Sub-theme 18: Collaborative Dynamics Among and Around Alternative Organizational Forms

Benjamin Huybrechts
emlyon business school, France
Luc K. Audebrand
Université Laval, Québec, Canada
Marcos Barros
Grenoble Ecole de Management, France

Call for Papers

Over the last decades, in the context of considering more sustainable economic practices, there has been growing attention to “alternative” organizational forms (Barin Cruz et al., 2017; Parker et al., 2014). Despite a variety of definitions and foci, most authors suggest that alternative organizational forms are characterized by structures and practices that ‘exhibit values, modes of exchanges, work, ownership and practices that do not follow the logic of capitalist accumulation and profit maximization concentrated in private ends’ (Zanoni et al., 2015: 623). Alternative organizational forms include, for example, cooperatives (Nelson et al., 2016), mutual organizations (Cornforth, 2004), worker-owned enterprises (Esper et al., 2017), or social enterprises (Battilana & Lee, 2014; Defourny & Nyssens, 2006). Among the distinctive characteristics of these economic organizations, we can find: absent or limited distribution of profits (Levi, 2005; Périlleux et al., 2012), democratic and participatory governance (Cornforth, 2004; Spear, 2004), and a primary aim to serve a cause and build a more sustainable society as a whole (Birchall, 2013; Borzaga & Defourny, 2003).
Backed by like-minded social movements such as the environmental, transition, degrowth or Occupy movements (Rao et al., 2000; Reinecke, 2018; Schneiberg, 2013; Sine & Lee, 2009), alternative organizations not only experiment with distinctive organizational forms and practices, they also collaborate to pursue institutional change towards more sustainable, if not “postcapitalist”, economies (Barin Cruz et al., 2017; Parker et al., 2014; Zanoni et al., 2017). To pursue this aim, collaborative practices have emerged and evolved from bilateral collaboration towards multilateral networks and other meta-organizational types (Ahrne & Brunsson, 2004; Berkowitz & Dumez, 2016), in the context of increasingly visible ecosystems termed as the “cooperative”, “solidarity” or “postcapitalist” economy (Frère, 2013; Zanoni et al., 2017). For example, the cooperative principles extend beyond internal governance rules to also include the importance of cooperation among cooperatives (Birchall, 2013; Nelson et al., 2016).
This sub-theme focuses on collaboration and networking dynamics among and around organizations that embody alternative forms. The increasing collective representation and promotion of alternative organizational forms calls for a closer examination of inter-organizational collaboration and meta-organizing for alternative organizations. Extant work has examined the capacity of meta-organizations such as federations and networks to theorize and experiment with alternatives (Gendron et al., 2009), build market positioning and counter the domination of capitalist competitors (Audebrand & Barros, 2018; Davies, 2009), connect with field-level actors to build legitimacy (Huybrechts & Haugh, 2018) and achieve institutional change (York et al., 2016). While some of the roles of collaboration and networking among alternative organizations may be similar to what has been described in the general literature on meta-organizations (Ahrne & Brunsson, 2004), other roles are likely to be shaped by the specific practices and missions of alternative organizational forms. Yet, there has been little research exploring such roles, nor the specific goals and obstacles involved in networking alternative organizations. Similarly, while the literature on inter-organizational collaboration may help to shed light on some features of collaborations among alternative organizations and with other actors such as governments, businesses and social movements, there is a need for more research examining the drivers, obstacles, specific features and challenges of such collaborations.
In this sub-theme, we are interested in exploring a set of questions emerging at the intersection of alternative organizational forms on one hand, and collaboration and networking on the other hand. Relevant questions include, but are not restricted to:

  •  What are the drivers of collaboration among alternative organizations? What is the interplay between drivers related to the mission and drivers of a more economic or strategic nature?

  • What are the obstacles to collaboration among alternative organizations, for example competition dynamics or regulatory contexts? What are the challenges of building collaborations for distinct alternative organizations (e.g., co-operatives, social enterprises, non-profit organizations, community initiatives)?

  • How are collaborations and networks managed and governed when involving alternative organizations? What are the tensions and paradoxes, for example between centralization and horizontal collaboration, or between identity and inclusiveness?

  • What kind of internal capabilities and external factors could favour collaboration and networking among alternative organizational forms (e.g. at personal, organizational, inter-organizational and societal levels)?

  • How do meta-organizations represent and promote the alternative form of their members to the outer world and build their legitimacy? How do they manage the tension of appearing alternative while building legitimacy with established actors (for example industry associations or public authorities)?

  • How do alternative organizations engage in institutional work? To what extent is such work conducted with public authorities, social movements or businesses? What are the opportunities and challenges of collaborating with actors that rely on distinct values, goals or institutional logics?

  • How do alternative organization relate to the social movements that have led to their emergence? What are the opportunities and challenges of such collaborations? What have alternative organizations learned from them?

  • What theoretical lenses may help illuminate collaborative dynamics among and around alternative organizational forms? How does this domain challenge and enrich existing theories, for example on meta-organizations, inter-organizational collaboration, paradoxes and institutional theory?



  • Ahrne, G., & Brunsson, N. (2004): Meta-organizations. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.
  • Audebrand, L.K., & Barros, M. (2018): “All Equal in Death? Fighting inequality in the contemporary funeral industry.“ Organization Studies, 39 (9), 1323–1343.
  • Barin Cruz, L., Aquino Alves, M., & Delbridge, R. (2017): “Next steps in organizing alternatives to capitalism: toward a relational research agenda.” M@n@gement, 20 (4), 322–335.
  • Battilana, J., & Lee, M. (2014): “Advancing research on hybrid organizing: Insights from the study of social enterprises.” Academy of Management Annals, 8 (1), 397–441.
  • Berkowitz, H., & Dumez, H. (2016): “The Concept of Meta-Organization: Issues for Management Studies.” European Management Review, 13 (2), 149–156.
  • Birchall, J. (2013): “The potential of co-operatives during the current recession: Theorizing comparative advantage.” Journal of Entrepreneurial and Organizational Diversity, 2 (1), 1–22.
  • Borzaga, C., & Defourny, J. (2003): “Social enterprises in Europe: a Diversity of Initiatives and Prospects.” In: C. Borzaga & J. Defourny (eds.): The Emergence of Social Enterprise. London: Routledge, 350–369.
  • Cornforth, C. (2004): “The Governance of Cooperatives and Mutual Associations: a Paradox Perspective.” Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics, 75 (1), 11–32.
  • Davies, I. (2009): “Alliances and Networks: Creating Success in the UK Fair Trade Market.” Journal of Business Ethics, 86 (S1), 109–126.
  • Defourny, J., & Nyssens, M. (2006): “Defining social enterprise.” In: M. Nyssens (ed.): Social Enterprise. At the crossroads of market, public policies and civil society. London: Routledge, 3–26.
  • Esper, S.C., Cabantous, L., Barin-Cruz, L., & Gond, J.-P. (2017): “Supporting alternative organizations? Exploring scholars’ involvement in the performativity of worker- recuperated enterprises.” Organization, 24 (5), 671–699.
  • Frère, B. (2013): “The solidarity economy: emancipatory action to challenge politics.” In: R. Jozan, T. Voiturier & S. Sundar (eds.): Reducing Inequalities: A Sustainable Development Challenge. New Delhi: TERI press, 235–249.
  • Gendron, C., Bisaillon, V., & Rance, A. (2009): “The Institutionalization of Fair Trade: More than Just a Degraded Form of Social Action.” Journal of Business Ethics, 86, supplement 1, 63–79.
  • Huybrechts, B. & Haugh, H. (2018): “The Roles of Networks in Institutionalizing New Hybrid Organizational Forms: Insights from the European Renewable Energy Cooperative Network.” Organization Studies, 39 (8), 1085–1108.
  • Levi, Y. (2005): “How nonprofit and economy can co-exist: A cooperative perspective.” Paper presented at the ICA XXI International Cooperative Research Conference, Cork, Ireland, August 2005.
  • Nelson, T., Nelson, D., Huybrechts, B., Dufays, F., O’Shea, N., & Trasciani, G. (2016): “Emergent identity formation and the co-operative: theory building in relation to alternative organizational forms.” Entrepreneurship & Regional Development, 28 (3–4), 286–309.
  • Parker, M., Cheney, G., Fournier, V., & Land, C. (eds.) (2014): The Routledge Companion to Alternative Organization. London: Routledge.
  • Périlleux, A., Hudon, M. & Bloy, E. (2012): “Surplus Distribution in Microfinance: Differences Among Cooperative, Nonprofit, and Shareholder Forms of Ownership.” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 41 (3), 386–404.
  • Rao, H., Morrill, C., & Zald, M.N. (2000): “Power plays: Social movements and collective action create new organizational forms.” In: B.M. Staw & R.I. Sutton (eds.): Research in Organizational Behaviour. New York: Elsevier, 239–282.
  • Reinecke, J. (2018): “Social Movements and Prefigurative Organizing: Confronting entrenched inequalities in Occupy London.” Organization Studies, 39 (9), 1299–1321.
  • Schneiberg, M. (2013): “Movements as political conditions for diffusion: Anti-corporate movements and the spread of cooperative forms in American capitalism.” Organization Studies, 34 (5–6), 653–682.
  • Sine, W D., & Lee, B.H. (2009): “Tilting at windmills? The environmental movement and the emergence of the U.S. wind energy sector.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 54 (1), 123–155.
  • Spear, R. (2004): “Governance in Democratic Member-Based Organisations.” Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics, 75(1), 33–59.
  • York, J., Hargrave, T., & Pacheco, D. (2016): “Converging winds: Logic hybridization in the Colorado wind energy field.” Academy of Management Journal, 59 (2), 579–610.
  • Zanoni, P., Contu, A., Healy, S., & Mir, R. (2015): “Call for papers: Post-capitalistic Politics in the Making: Practices of Alternative Economies.” Organization, 22 (4), 622–626.
  • Zanoni, P., Contu, A., Healy, S., & Mir, R. (2017): “Post-capitalistic politics in the making: The imaginary and praxis of alternative economies.” Organization, 24 (5), 575–588.
Benjamin Huybrechts is Associate Professor in Social and Cooperative Entrepreneurship at emlyon business school, France. His research topics include the emergence of alternative organizational forms, their governance and institutionalization, and the formation of cross-sector partnerships and networks. Benjamin’s work has been published in journals such as ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Journal of Business Ethics’, ‘International Small Business Journal’, and ‘British Journal of Industrial Relations’.
Luc K. Audebrand is Full Professor of Responsible Management and Solidarity Economy at Université Laval, Québec, Canada. His research interests include the management of paradoxes in alternative organizations and collaborative dynamics around alternative meta-organizations. Luc has published articles in ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Journal of Business Ethics’, ‘Academy of Management Learning & Education’, ‘M@n@gement’, and ‘Journal of Management Education’.
Marcos Barros is Associate Professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management, France. His research interests include alternative forms of organization, institutional dynamics, technology and social media, and critical perspectives on change, identity, and resistance. Marcos’ research articles have been published in ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Organization Science’, ‘Organization’, and ‘Journal of Management Inquiry’.