Mapping and Exploring Worker-led Companies as Transformative Labour Geographies in Germany

In the last decades, the socioecological deficiencies of currently prevailing economic structures have become increasingly obvious. This led to increasing scientific attention across disciplines to understand and address these shortcomings. In this regard, perspectives from labour geography and from transformation research point out the relational and diverse character of economic spaces. At this theoretical intersection, the main objective of this PhD project is to analyse the transformative potentials of labour agency by understanding and discussing how workers can contribute to an economic reorganisation beyond growth. For this purpose, the empirical focus is on worker-led companies (WLCs) in Germany as illustrative examples for collective labour agency. Special attention is (i) on context-specific institutional and socioeconomic conditions for WLCs in Germany and (ii) on their transformative strategies. The empirical evidence is grounded in a nationwide survey among German WLCs and a comparative case study between collaborative networks of WLCs in Hamburg and Berlin. Taken together, insights from the survey and the comparative case study demonstrate how workers in German WLCs consciously use their agency to transform work and production structures despite institutional and socioeconomic constraints. This includes an understanding of work and production as collective responsibility (‘labour as commons’). A further transformative potential is disclosed by their application of principles beyond economic growth and profit accumulation. Moreover, collaborative networks of WLCs, conceptualised as ‘worker-led entrepreneurial ecosystems’ (WLEEs) reveal how elements of transformative labour agency reach beyond the scope of a single company. Hence, the presented insights set the cornerstone for a more nuanced view on forms of transformative labour agency that might prefigure more-than-capitalist work practices in a capitalist present.


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