Re-articulating Autonomy and Solidarity. The Case of Smart: The Largest European Network of Freelance Cooperatives


This article explores how workers' autonomy is supported by Smart, the largest network of freelance cooperatives in Europe. Based primarily on ethnographic data, we argue that this case shows that workers' autonomy is not necessarily linked to being self-employed but can actually increase in the transition from the status of self-employed to that of salaried employee. In particular, we define Smart as an alternative organisation and show how over the years it has shaped spaces of autonomy for freelancers by also being able to combine autonomy with innovative forms of solidarity. In doing so, we argue that supporting autonomy has an 'alternative' potential only if we adopt a relational conception of autonomy. In the case study analysed, we show that Smart members manage to benefit from enhanced autonomy and forms of solidarity through the construction of a series of relationships, in particular with: (i) welfare institutions through the co-operative; (ii) the co-operative's staff; and (iii) other freelance members of the cooperative. This leads us – in studying a case of alternative organisation – to call for Critical Performativity projects conducted through activist ethnography, a methodological framework based on a constructive approach towards the research objects, and on interpersonal research practices, where the internal knowledge of a specific organisation is combined with the knowledge of organisational scholars in a fully collaborative research effort.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i20356609v17i1p210

Keywords: Autonomy; Cooperative; Cross-national ethnography; Freelancers; Solidarity

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