Cooperative Labor Commons: On the Role of Materiality

Authors: Jacklyn Weier*, Pennsylvania State University
Topics: Economic Geography
Keywords: commons, labor, cooperatives, property
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 39
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Over the last two decades, geographers have used the concept of the commons in increasingly expansive ways. This has included, among other aspects, a growing number of contexts that the language of ‘commons’ is applied to. In thinking about coworking spaces as potential labor commons, this paper argues for a more critical emphasis on materiality, and specifically worker and property relations, when differentiating between liberatory spaces of labor collectivization and the rising tendency of capitalist businesses to co-opt commons rhetoric and ideology. Drawing on fieldwork data from a cooperative community in Virginia, as well as other examples of worker cooperatives, this paper compares the potential theoretical usefulness of ‘labor commons’ in non-capitalist and capitalist contexts, with particular attention to property relations, worker exploitation, and worker subjectivity. In theorizing labor commons, materiality is key in understanding whether coworking spaces and labor commons offer new pathways for worker’s material control and agency or are used as tools to further disenfranchise. By recentering the material rights of workers against capital, as has been the case with anti-capitalist and Marxist theoreticians of the commons, ‘labor commons’ could be useful in exploring emancipatory labor projects, communities, and enterprises outside and beyond capitalist relations.

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