’s student):
(More explanation can be found here)
While other authors have created yet more expansive typologies, including Mark Haugaard, who in his excellent paper ‘Reﬂections on Seven Ways of Creating Power‘, develops a typology of seven forms of power creation by building on the ideas of a number of authors – including Arendt, Parsons, Barnes, Bachrach and Baratz, Lukes, Giddens, Foucault and Clegg. For anyone interested in the academic debates surrounding power, this paper by Haugaard is an excellent overview of the current state of the literature and brings together authors from previously divergent perspectives.
While authors such as Foucault have said in the past that “Power is everywhere…because it comes from everywhere”, it is in my opinion much more useful to break down and think about different dimensions (or types) of power so as to help us recognise and even potentially overcome them. For excellent resources to think and learn about power, which are intentionally aimed at being accessible to all as well as giving lots of ideas on how to help people overcome the different dimensions of power, see the following two documents. All activists, or those interested in positive social change, should read them:
- Making Change happen: POWER – Concepts for Revisioning Power for Justice, Equality and Peace by Just Associates
- A New Weave of Power, People & Politics: The Action Guide for Advocacy and Citizen Participation – by Lisa VeneKlasen and Valerie Miller
Enough on power from me. Read what Rebecca has to say. She’s the expert after all.
Power in Utopia? Analysis of two UK workers’ co-operatives through Steven Lukes’ three-dimensional lens
by Rebecca Napier-Moore
“I don’t like working for someone, I like working with – I think workplaces should be much more egalitarian.” – Worker at Brixton Cycles co-operative, London
“Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity.” – International Cooperative Alliance Value Statement (emphasis added)
Workers’ co-operatives aim to reduce power inequalities through shared ownership, equal pay, reduced- or non-hierarchical structures, and democratic governance in one-member-one-vote decision making. The co-operative mission, when comparing co-operatives to the majority of UK and global workplaces, is quite radical. Some people in co-operatives, unaware of Foucauldian ideas, are blindly idealistic, saying that “there is no power.” Others make a distinction between the ideal and what they see as a reality with power dynamics. The aim of this paper is to explore how power operates in co-operatives – places overtly trying to reduce inequalities.
Steven Lukes’ classical, three-dimensional framework of power will serve as an analytical lens. First published in 1974, his power schema moves from a first dimension or face of observable decision-making power, to a second of agenda-setting, and to a third of ideologically controlling norms. Lukes admits his theory is focused on power as dominance, rather than looking at collective or productive power (2005, 109). His is a ‘power over,’ rather than a ‘power to.’ Collective ‘power to’ is extremely relevant for co-operatives. However, Lukes’ framework used here will explore the self-articulated, power-reduction and equality aims of co-operatives. Where is the gap between rhetoric of power equality and a reality where inequalities exist?
I conducted interviews in two co-operatives in the UK. Limits on scope and time dictate that the case study observation and analysis are initial and by no means complete. They also necessitate, in particular, that Lukes’ third dimension of power is inadequately explored because it would require lengthy participant observation and/or additional collection on data. Nonetheless, the paper will be organized as follows. A first section will introduce Lukes’ theory and discuss critiques. The second section will look at its operationalisation in this study, outlining methodology and limits. The third section introduces the history of UK co-operatives, briefly contextualizing them within a global movement. Then it gives background to the two particular case study co-operatives. Finally, analysis will use Lukes’ framework to explore power dynamics within the co-operatives. What mechanisms do co-operatives put in place to reduce inequalities? Where does power lie? And, in what forms?
1. Lukes’ Power Over
According to Lukes’s definition, following the classical Weberian definition, “A exercises power over B when A affects B in a manner contrary to B’s interests” (2005, 30). This definition, he rightly notes, is one of dominance, but this dominance is not always necessarily negative. A could affect B’s interests favourably or unfavourably (ibid., 83). Nonetheless, power here is a “securing of compliance to domination” (ibid., 103) – the exact problematic that co-operatives are trying to ameliorate or avoid entirely.
Lukes’ three faces of power begin with a first face articulated by Dahl in the 1960s. Embedded in ideas of American pluralism and democracy, Dahl was looking for elite power over other groups. He tallied the outcome of each political decision as a “success” or “defeat.” This face of power looks at observable political conflict which results in a concrete decision (Lukes 2005, 17). As Heywood succinctly puts it, this face of power is about “who gets their way, how often, and over what issues” (1994, 81). There is a transparency and inclusiveness where decisions are made “in public spaces with established rules” (Just Associates 2006, 9). “These public spaces are often viewed as an even playing field – where logic, factual information and the power of persuasion and persistence are vital to winning compromises” (ibid.). Co-operatives are working towards just this kind of democratic, pluralistic ideal with equal ownership and voting rights. But, as the quote above implies, the assumption of “an even playing field” is mistaken after consideration of the second and third faces of power.
Lukes’ second face comes from Bachrach and Baratz’ response to Dahl. Not only are decisions made at the decision-making table, but they are also influenced by “controlling who gets to the table and what gets on the agenda” (Just Associates 2006, 9). This second face goes by several names: hidden power, non-decision making, and agenda-setting. It is a “mobilization of bias,” where “some issues are organized into politics while others are organized out” (Schattschneider 1960, 71). This is done by framing issues in a way that devalues them, and by using the threat of sanctions (Just Associates 2006, 9, and Gaventa 1980, 14).
Finally, the third face is sometimes referred to as thought control, where people’s articulated interests are presumably manipulated. Here A “exercises power over [B] by influencing, shaping or determining his[/her] very wants” (Lukes 2005, 27). Through indoctrination, acculturation and socialization, Lukes suggests this is the “most insidious” of the dimensions. Here not only does A, as an individual, affect B, but so do social forces, ideology and institutions (ibid., 28). Marxist-inspired, “real” interests are hidden from B’s knowledge. This step into Marxist “false consciousness” has been heavily criticized, as elitist, authoritarian and unverifiable. Haugaard usefully turns the slippery slope of false consciousness into something constructive. As “false” implies a “true” consciousness, he drops objectivity altogether and differentiates between tacit and discursive knowledge. Tacit knowledge is that experienced but not articulated. The test for Lukes’ third dimension is recognition of that knowledge if someone articulates it. Once articulated (sometimes through explicit ‘consciousness-raising’ activities), it is then up to B to judge for his/herself “whether what is presented discursively is consonant with practical [or tacit] consciousness knowledge” (Haugaard 2003, 102). Subjectivity, then, remains. Keith Dowding, on the other hand, defends objectivity saying that “[a]ggregate data analysis can demonstrate why people act in various ways, even though those people would not specify so precisely those reasons themselves” (2006, 136). I tend to agree with Haugaard, because consciousness, by its very nature, is primarily subjective.(1) Consciousness cannot be false because “if consciousness exists it is real to its holders” (Gaventa 2006, 29).
Lukes responds to critics and differentiates his theory from Foucault, who when radically interpreted gives neither A nor B any freedom “since we are all constituted of power” (Dowding 2006, 136). For Lukes, freedom to act is crucial because B is willingly compliant in the third face of power. The third face is a “willing compliance, in which people are enlisted into wider patterns of normative control, often acting as their own ‘overseers’, while believing themselves, sometimes falsely, to be free of power, making their own choices, …assessing arguments rationally and coming to their own conclusions” (Lukes 2005, 106). Foucault’s B is not able to willingly comply; he or she has no choice.
Lukes’ theory is further problematic in terms of overlapping or multiple consciousness, as analysis from the UK co-operatives will show. Garson articulates that there are “ambiguity and overlays of consciousness; [where] different and seemingly contradictory orientations [are] evoked depending upon the context” (emphasis in original, Garson quoted in Gaventa 1980, 19). Gaventa notes that dominance can persist even so. “As long as elements of…the assuming [powerful] consciousness can be maintained…the ‘unified’…consciousness will likely remain precluded” (1980, 19). Lukes gives cursory recognition to this, as a flaw, in his second edition (2005, 103 & 143). Presumably, an applied theory of multiple consciousness would not only express contradictory interests, but also a flipping back and forth from B’s willing and unwilling compliance, and from latent to recognized conflict.
Before leaving the theoretical review of Lukes, we must note that power as dominance is a subset of a larger power category, which includes Arendt and Parsons’ definitions of power as collective ‘power to.’ Lukes is specifically differentiating his theory from these, which lack conflict. Parsons says that having ‘power over’ can be legitimized when it is for the common good, which Lukes criticizes for assuming the common good is a given and never negotiated [through conflict] (cited in Lukes 2005, 32). Circumventing the Hobbesian dilemma, Haugaard posits that the maintenance of social order is not necessarily negative, because the “recreation of shared meanings…enable actors to act in collaboration in a way which they could not do so otherwise” (Haugaard 2003, 87). Arendt’s power “belongs to a group” and is power “to act in concert” (Lukes 2005, 32). Things get done with this power, and co-operatives struggling to survive in a market economy need to be able to get things done by acting together. Lukes’ third face might not be so vicious after all. The sharing of meanings in a co-operative, for instance, allows democratic meetings to run effectively and creates a group or collective ideology that encourages everyone to work without being told to do so.
Lukes, therefore, leaves us with a theory of A’s dominance over B. A and B are unitary, versus collective, actors interacting in three dimensions of decision-making, agenda-setting and thought control. B willingly acts in the third face of power (versus a Foucauldian total constitution of power). The suggested false consciousness in the third face is problematic, but can remain a subjective consciousness if Haugaard’s distinction is made between tacit and discursive knowledge.
This paper intends to look at two UK co-operatives through Lukes’ lens.(2) The study was conducted with another person doing a parallel study on the effect of co-operatives on wider participatory democracy. Thus, as a team, we conducted hour-long, semi-structured interviews. The guiding questions for these are in the Appendix to this paper.
Two case study co-operatives were selected from the database of Co-operatives UK, an umbrella organization (2005). We were limited in our selection of the case studies because of a short time scale and limited travel resources. Second, we were limited by co-operatives themselves. Several that we approached were simply too busy. Finally, selection came down to size. The average size of a UK co-operative is, by a slightly dated (and probably underestimated) figure, four members (Ammirato 1996). Thus, we did not choose large co-operatives: one co-operative had ten members, and the other eighteen.
We began the process with an informal exploration of our ideas at a national co-operatives meeting held in Brighton in February 2007. We then piloted questions with a person very familiar with co-operatives. Finally, we approached members of the two case study co-operatives, interviewing four in each. We interviewed older and younger members, members with different roles, men and women, people ideologically committed before joining and people who were not. Some respondents did seemingly give us rhetoric for which they thought we were looking. Discovering reality behind the rhetoric was difficult not only for the third face of power, but also for the first and second faces. Some people did not (could not?) stray from a co-operative idealism, and others, very reasonably, seemed to refrain from discussing individuals or their actions in a negative light. As Keith Dowding notes, “When using deeply normative notions such as domination, we need to be careful about negatively judging people’s actions” (2006, 143).
Interview questions inquired about how meetings run, about how agendas are set, about structures and roles within the co-operatives and about what things give people influence or legitimacy. I listened closely for sub-texts, and I asked about the co-operative’s overarching values. But, as Lukes notes, evidence on the third face of power, especially, “can [only] be adduced,” and this kind of evidence “will never be conclusive” (2005, 52).
Gaventa suggests some methodological ways through difficulties presented by the third face. One is having enough time for immersion. Another is to look at “processes of communication, socialization, acculturation…” (1980, 27). The ideal would have been to observe them in meetings or through participant observation. A third method is to posit a change and watch the response to such possibilities. I did this with some co-operative members who were new or who were under managers, asking whether and to what extent they would challenge older or managing members. Gaventa is correct in saying that the researcher is not claiming to know A or B’s real interest; “rather, the observer’s interpretation of what appears in a given context to be in B’s interest may be used as a methodological tool for discovering whether power relations are such as to have precluded the active and conscious choice of B about such interests” (1980, 29).
3. The Co-operative Movement and Brief Description of the Case Studies
The International Cooperative Alliance defines a co-operative as “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise” (2006). Employing 100 million people and having an aggregate membership of 800 million globally, co-operatives are not only workers’ self-managed organizations I examine here, but can be housing, credit, agriculture, health or insurance organizations (ibid.). The UK is hailed as the birthplace of the movement, which initially was a response to harsh effects of the industrial revolution. In Rochdale in 1842 “blanket weavers were having to sell their own blankets to survive,” and thus formed the Rochdale Cooperative Retail Store (Birchall 1997, 3).
Ammirato explains that the English movement was “deliberately steered away from its extension into industry,” and “[i]ts chosen bastion, the retail cooperative, has been debilitated in the face of the supermarket revolution” (1996, xi). There has been little bank or state support for UK co-operatives, unlike in Brazil, Italy or Spain. Spain’s Mondragon Group, for instance, is a network of co-operatives employing 78,455 people (2005 figure, Mondragon 2007). There the average co-operative size is 304 members, and state support, through loans and reduced corporate tax, enables the network’s success (Ammirato 1996, 24-29). Much of the spread to Africa and elsewhere happened via colonialism and, as Birchall notes, was “a paternalistic vision” of both control and socialization (1997, 133-134). Though originating in the UK, the co-operative movement here is fairly small. Cooperatives UK reports 390 worker co-operatives with 1,287 workers (2005).
Brixton Cycles and Magpie Recycling are two of those. Brixton Cycles has ten workers, nine of whom are cycle mechanics and one of whom is the bookkeeper and administrator. This London co-operative began in 1982, and no longer has any of its three founding members. It has a weekly meeting after work, and all workers receive equal pay. A more formal meeting is called occasionally to make large decisions. New hires must be unanimously agreed upon, and their personality ‘fit’ is said to be more important than their skill set. A newly instituted workshop rota, ensures fair job rotation between the workshop and the shop floor.
Magpie Recycling in Brighton has about 18 workers and began operations in 1992. It has several departments, each with a manager. Greenbox household recycling, commercial recycling and its second-hand retail shop are main areas, although it diversifies into gardening, biodiesel, and reconstruction of old bicycles. Diversification has been necessary especially after the city council recently began its own green box recycling scheme. Management, an executive committee and two directors make up the top tier of the organization. Wages are fairly equal with managers getting paid about 50 pence/hour more than others, and casual workers (non-members) getting paid slightly less. Smaller decisions are made in each department, and more significant ones are made in the monthly meeting after work. There is a paper posted on a wall for people to write agenda items before the meeting. A mix of voting, formal consensus and informal agreement takes place at the meetings.
4. Lukes Applied
One of the main reasons that people form co-operatives is to give people control over their workplace, equal decision making powers and equitable wages. However, with a one-member-one-vote structure and equal wages, asymmetries of power still arise within workers co-operatives (see for instance Albert 2003). The ideal of equity and of equal control over one’s work life, however, is a laudable aim. Do people have equal power in co-operatives? Where are the nuances of ‘power over’? Does power lie in open decision-making processes, in agenda-setting, in socialization and ideological norms, or in a mix of these muddled in ‘multiple consciousnesses?
The First Face
Lukes’ first face of overt decision-making happens to fit well with co-operatives. Dahl theorized this aspect of power in a pluralist democracy, structures that co-operatives parallel with one-person-one-vote mechanisms. There is an assumed transparency and inclusiveness where decisions are made “in public spaces with established rules,” i.e. in “an even playing field” (Just Associates 2006, 9). Overt decision-making in the two co-operatives differ slightly. Decisions in both are made through vote, formal consensus or informal nodding of heads. In Magpie, some decisions are formally made within departments and some unilaterally by the managers. The smaller size of Brixton Cycles and its more regular meetings, seemingly allow more decisions to go through the meeting structure.
Several people told me about decisions they had proposed, backed up with facts, and pushed through to a positive decision. A Brixton Cycles member pushed through a new recycling scheme; a Magpie member persuaded members to open on weekends. “You can do what you want. You can take it in the direction you want it to go,” she said.
Theoretically all have a vote and a voice. Adding nuance to this first face, Gaventa includes political resources to its dimension. I must, then, ask what “votes, jobs, influence…can be brought by political actors to the bargaining game and how well [can] these resources be wielded in each particular play – through personal efficacy, political experience, organizational strength…” (Gaventa 1980, 14)? When asked what things gave people more influence or legitimacy, older members spoke of a ‘founder’s principle’ or an ‘old man posse.’ Age and experience matter and give people the confidence to speak louder. One older member noted that “[w]e try and avoid it being a power thing. [But?] some people’s personalities are bigger, and they are intimidating.”
Younger members in both co-operatives recounted a process of finding their voice over a few months or years. In Magpie where roles are differentiated, they tended to say that people with more responsibility and “more familiarity with the way things work” have more influence in meetings. Several people in both co-operatives noted that power in meetings depended on what the subject was and simply on how individuals were feeling on the day. These comments remind that power is not an inflexible monolith, but shifts and changes to circumstance. Interview discussion on this first face showed that, when they wanted to, newer members could successfully present the facts, use power of persuasion and ‘win’ decisions. Older members, nonetheless, did have an advantage with more of the political resources referred to by Gaventa (1980).
The Second Face
Does an “even playing field” exist? The first face assumes it does: Everyone comes to meetings, and the person with the best facts and persuasion skills wins. The first face talks about political resources that enable people to talk more persuasively. What about political resources oppositely used to keep other people quiet? These resources work towards “suppression or thwarting” (Lukes 2005, 22, citing Bachrach and Baratz). Four aspects must be discussed here: 1) who gets to the table, 2) what gets on the agenda, 3) gaps in information needed for participation and 4) anticipated reactions.
First, attendance at meetings in both co-operatives is ‘thwarted’ to a degree because many co-operative members, especially in Magpie, are part-time. When meetings are held on the day that someone is not working, s/he is less likely to attend. At Magpie others are excluded because they are casual workers and non-members. Further, meetings at both places are after work, which is a disincentive to attend, though committed people do so. Part-time and casual workers, therefore, face a built-in disadvantage to participation.
Agenda-setting in preparation for meetings is through a piece of paper on the wall at Magpie, and at Brixton official agenda items most often come through the bookkeeper/administrator who presents financial reports. Otherwise, at Brixton meetings “are pretty loose. We just turn up, and it’s a bit of a free for all really.” While things are loose at Brixton, Magpie’s agenda is a bit more predetermined. One worker notes, “I get the impression there’s a lot of the main sorting out of what is going to be done beforehand, and then you get to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’” One member at Magpie would like to push through an anonymous Suggestion Box, because she realizes that not everyone is confident to talk at meetings. Nonetheless, there seems to be less of Dahl’s pluralistic discussion at Magpie meetings, if indeed agenda items come as a complete package on arrival.
One worker at Magpie said that on a scale from 1 to 5, s/he knows an equivalent of 2 about how the co-operative works, largely because s/he spends a good deal of time out of the office. Roles play a large part in 1) how informed people are and 2) how much they contribute at meetings. The concentrated physical work that is done by some makes them “feel quite knackered.” One person we talked to said the physical work compromises one’s ability to speak at meetings, while another disagreed. Rotation schemes are tried at many workers’ co-operatives to ameliorate these gaps in knowledge. Members rotate through different jobs, having opportunities for varieties of ‘empowering’ and ‘disempowering’ work. One member of Magpie said this was tried once, “but it didn’t really work because people that do greenbox don’t know any admin, and the girls in the office thought it was too mucky at the end of the week.” Though Brixton does not rotate through the bookkeeper position, it does have a workshop-shopfloor rota. One member described that previously people would express a desire to be in the workshop, and “out of niceness, [you would let them]…but really deep down you actually do want to work in there.” The rota explicitly cut out part of that power differential.
Finally, Bachrach and Baratz also speak of the “rule of anticipated reactions” in the second face of power (Gaventa 1980, 15, citing Bachrach and Baratz). People “defer to a superior by anticipating his or her wishes without the need for explicit instructions” (Just Associates 2006, 82). In other words, as Gaventa’s much-cited study on Appalachian miners shows, people know the limits of possible intervention. At Magpie, one person felt s/he could say when s/he thought things should be done a different way, “but also keep in mind that they just can’t go – ‘yes, we’ll spend another thousand pounds on that for you.’” The co-operative ideology is restrictive as members know they must give up some individual wants/interests for the greater organization.
The second face, thus, uncovers mechanisms that restrict some people’s power. Part-time or casual work conflicts with meeting times for some. Agendas are, to varying degrees, set before meetings. And lack of information, coupled with exhaustion that restricts people from getting it, hamper some people’s participation. Finally, the ‘rule of anticipated reactions’ keeps other interests from becoming overt and making it to the decision-making table.
The Third Face
At best, the third face of power can only be guessed at, especially without a long time spent in each co-operative. How much of people’s “own sense of superiority or inferiority [is seen] as ‘natural’” (Just Associates 2006, 10)? How much does A “exercise power over [B] by influencing, shaping or determining his[/her] very wants” (Lukes 2005, 27)? Processes of socialization, acculturation and indoctrination shape normative ways of thinking. Interviews may only give glimpses of what Haugaard explains as tacit (but not discursive) knowledge (2003). And, my subjective lens, as an observer, will surely impose/read into what I imagine interviewee’s tacit knowledge to be.
Though no one described it as such, one of the socialization processes most evident in interviews was the six-month trial period at Brixton Cycles. Though Brixton has not fired anyone during the period, I conjecture that it serves to keep people on edge, to make sure they learn to behave in ways that fit the co-operative ‘spirit.’ A similar casual work period at Magpie serves the same purpose. Comparison between older and younger members’ language, shows a greater use of (and probable internalization of) ‘co-operative’ language by members who have been socialized in it longer. A group and collective ideology is present in language such as: “I suppose we are kind of all in the mind set, we’re all into the co-op thing, so everyone’s up for compromising a bit.” “You have to be selfless, more than I thought.” Over time, members learn to be selfless for the group.
Not all, but some members hold the ideal of equality as actualized reality. One member said, “We have no power here.” Another said that no one has any extra status. Michael Albert notes, however, that especially when job roles and access to information are unequal, saying that people “have equal impact on decisions denies reality” (2003, 103). Some co-operative members see through the rhetoric: “We’re all human; and there are politics.” Indeed, the very premise of this paper lies here, in questioning the idealist rhetoric, in trying to find the “reality” behind it. But, as discussed earlier, it must remain, as Haugaard suggests, the subject’s reality, rather than an objective one.
Two of the younger co-operative members expressed a conflicting, multiple consciousness – both able to see ‘power over’ them, and defending equality. One said, “If the manager turns up late, no one is going to tell him, look, half an hour pay is going to be docked. But if I turn up late, he’ll be like: you know what, don’t do it again. Maybe it is a bit unequal in that way. But overall it…” A different interviewee said that there is “not officially” power; “I wouldn’t go and tell some guy that’s forty years old and has worked here twice as long as me how to do his job…”
Haugaard says that the third face of power is subjectively materialized when people begin disciplining themselves. “…If you don’t pull your weight and do stuff, then you’re only screwing yourself.” Another said, “There is nowhere else for the buck to stop.” The institution and the social norms within it have “secured people’s compliance by controlling their wants and desires” (Lukes 2005, 27) to work harder and longer. “I get a buzz out of what I do. Sometimes I get carried away and don’t even take a lunch break.” “I think everyone actually wants to be working here.” Are these statements indicating something that, as Lukes’ definition demands, is “contrary to B’s interests”? If B is getting a buzz out of work, is it B’s interest to not work as much? One could also argue that B’s interest is precisely to enjoy fulfilling and non-alienating (in the Marxist sense) work. People I interviewed work hard for the group, but would they rather not do so? Or would they rather do so in a different way? Other conjectures at what might “really” be in people’s interests are: to not have a manager (in Magpie) – though the social order it creates may give them a ‘power to’ get things done; to not go through a trial period of socialization; to not do disempowering, tiring tasks; to not be only in roles that restrict access to information. Some of these things were articulated by interviewees. Other interviewees defended these as being in the their interest. Additionally, some of these suggestions are, most probably, my own projected interests.
A member at Brixton Cycles raised another point regarding the third face, in describing humour in the co-operative, as something “really quite vicious.” “You develop quite a thick skin. We respect really good cutting. A good insult is worth a thousand words.” I can only wonder whether getting a quite vicious, really good cutting is a good thing? Humour might be part of the group ideology, accepted as positive and as a norm. But it may also be the back-door way to power. If meetings are democratically fairly equal, maybe A needs another way to dominate B, and B another way (a la James Scott) to assert his or her own power.
Finally, Arendt and Parsons’ collective (versus dominant) power must be given mention. The co-operative ideology is dominating, but it is also needed for collective, productive ‘power to.’ One worker articulates, “I like belonging. Being a Magpie worker, there’s a real sort of solidarity because some of the work is quite nasty in the winter when you’re out dealing with people’s trash. But there’s a real feeling of solidarity.”
Exploring a non-discursive third face of power in discursive-dependent interviews is limiting. Selflessness for the group and a blind commitment to powerless realities are strong norms held by some members. The co-operative identity shapes meaning and asks people to begin disciplining themselves, to work harder and longer. Hierarchies and management are legitimised in one of the co-operatives, and humour, as a cutting tool, is legitimised in the other. Trial periods and casual work socialize at a time when people are vulnerably subject to sanctions. And, a multiple consciousness moves people back and forth from the third face’s willing compliance to an acknowledgement of power dynamics.
One co-operative member expressed the third face of power well (though her very expression of it, makes it cease to be inarticulated knowledge!). “[There is a] more collective spirit or solidarity…it seems to come in waves…somehow groups naturally form norms, don’t they? And, I guess on a quite subtle level that happens here.”
Lukes insightfully writes that “One does not have to go to the lengths of talking about Brave New World, or the world of B.F. Skinner, to see this: thought control takes many less total and more mundane forms, through the control of information, through the mass media and through the processes of socialization” (Lukes 2005, 27). In fact, it occurs in places trying hard to create “democracy, equality and equity.” Arguably and laudably, co-operatives have lessened inequalities with one-member-one-vote, equal pay, a rota and lack of managers (at Brixton). But, where are the back doors? Where is the hidden second face or the invisible third face? Possibly in humour, in departmental management, in an ideology that drives people to work and to sacrifice for the whole, in trial periods of socialization? Power persists in co-operatives, and does so largely behind the mechanisms designed to reduce inequalities.
The third face of power carries enormous difficulties for the researcher. Lukes’ articulation of it comes perilously close to Marxist “false consciousness” and to Foucauldian “total constitution” of power. Articulating B’s interests and finding processes of socialization “will never be conclusive” for the researcher (Lukes 2005, 52). And, they are not conclusive here. The third face, however, remains useful, despite its theoretical and operational difficulties. Ideological control goes beyond the first face of decision-making and the second face of agenda-setting. It is precisely its inarticulation by B that makes A’s control that much more powerful.
(1) Following Bourdieu’s cultural theory of power, consciousness can be seen as an expression of subjectivity, constructed in the life of an individual through “objective practices” such as schooling, domestic life and culture in general (see Navarro 2006, 18-20).
(2) John Gaventa has expanded Lukes’ dimensions three-fold by creating a “Power Cube” (2006). Lukes’ three faces form one side of the cube. Another side is comprised of politico-geographical levels: global, national and local. The final side categorizes ‘closed,’ ‘invited,’ and ‘claimed/created’ spaces. While the additional sides provide a useful analytical devise, the scope of this short paper is limited. The focus here on internal workings of co-operatives means that the politico-geographical levels are less relevant, and while the ‘spaces’ side of the cube would be interesting to explore, more ‘space’ in the paper would need to be ‘claimed.’
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Appendix – Semi-Structured Interview Guiding Questions
* How many people work full-time? Part-time?
* How long has the co-operative existed?
* Salary/pay ratio?
* Is everyone a member? Or some half/non-members? Why?/Reasoning behind this?
* What job do you have within the co-operative?
* How long have you worked here?
* How did you find out about the co-operative?
* Have you worked in other co-operatives?
Questions on Power Relations
* How are meetings run? Who facilitates? How are decisions made? How is the agenda set?
* What is the mechanism to handle disagreements? How well does it work?
* On a scale of 1-5, how informed do you feel about how the co-op works?
* Could you describe your level of confidence in meetings?
* What things give people more legitimacy or influence in meetings or in general work interactions?
* Is there a difference between original members and new ones? In terms of who talks, who makes decisions, who is in management positions?
* What other things differentiate people from one another? Skills, training, charismatic personalities, people in management positions, information?
* What are the criteria for hiring new people? (Same views/ commitment to co-op ideals?)
* What does the organization do to decrease power and information inequalities? Ex: Some organizations rotate. Some create an intentional culture of consensus at meetings.
* How are managers chosen/legitimated? (Applicable only at one co-operative)
* Are some decisions already made before they get to a meeting?
* Do routine jobs have an impact on how people interact at meetings?
* If you don’t take part in agenda setting, do you trust other people to set the agenda or make decisions?
* Looking at the whole co-op, what tasks are more empowering or allow you to have the most influence?
* When, in your work, do you feel empowered? What makes you feel so?/Why?
* When do you feel disempowered? What makes you feel so?/Why?
* What differences have you experienced, comparing this workplace to others you’ve been in: co-op and non-co-op?
* What values or ideas exist here? What is the spirit of the co-op?