Call for abstracts: Engaged research and democracy at work

2022-12-15

In international comparison, the Nordic region has been and is an oasis of democracy, the rule of law and welfare for all. Ideas about welfare, justice and democracy have also left their mark on Nordic work life.
Work life was also the first arena for action research in the Nordic countries, exemplified by industrial democracy experiments in Norway in the early 1960s. And right from the start, much of the action research in Scandinavia has in various ways been oriented towards the democratization of work life.

At the organizational level, Nordic work life, when contrasted with the rest of the world, is generally regarded as decent and democratic. It is characterized by regulations for the involvement and participation of employees. This includes management principles that observe the values and norms of participation and democracy. Furthermore, action research has contributed to the perception of the development of Scandinavian organizations and work life as very much a democratization process, which not only concerns work life but also society, welfare, and welfare institutions.

As the years have passed, and both work life, society and action research have developed further, the picture is more diverse. Action research is caried out in many different types of collaborative ventures and in many parts of society. And it may also be the case that action research is not always explicitly oriented towards promoting or studying democracy and democratization.

The importance and function of broad participation in democracy is perhaps most clearly argued by Carole Pateman in her book Participation and democratic theory. Pateman criticized the general theory of democracy (Schumpeter, Dahl and others) for legitimizing elite power on the basis of an essentially false observation about the apathy and incompetence of 'the many'. According to Pateman, this is a circular argument that promotes a vicious circle of democratic deficit. Making people passive naturally produces passivity and apathy. There is a causal link between political participation (or the lack of it) and the kind of social capacity people have.

Just like Pateman's idea of democracy, action research has given participation a central place and drawn similar conclusions. It was most simply formulated by Philip Herbst that “The product of work is people”. Besides manufacturing products and delivering services, organizations form the people working in them. We are created by the work processes we are involved in, including our capacities for participation and democracy.

In the second generation of action research in work life reform, a subsequent shift was made towards industrial democracy as a process, i.e. participation and democratization in developing organizations and processes of change, with democratic dialogue as a local generative mechanism for people to reconstruct working conditions. This also implied a push for more openness and the democratization of research processes themselves. To what extent is democracy in the process of research and change important for enabling democracy at work? How can action research as a medium for the participation of people in work life make a difference?

Casting a retrospective view on the development of work life democracy, Bjørn Gustavsen et al. state that not only does the way work is organized (with its opportunities for participation) play a role in human and societal development, but also that what an organization can achieve from participation is not a given result, but something that can be developed. However, organizational development systematically linking employee well-being and productivity with a high degree of influence, participation and autonomy seems to have lost normative momentum and terrain.

In today's debates we hear about the need for a more flexible, dynamic and ever-changing work life due to climate adaptations, digitalization, new technologies, platform economy and fluctuating world markets. Neo-liberal modernization, which focuses on reforms, documentation and optimization of the use of resources is on the rise. This challenges the relationship between time, development and learning in organizations and society to adopt a faster and more top-down, rigid form. Very aptly, German sociologist Hartmut Rosa describes this societal development as sequence of unrelated episodes, pointing out that work life and social practice have become a sequence of unrelated episodes leaving no time to reflect on learning or developmental perspectives, or to learn by experience. The democratization of work life and society is challenged by temporal acceleration, a weakened degree of organisation, the rise of precarious work and increasing inequalities.

We consider a revitalized and strengthened democracy, open to change, to be a goal that is agreed upon, but contemporary developments in organizations, work life and society point to a complexity that calls for the renewal and development of the knowledge base, in order to revitalize the Scandinavian traditions of engaged research and work life democratization.

What is the state of democracy today, in society, but also in work life and in academia? What are its opportunities and strengths, and what is threatening democracy? To what extent can engaged research play a significant role in supporting, understanding and renewing democracy today? This is what we wish to elucidate in this special issue of Research and Change.

Contributions to the special issue may address such themes and questions as:

  • Can democracy at work be reinvented, or do other participatory streams in society offer a stronger base for research to engage in revitalizing democracy in society?
  • How can research address and change institutional barriers and challenges regarding democracy at work (for example, in relation to forms of organization, leadership, audit culture, technologies, profit orientation)?
  • What are the challenges and dilemmas related to internal democratic standards in academia and in research committed to enabling the reform of working life moving towards more democratic patterns?
  • In researching and supporting democracy at work and in different societal contexts, what theories of democracy or participation are used, or implicitly assumed, as norms and visions of a better work life and community?
  • How can research engaged in revitalizing and/or strengthening democracy at work meet contemporary wicked problems at work related to globalisation, migration and climate change?

Practical information

Editors of this issue:

Mia Husted, Reader, University College Copenhagen, Denmark

Erik Lindhult, Assistant Professor, Mälardalen University, Sweden

Johan Elvemo Ravn, Professor, NORD University, Norway

Deadlines:

  • Submission of abstracts/proposals: February 20, 2023 (shortly thereafter the editors will assess the abstracts and decide whether the abstracts are accepted or not).
  • Submission of full manuscripts: June 1, 2023
  • Review process: June-August, 2023
  • Final paper submission: October 1, 2023
  • Publication: December 2023

Language: Abstracts (as well as articles) can be submitted in Danish, Norwegian, Swedish or English.

Length: Max 500 words. The author should describe the projected structure and content of the article and cover the following points (in the order relevant to the article):

  • Aims
  • Conceptual/theoretical framework
  • Research design/methodology
  • Results
  • Limits/boundaries
  • Research and/or practical implications
  • Contribution to the development of knowledge

Abstracts must be uploaded to the journal's digital platform. You must register as a user to upload. Please note that usernames must not contain capital letters or spaces. If you have any questions, please contact: Editorial Assistant, Signe Kierkegaard Cain: sica@kp.dk