Platform Cooperativism Resource Library


This paper argues that research on the paradoxes in social enterprises should consider both worker cooperatives and a broader range of paradoxes. First, it it argues that worker cooperatives are unique among social enterprises in that they comprise a democratic association, their social venture includes serving their own workers rather than just external groups, and their business and social ventures are mutually constitutive. Next, it outlines how worker cooperatives embody a broader range of paradoxes than has been studied by paradox research on social enterprises thus far. Beyond the alignment tensions between business venture and social mission on which existing studies have focused, worker cooperatives also have interest alignment tensions between qualitative and quantitative performance measurement, belonging tensions between communality and individuality, organizing tensions between hierarchy and democracy, and learning tensions between joining and remaining alternatives to mainstream capitalism. Based on all of the above, the paper then considers how the framing of paradox studies into social enterprises could be updated to consider more radical alternative economic models and types of paradoxes while requiring social mission to be more central. Finally, the paper proposes future directions for research into alternative organizations based on this updated framing, outlining the concrete ways in which each type of tension often manifests in alternative organizations and calling for these tensions to be assessed at different scales or even questioned entirely.

Added August 17, 2023