This paper proposes an ideal typology, based on Danish cooperative history, of contending ‘spirits’ that inform the establishment of democratically-owned enterprises. Democratic enterprises have in recently been subject of increasing interest from scholars and activists as an alternative to the neoliberal corporation. However, studies on democratic enterprises lack a historical understanding of the constitution of the democratic sector of the economy and an analytical approach todistinguish between different types of democratic enterprises. Drawing on Weberian methodology and using Denmark as historical-empirical vantage point, the paper distinguishes four ideal typical socio-economic motivations for constituting a democratic enterprise: the Proudhonian (liberation from socio-economic domination), Smithian (improving commercial leverage), Polanyian (protection against ravages of market society), and Hirstian (realizing cultural-ideological aims of voluntary associations). The paper uses a recent data set (n = 5,864) measuring the performance of the Danish ‘democratic enterprise sector’ as the starting point to argue that a better informed historical as well as theoretical approach is needed in order to comprehend this increasingly important organizational form. We conclude by discussing the relevance of the findings beyond Denmark, arguing for more appreciation of the history and the potentials of a variegated organizational ecology that combines different socio-economic ideals.
Bibliographical noteEpub ahead of print. Published online: 24 April 2022.
- Workplace democracy
- Democratic enterprises
- Social economy