From Economic Science Fictions to Labour as Commons

On Friday 21st June 2019 the Alternative Organisations and Transformative Practices cluster held a 1-day conference entitled “From Economic Science Fictions to Labour as Commons” in the Town Hall. Attended by 40 academics from around the UK, Europe and beyond, the symposium was co-convened by cluster coordinators, Nico Pizzolato and Daniel Ozarow.

It featured panels that discussed workplace democracy, post-capitalism and a “world café” during which all attendees participated in smaller breakout sessions to debate solutions to contemporary issues and the practicalities of worker-run companies without bosses. Other members of the School who took part included Martin Upchurch who critiqued The Labour Party’s Alternative Models of Ownership document in his paper “The Social and Economic Origins of Utopianism and Workers Control within the British Labour Movement” and Anne Daguerre and Leandro Sepulveda who chaired panels. The Keynote Speaker was Dr Dario Azzellini from Cornell University in the USA.

The conference was widely praised by participants (the majority of whom were from outside Middlesex) for being well organised, enjoyable and for the high standard of the papers.

Solidarity, Antagonistic Economies and Social Enterprises: Spaces for New Initiatives

alternativeThis event was held at Middlesex University, London on 20th March 2019. The podcast for the event is featured in the link here.

Speakers featured in the podcast are:-

– Peter North, Professor of Alternative Economies, University of Liverpool “Towards social, solidarity and antagonistic economies”
– Maria Daskalaki, Professor of Organization Studies, Roehampton University “Post-Capitalist organizing & sustainable organizational forms: Towards self-reproducing alternatives”

This event at Middlesex University explored alternative economic forms that not only put people and the environment ahead of profit, but also focus on the ethical conversations about how we can live with others with dignity in the Anthropocene. Pete North from University of Liverpool looked at how the social and solidarity economy can present novel conceptualisations of what he calls the antagonistic economy. Maria Daskalaki from University of Roehampton examind the spontaneous solidarity economy initiatives that emerged in response to the Global Financial crisis of 2008.

Organised by the Alternative Organisations and Transformative Practices Research Cluster and the Centre for Enterprise and Economic Development Research (CEEDR), Middlesex University, London

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Call for Papers – From Economic Science Fictions to Labour as Commons

Call for Papers – From Economic Science Fictions to Labour as Commons

Alternative Organisations and Transformative Practices (AOTP) at Middlesex University, London is accepting submissions for our 1-day symposium on the 21st of June 2019 at Hendon Town Hall (Committee Room 1) next to the campus. Paper abstracts of 250 words max are accepted, with a deadline by Monday 18th February 2019. We encourage submissions from academics of all stages in their career, including PhD students and overseas colleagues, although please be aware that we are unable to fund costs. Kindly email abstracts to the AOTP Coordinators, Dr Daniel Ozarow and Dr Nico Pizzolato


The global crisis has elicited an acceleration of neoliberal capitalism that has been disastrous for labour. Austerity programmes, market flexibilisation, privatisation, venture capital takeovers of failing firms, casualization, the “gig” economy, and zero hour contracts have intensified the exploitative relationship between labour and capital and exacerbated worker alienation and precariousness. Both as an ideology and a set of practices, neoliberalism has recast capitalism as a pervasive narrative to be internalised and reproduced.

In effect, as suggested by William Davies et al. in the edited anthology Economic Science Fictions (2018), capitalism might be reconceptualised as an eminently fictional form of how social life should be organised that bears little relations to the actual societal needs. For instance, economist Ha-Joon Chang explains how we come to believe that the existing economic reality is scientifically-grounded and ‘natural’, although in fact it is the product of ideologically-driven political decisions, technological change, or influence from institutions or external forces. If is economics is a form of fiction, how can labour emancipate itself from this fiction, return to its essence, and reclaim a non-fictional economy?

Currently, around the globe we have seen the emergence of alternative, non-capitalist production models based on principles of worker democracy, self-management, horizontal decision-making that are emancipatory and solidaristic in nature. Sometimes the consequence of anti-neoliberal uprisings, they may be autonomous of, in direct conflict with, or co-opted by the state. The utopian visions they bring often inspire hope among broader populations or workers, as an alternative to the dystopian path that is often predicted. Diluted versions of such visions are even penetrating the mainstream, with the publication of the British Labour Party’s Alternative Models of Ownership (2017).

Authors such as De Peuter and Dyer-Witheford (2010), Bollier and Helfrich (2012) and Azzellini (2016) propose a solution to this problem through the understanding of ‘labour as a commons’, located in the discussion of how commons can advance the transformation of social relations and society. This is only possible if labour power is no longer perceived of as the object of capital’s value practices, but as a collectively and sustainably managed resource for the benefit of society, obtained via social struggle and the cultivation of examples of forms of ‘labour as a commons’ that already exist in society (or those that have not yet formed).

Call for Papers:

This conference seeks to bring the two parallel literatures of ‘economic science fictions’ and ‘labour as commons’ into dialogue by inviting contributors to submit papers that investigate and analyse how can society move away from this dystopian economic science fiction via the practice of the labour commons.

Papers should contribute to one of the three conference streams:

1) Alternative ways of organizing work, including organizations in the social or solidarity economy
This stream includes research on workers-recovered companies, forms of democratic worker governance of enterprises, employee-ownership, cooperatives and other instances of self-management and self-activity.

2) Critiques of economic science fictions and conceptualisation of alternative theoretical frameworks for modes of work and property relationships, guided by the idea of commons.

3) Responses to emerging forms and control of work, including integration of new technologies and digitalisation
This stream includes research on responses to how technology and digitalisation has reconfigured workplace organisation and the body social through intensified monitoring, surveillance and control . It includes also the impact of automation, cloud computing, big data and the Internet of Things on work systems and relations of production.

BUIRA 2018 special session

The Cluster organised two special sessions at the 2018 BUIRA (British Universities Industrial Relations Association)  conference on Friday 29th June 2018 which examined alternative models of workplace organisation. These included

The history of co-operatives and workers’ control, as well as contemporary debates on public ownership in the context of the Labour Party recent report on ‘Alternative Models of Ownership’. Speakers included Cat Hobbs (Director, We Own It), on “Public versus Private Ownership”, Alan Tuckman on “The Institute of Workers Control”, Stephen Mustchin (Work and Equalities Institute, University of Manchester) on “Workplace Occupations in 1980s Britain,” David Stewart (University of Central Lancashire) on “The Politics of Co-operation”, Richard Croucher (Middlesex University) on “The Mauritian Baitkas: ethnic social tool or driver of the cooperative movement?” and Martin Upchurch on “The Experience of Yugoslav Self-Management”. The two panels were attended by 30 people and generated interesting debate.

A more detailed report, with copies of presentations, can be found here.

Green Jobs and Sustainability

The ‘Alternative Organisations and Transformative Practices’ and ‘Sustainable Development’ research clusters ran a joint event on 22nd March 2018, on the very timely topic: ‘Green Jobs and Sustainability’.

Lisa Schulte (Middlesex University) discussed the ‘Social Sustainability of Jobs in the European Offshore Wind Tur-bine Manufacturing Industry’. Prof. Linda Clarke and Dr. Melahat Sahin Dikmen (ProBE, Westminster University) compared the ‘Challenges of Differing Vocational Education and Training standards across Europe,’ focussing on the Home Insulation Industry, and Dr. Robert Gross(Imperial College) presented ‘ICEPT’s Systematic Literature Review on Net Job Gains and Losses Resulting from Industrial Policies that Support Green Jobs’.

The seminar Chair, Anne Daguerre and the audience raised important questions including: “How far can green sectors be held accountable to the same standards in terms of job quality and quality of vocational education and training as traditional industries?” “Should social sustainability be compromised in favour of economic and environmental sustainability?” “Should job gains or losses be the key rational for or against supporting green industries through subsidies?”

The event was fully booked and attended by 26 academics and non-academics, PhD, MA and BA students from Middlesex University and other institutions including the University of Surrey

a research group at middlesex university

This blog is dedicated to stimulating discussion and debate on how workplaces might be transformed by democratic means and new practices. We look at alternative models including occupations, sit-ins, co-ops and other practical forms of organising work including the psycho-social. Please follow ‘Links‘ above to find reports of conferences, press coverage and written reports. See ‘Academic Articles‘ for papers published on alternatives.


1. To capitalise on the research conducted by colleagues at Middlesex University and to share expertise with a view to establish a dynamic research group over the next couple of years on alternative organizations

2. To improve the external visibility of the research on this topic at the university

Areas of focus

The alternative organizations research cluster brings together researchers at Middlesex University to explore the following areas:

* Alternative ways of organizing work, including organizations in the social and solidarity economy

* New and emerging forms and control of work, including integration of new technologies and digitalisation

* Non-governmental organizations and corporate social responsibility

* Socially responsible development and/or business models

The areas of focus thus encompass both non-traditional, emerging and alternative forms of organizations/work as well as workplace practices. The above topics are explored from a range of perspectives and disciplines, such as employment relations, organization studies, organizational psychology, sociology and political economy.

Professor Martin Upchurch
Dr. Dan Ozarow
Parisa Dashtipour 
Professor Richard Croucher
Dr. Nico Pizzolato
Dr. Sara Calvo (Social enterprise, social innovation and social and solidarity economy. Sara is also a co-founder and director of a social enterprise.)
Dr Geraldine Brennan (Alternative organizational forms and business models, focusing on business model innovation and circular economy (reusable resources, waste minimisation).
Dr Bianca Stumbitz (Sustainable social enterprise models and community businesses.)
Dr Lisa Schulte (Work and environmental and green energy sectors)
Dr Anne Daguerre (The role of the state in workers’ self-management)