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Innovative Practices For The Coworking Movement Sociology Essay

Info: 5423 words (22 pages) Essay
Published: 1st Jan 1970 in Sociology

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One of the grimmest predictions about the future was described by Robert Putnam in his work on social capital. He envisaged low likelihood of participation in community life, smaller groups of friends, even less happiness, and lower perceived quality of life (Putnam, 1995). Furthermore, the enthusiasts of globalization and internet predicted that since people do not have to be together in order to work together, so simply they will not be (Florida, 2003). Both of these statements are deemed fallacious when recent innovative developments like coworking spaces are considered. Instead of dividing people and further rupturing community life, they reintroduce collaboration and community building through establishing an innovative office design that is being implemented worldwide.

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This paper will be based on theoretical definition of social movement by Mario Diani (2000). The reasoning why this definition is the most useful will be presented in following sections. Then, Diani's (2000) defining attributes will be applied to coworking as a movement, and from this analysis, the conclusion will naturally flow that the following thesis is supported: coworking can be seen as a social movement because it satisfies its definitional elements i.e. networks of informal integration, shared beliefs and solidarity, and collective action. For the analysis of coworking, mixed methodology will be used: informal observation and interviews at three coworking spaces: betahaus Berlin, Hub Amsterdam, Coworking Cologne, and one emerging coworking space - Hub Berlin. Additionally, available secondary sources will be analyzed: research and case studies present in literature, internet network data, websites, and forums. The focus will be, however, on the internet sources due to the novelty and continuous transformations of the movement.

Coworking has been present for centuries, but the first forms of collaboration appeared in the beginning of the 20th century. Artists from around the world gathered in Paris to live and work. One of the establishments, La Ruche, was created by Alfred Boucher to accommodate live/work space for artists. The place became a community and was centred on work of its residents (Jones, Sundsted, & Bacigalupo, 2009). Bizzarri (2010) mentions "associated offices" that appeared in United States of America during the crisis of 1929. These offices gathered workers from the same or various professions working in one office as a cost-cutting strategy. She links the crisis of 1929 to the recession of 2008 as a catalyst of bourgeoning coworking spaces around the world (Bizzarri, 2010).

The term "coworking" was first used by Bernie DeKoven in 1999 to describe virtual connectivity i.e. online tools of collaboration (DeKoven, 2000). In a context of a physical space, it was used by Brad Neuberg in 2005 (Alas, 2010) even though coworking spaces, in fact, already existed before that time. The vigorous spread of coworking did not start until the already mentioned crisis of 2008. Nowadays, it is extremely hard to assess the size of the movement with different incarnations of coworking emerging. For example, Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto was launched in 2004 and merges both coworking philosophy and multi-tenant nonprofit centre principles (Centre for Social Innovation, 2010).

What exactly is coworking? It can be used in three different ways as Jones, Sundsted, and Bacigalupo (2009) state:

"[As] a proper noun to describe a movement 'the core values of coworking are...'

A verb to describe an activity 'I'm coworking with my friends at local cafe.'

An adjective to describe a space 'Souk is a coworking space in Portland'" (p. 8).


Coworking movement has many principles that are shared between its members. The main value is that coworking spaces are about social connectedness, gathering, sharing, and collaborating. There are, however, a number of conditions that must be satisfied, in order for a viable coworking space to operate. Jones, Sundsted, and Bacigalupo (2009) describe it as a coworking recipe:

"Start with community. Blend like-minded people of different backgrounds together thoroughly. Add openness. Share ideas, thoughts, knowledge and problems in equal parts. Sprinkle collaboration on top. Ingredients will meld together to create new flavour. Add healthy amounts of sustainability. This will help maintain the recipe's structure and prevent it from falling apart. Wrap in accessibility. Make sure all ingredients are given proper opportunity to interact. Enjoy!" (p. 15)

The movement build on such principles also is directed against isolation that streams from the type of work the coworkers are performing. Usually, it is some form of knowledge creation, data transformation, or a creative industry-related work. Sometimes, the members of the movement express unacceptability of corporate culture and its work structure (typical 9-5 jobs in artificially separated cubicles). Coworking as a movement has either outspoken or implied social change as a value. First of all, it is changing work/live relationship, and leads to sustainability in many ways. Second, the coworking members work often on projects related to social innovation and change. The honourable mention of social change-related coworking spaces is network of the Hubs (Centre for Social Innovation, 2010) [2] .

Bizzarri (2010) underlines that one of the innovative factors of coworking is "the sociality of the work and the value of relations face to face" (p. 204). This aspect is crucial in coworking movement, because its enthusiasts aim at creating a thriving community rather than simply a workplace.


As previously mentioned, coworking incorporates individuals with mostly knowledge creation type of work and designers or artists. In most cases, they are not employed by the same organization, but sometimes small businesses are a part of a coworking space. Additionally, there is a high degree of independent work involved, but there is also a collaboration factor. People from different professions and types of work engage in dialogue, exchange ideas, and add an interesting perspective to problems defined by others, in order to create innovative ideas and become more productive. Coworking space becomes a place where unlimited intellectual resources are stored, and it multiplies one's network of professional and informal connections which is beneficial to individual work life and mental health.

Various individuals have different patterns of use of coworking spaces. Freelancers sometimes need only a desk with internet connection and a telephone. Artists might need bigger space and flexibility. Some might use coworking spaces on a full-time or part-time basis, and some only for once in a while drop-in sessions. These offices also target people (so called nomad workers) who travel and frequently change their place of living so they cannot maintain an office. This initiative has also a myriad of occupations, and they include professionals from diverse sectors. Additionally, they come from different organizational structures: start-ups that cannot afford and office yet, small businesses that choose not to have own office, non-profits, freelancers, sometimes individuals that work for large companies as consultants, etc.


The organization of the shared working environment is very important for a proper operation of a coworking office. Hibbert, Kimble, and White (2010) from the School of Architecture and Design at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee wrote an engaging manual on designing a coworking space with a number of technical pointers. In general, it should be flexible and have an open design, so it can accommodate many different events and activities through moving furniture, and separators that play a role of walls. Additionally, coworkers should have access to it at any time of day or night which sometimes is not possible due to security concerns. Coworking spaces usually have following amenities: internet, photocopy and printing, fax machines, mailbox, kitchen facilities, meeting rooms, coffee/tea machines, storage, and sometimes audio-visual equipment. Spaces at different stages of development might not have all of mentioned amenities or have more advance office equipment.

Coworking spaces can accommodate members by offering them private storage place, or sometimes offer them separate office depending on the characteristics of the space. Different patterns of use mean different level of financial contribution for the maintenance of the office. Coworking spaces have a tiered system depending on the amount of time spent at the office, and sometimes the area needed for operations. Usually, coworking spaces do not make a profit, and at times they can run only with the help of grants and subsidies.

Social Movement - Definition

A lot of social and political phenomena have been called social movements in the past, many of them not rightfully. There are so many theories that it is very difficult to pinpoint the exact definition of a social movement. Theoretical frameworks like collective behaviour, relative deprivation, resource mobilization, rational choice, political opportunity structure, new social movement, political process, and framing, all of them define social movements in diverse ways and focus on their different facets (Pickvance, 2003). Many buzz words surround the term social movement: collective action, social change, status quo, and social conflict among others. These terms are themselves difficult to define. Therefore, the plethora of ambiguities allows for calling numerous phenomena social movements, when they are really not.

Mario Diani (2000) in his paper "The concept of social movement" analyzes four different theories in order to find a common thread between them and to arrive at all-encompassing, but yet detailed definition of the notion. The author bases his definition of collective behaviour perspective (Ralph Turner and Lewis Killian), resource mobilization theory (John McCarthy and Mayer Zald), political process approach (Charles Tilly), and new social movements theory (Alain Tourraine and Alberto Melucci). Some of these theories are contradictory in their assumptions and definitional elements. For example, Charles Tilly's definition is very constrictive while it focuses on the excluded as the ones trying to get access to established polity and political process (Tilly, 1978 cited in Diani, 2000) which would be only one type of social movement according to other theories. Melluci (1977, cited in Diani, 2000), conversely, sees them as not always concurrent with political conflict, but that they might be dormant and engaged in cultural production.

Diani (2000) posits that all of these theories focus on different aspects of social movements; resource mobilization theory and the political process approach look at their development rather than the causes of their emergence. New social movement theory tries to place social movements within larger structural and cultural changes (Diani, 2000). Even though these four theories might be different in certain aspects, Diani finds four common threads that all of the theories emphasize:

"Networks of informal interaction

Shared beliefs and solidarity

Collective action on conflictual issues

Action which displays largely outside the institutional sphere and the routine procedures of social life" (p.162)

The last factor, lack of institutionalization, is disputed by Diani, who believes that some degree of institutionalism might play a role in social movement's development while some movement begin in institutionalized organization or maintain the movement in a dormant stage under auspices of an institution still exerting social change and cultural production. Therefore, it is not included in the final definition. Diani presents a caveat that the institutionalization is a factor that should be closely observed because it might overpower the influence of a social movement. Additionally, an important distinction is made: while Sierra Club might be a part of an environmental social movement, itself it is not social movement and should not be regarded as such. Furthermore, political parties fulfill the requirements of Diani's definition, but he underlines that they act at the level of interest representation, and this functional level does not let them to be regarded as social movements. From the discussion on these aspects and other implications of theoretical boundaries, Diani (2000) arrives at following definition:

"Social movements consist in networks of informal interaction between a plurality of individuals, groups and organizations, engaged in a political and/or cultural conflict, on the basis of a shared collective identity" (p. 168).

Diani (2000) disregards a number of characteristics in his definition that are usually associated with social movements i.e. extra-institutional tactics, civil unrest, disruptive political protests, use of power, etc. He claims that these aspects are simply characteristics of the varieties of social movements, and should not be included in the main and all-encompassing definition.

Similar to Diani, definition of Goodwin and Jasper (2009) sees longevity of a movement more important than protests or riots:

"Social movements are conscious, concerted, and sustained efforts by ordinary people to change some aspect of their society by using extra-institutional means. They are more conscious and organized than fads and fashions. They last longer than a single protest or riot. There is more to them than formal organizations, although such organizations usually play a part. They are composed mainly of ordinary people as opposed to army officers, politicians, or economic elites. They are protesting against something." (Goodwin & Jasper, 2009, p. 3)

Therefore, the definitions are comparable and do not invalidate other theorists claims. In some degree, Goodwin and Jasper (2009) put more importance on extra-institutional means, protests, and riots; however, this does not make Diani's claims (2000) unsound, but further strengthens its validity and all-encompassing nature; in effect, this theoretical basis will be used to analyze coworking as a social movement.

Urban Social Movements

Urban social movements are a type of social movements that focus on structural transformation of the urban system and space (Castells, 1977 cited in Pickvance, 2003). Interest in this type of movements has been quite strong, but partially separated from the main discourse on social movements. As Pickvance (2003) discusses, urban social movements theories place emphasis on the effects rather than mobilization factors or the interaction between social movement and political systems. The intrinsic focus of urban social movements theories is the effects of various events, protests, and exposure to given principles and values. Castells (1977, cited in Pickvance, 2003) elaborates that the effects are rather seen in their potential rather than real outcomes. In other words, immediate consequences might be limited and not identifiable; however, changes in consciousness among participants and potential future support may be favourable to the viability of a social movement and the actual long term social changes. For this reason, writing on urban social movements was developing separately from the mainstream discussion on social movements, even though the main influence that contributed to its development was the rise of interest in new social movements. Pickvance (2003) elaborates:

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"Although some writers have classed urban movements as new social movements, more usually urban movements have been categorized as an old social movement like the labour movement, because of the allegedly material character of their demands" (p. 106)

This typological distinction is quite important for the theoretical basis against which social movement might be tested against. It shows that social movements theories are diverse and that they describe approaches that result in dissimilar definitions. This predicament is important when discussing a given social movement that might fulfill the definitional elements of one theory and not the other. It also demonstrates that some social movement theories are developing outside the mainstream theoretical discussion, and a collective attempt at deriving a uniform definition is simply not present or still in very preliminary stages.

Using Diani's definition (2000) presents a number of dangerous predicaments. It might seem too broad and all-encompassing. It puts emphasis on the common threads of the four main theories and presents relatively detailed boundaries of its definitional elements, however, there is still a degree of uncertainty and vulnerability in its possible use. Additionally, there is a tendency to use certain theories for movements with which we agree and different ones with which we disagree. In case of Diani, his definition is general, and different nuances are not accounted for in it, therefore, it might be quite unproblematic to recognize any movement or trend that resembles social movement as one of them.

Application of the theoretical framework

Common elements found by Diani's (2000) in the four main theories of social movements are to be examined in this section and applied to coworking as a potential social movement. Definitional nuances and evidence how coworking serves these elements are to be presented in an organized manner. First, coworking is recognized as built on the basis of networks of informal interaction. Second, shared beliefs of coworking as a movement are discussed: what they are and how they are implemented. Third, it will be shown to that extent social movements partake in collective action on conflictual issues and potential conflicts and adversaries will be identified. Finally, the relationship of the movement with institutional aspect and routine procedures of social life will be examined. Even though this last theme is not included in the final definition presented by Diani (2000), its evaluation is essential while it helps assessing coworking as a social movement against the theories that value lack of institutionalization as an important feature of the definition.

Networks of informal interaction

First element of the definition concerns the relationship between its members: "[it] is a network of informal interactions between a plurality of individuals, groups, and/or organizations" (Diani, 2000, p. 8). All thinkers in Diani's analysis realize the importance of networks. Also Goodwin and Jasper (2009) and Castells (1977, cited in Pickvance, 2003) recognize informal interaction between people as an important requirement for a social movement. Especially, McCarthy and Zald (1977, cited in Diani, 2000) talk about different categories that characterize the organization of social movements: they mention social movement organizations, constituents, adherents, and bystander publics, all of them important members adding to the social movement. Diani (2000) characterizes this element as:

"Tightly clustered networks which promote the circulation of essential resources for an action (information, expertise, material resources) as well as of broader systems of meaning. Thus, networks contribute both to creating the preconditions for mobilisation and to providing the proper setting for the elaboration of specific world-views and life-styles" (p. 163).

Theorists in the recent time were discussing a lot about information flows in a network society. Castells (2001, cited in Bizzarri, 2010) pointed to the information and communication technologies as changing the relation between discretion and control in the organization of working. The most focus is placed on "the value of knowledge, the role of knowledge as capacity of action, the openness, the mobility, the collaboration, the accumulation of social and cultural capital, the flexibility of workers to adapt their skills to different situations and jobs" (Bizzarri, 2010, p. 198). Many pointed this innovativeness and its importance in workplaces. This notion is recently present everywhere, governments switch to network governance, participatory decision making, and horizontal collaboration. In this organizational setup, people from different sectors, organizations, occupations, and departments work together (citation needed somewhere here). A lot of these collaboration methods are centered on the abilities of information and communication technologies. Coworking is based on this idea. It brings people with different experiences to a common space to work and socialize, but the technology is only a tool not a mean in coworking space. Centre for Social Innovation (2010) in the booklet Emergence stresses the importance of relying on a network as a strategy of well operating coworking space. The organizational design is structured on production, distribution, and access of information, all of the members of the space are supposed to learn from each other. It resembles a bit wikipidia model, or open-source software, where all of the interested individual contribute to create and accomplish bigger projects. Coworkers work on individual work assignments, and such an open structure of their work is simply not possible, however, there exists possibility to constantly consult with other and collaborate on each others project.

People coexist in a physical space and that aspect is very important. Similarly to government-made horizontal collaboration, coworking spaces have usually flat organizational structure (Bizzarri, 2010), therefore there is no decision makers, all of the decisions are made communally. In some spaces, the governance structure might be rather heterarchycal, and it will have some members overseeing certain aspects of a coworking space, so, for example, there will be a person dealing with administrative side of coworking space operations, there might be a communications person, technical maintenance, cleanliness, etc. However, these positions are not introduced in order to create a hierarchy with some people in power or not, but is done to ensure adequate operations of a space.

Many of the changes that are happening in organization theory come from a bigger movement of industrial changes that call for a networked interaction. Wilson (1995) underlines that "the geography of a new competitive model" is more flexible than mass production and involes creation of netoworks which is "so important to innovation diffusion" (p. 646). In fact, industrial districts that aggregate small and medium sizes enterprises are perfectly able to compete with large commercial firms (Wilson, 1995). This is due to their network character and sharing resources. Even though those firms might be centred in a given geographical region, they are still open for the global influences. Wilson (1995) mentions endogenous development approach which "emphasizes the unique factors of the spatial milieu in which the activity occurs, while at the same time recognising the embeddedness in the larger structures" (p. 649). Coworking is a space that does not enclose the members because their work focuses on external environments: clients, companies they work for, families, and friends. It is a system that brings them together and creates a community that shares many things. Coworking is not only about working in a shared space; it has also a social element to it.

"Endogenous development must include non-economic values - a behavioural and socio-psychological change from homo economicus to homo sociales. John Friedman (1988) reflects the same idea when he calls for a transcendence of the division between life space and economic space" (Wilson, 1995, p. 650).

This is very important for people at coworking spaces. Coworking space is not only a place to work at and collaborate, it is also a place where people become socially involved with each other on a higher level than usual work places. Many coworking spaces have once or twice a week common meals, some of them even introduce that custom daily. This has profound effect on their relations. Addionally, coworking spaces introduce workshops and events that are not targeted at professional development only. They are also open to the community; so for example, they will invite a yoga instructor, or will have workshops on mental health, leadership, good food and living. In some degree, this agrees with Wilson (1995) discussion of regulationist writing that shows that the wage and strength of the union will decrease and more pressure will be focused on human development and less tangible factors than productivity: behaviour, cultural and social changes. In short, it is "the beginning of change from the mechanistic and deterministic to holistic and interconnected" (Wilson, 1995, pp. 653-654). Coworking spaces have this idea embedded in them. They are not workspaces anymore; they are a way of life.

Shared beliefs and solidarity

Social movements are characterized by the fact that its members share beliefs and a sense of belongingness which is definitely visible in coworking spaces. The boundaries of coworking spaces are not defined by the physical borders of the office, but by the collective identity shared by people who are members, visitors or simply supporters of a coworking space. Diani (2000) describes this aspect as:

"Collective identity is both a matter of self- and external definition. Actors must define themselves as part of a broader movement and, at the same time, be perceived as such, by those within the same movement, and by opponents and/or external observers." (p. 164)

Collective identity helps to define the boundaries of the movement, but does not mean that the movement is homogenous. There is still a plethora of ideas, orientation, opinions, and perspectives in the coworking movement that can come from the shear fact that coworkers come from different occupations and are exposed to different theories, experiences, and perspectives.

Citizen Space is one of the first coworking spaces. It was created in San Franscisco by the movement leaders Tara Hunt, Chris Messina and Brad Neuberg. Its website has a section entitled "Our Philosophy" and it contains Collaboration: One of the great benefits of working in a coworking space is that you will meet all sorts of people with all sorts of knowledge. Openness: We believe in transparency and openness. In a world where people are free, but ideas are not, only a few benefit. When ideas are free, everyone benefits. Therefore, we encourage open spaces and discussions. Sorry, no NDAs allowed.Community: We thrive on connections and mutual support here. It is important that everyone give into as well as benefit from the strong (international) community coworking has become. Accessibility: In order to be fully open, we must make the effort to be accessible to all. This means that we endeavor to create both a financially and a physically accessible space. We are committed to this principle and welcome feedback on how we can make it even more accessible.

All of those values are shared between other members of the coworking movement. These are basic principles that spring from the model work that is present in the coworking spaces. Collaboration cannot be closed; it always has an open model. As Wilson (1995) named future innovations as "a new sense of purpose and process on a local level (p. 645), this is in fact what joins those people together in a relatively uniform and with minimum conflict. The people that surround the movement are mostly creative workers that are new leaders in today's economy. They are mostly self-employed people, nonprofits, innovation searching individuals who in turn advance urban movements and economies (Schreck, 2006). This class of people, knowledge creators, Florida (2003) calls the creative class. They drive innovation and current global economic growth trends (Hibbert, Kimble, & White, 2010). They are employed in many professions, but their main purpose is to create new ideas, technology and creative content.

"In addition to changing the landscape of the economy, knowledge creators seek new ways to configure their work environment to promote individuality and allow for more flexibility. They demand the autonomy of working anywhere and the social interaction of a traditional office." (Hibbert, Kimble, & White, 2010, p. 43)

In general, it is the members of creative class who are the most prone to join the coworking movement. Additionally there is a degree of entrepreneurship present in coworking spaces. A lot of members are entrepreneurs, some of them focus on social change. It was the most visible in Hub Amsterdam where the wall of members highlighted the social change focus of its members. Coworking itself is entrepreneurial initiative, and therefore it characterizes its members. Diani (2000) puts a pressure on the entrepreneurial aspects of social movements by citing Gusfield (1981):

"Social movements condition and help constitute new orientations on existing issues, in so far as they contribute to 'the existence of a vocabulary and an opening of ideas and actions which in the past was either unknown of unthinkable' (Gusfield, 1981, p. 325 cited in Diani, 2000, p. 9)

Conclusion Paragraph of this section

Collective action on conflitual issues

Diani (2000) finds that all four theories share also an aspect of collective action on conflictual issues. He writes:

"Social movement actors are engaged in political and /or cultural conflicts, meant to promote or propose social change either at the systemic or non-systemic level" (Diani, 2000, p. 166)

This factor consists of two parts: collective action and conflictual issues and theorists differ in what exactly this means. Some theorists put a specific emphasis on conflict situation as a fundamental element of the concept (Turaine, Melucci, Tilly). Other look at the social movement as leading to social change and that is, according to them, the main aspect of the concept (Turner and Killian, McCarthy and Zald, Pickvance and Castells). There is a number of ways we can understand conflict. It can be a conflict on political, social, or cultural sphere, but it does not necessarily have to engage in an open conflict, protests, and active dispute at the systemic level. It might be also conflict with political decision makers, civil rights dispute, etc., but Diani (2000) also mentions:

"Several authors maintain that the true bulk of social movement experience has to be found in the cultural sphere; what is challenged is not only the uneven distribution of power and/or economic goods, but socially shared meaning s as well, that is the ways of defining and interpreting reality. Social movements tend to focus more and more on self-transformation." (p. 165)

Therefore, social movements focus as well on conflicts that arise in a private sphere, on the individual level. It attacks the way we think about ourselves, our self-definition, and lifestyle choices.

The second part of the actor is collective action which can be understood as some sort of activity that leads to achievement of a goal or a set of goals by more than one person, in this case, a social movement. Diani (2000) does not address the issue whether the activity should be overt and proclaimed. Dormant social movements might not actively engage in open collective action, but might affect individuals in a more covert way, similarly to how Pickvance (2003) describes the effects of urban social movements. This might not be an issue for Diani (2000) however; some caution will be taken when a favourable judgement is granted in the absence of full evidence.

In regards to conflict and collective action, coworking as a social movement has not, in some degree, openly proc


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