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Building Consciousness: The Organization Workshop Comes to a Nicaraguan Cooperative

Josh Fisher, High Point University

Abstract Based on ethnographic research conducted in Nicaragua in 2007 during the early phases of the building of an industrial cotton spinning cooperative called Ge ´ nesis, this article recounts an implementation of the Organization Workshop (OW), a largescale enterprise-building and employment-generation workshop based on the ideas of Brazilian scholaractivists Clodomir Santos de Morais and Paulo Freire. The story of the Ge ´ nesis OW, however, is not one of success. In fact, following the 40-day ‘‘conscientization’’ workshop, the cooperative entered into a period of upheaval, ultimately leading to the ousting of the cooperative’s leadership. As a way of explaining some of the unexpected consequences of the OW, I point to the disjuncture between the actually existing social and organizational dynamics of Ge ´ nesis before the implementation of the OW and the OW’s model for them. Keywords: consciousness, capacitation, cooperatives, Organization Workshop, enterprise development Introduction Roger Durham grabbed his coffee mug, pushed away from his computer, and, for the second time on this particular October morning, began to navigate the mossy stepping stones leading away from the small, three-room concrete building that is the main office of the Center for Sustainable Development (CSD) in Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua. A blue sedan pulled through the gate and parked next to an old rust-hulk structure, which was at one point a 1987 Chevy pickup truck. ‘‘Shit,’’ exhaled Roger, coming to a full stop. ‘‘He’s early.’’ As he started toward the car, a mustachioed man with a large, round face emerged, clutching a tattered leather briefcase, and Roger’s demeanor suddenly changed. Through his white beard he flashed a friendly and relaxed smile, bellowing in natural Nicaraguan Spanish without a hint of the North Carolina accent of his native tongue: ‘‘Tobı ´as, „co ´ mo te va, amigo? We’re just arranging things in the office. Can I organize a cup of coffee for you in the meantime?’’ The Organization Workshop (OW) – or, as it is called in Spanish, Laboratorio Organizacional del Terreno – is a 40-day employment-generation and enterprisebuilding workshop that was born in Brazil in the Volume XXXI, Number 2

1960s, heavily shaped by Paulo Freire’s pedagogy, and that has since come to be widely implemented by development organizations as small as CSD and as large as the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the UN Development Program (UNDP). Despite these credentials, however, the OW was not Roger’s highest priority, nor even something that he knew very much about. Rather, it fell under the heading of ‘‘distracting side project,’’ which, whenever possible, he and his organization attempted to avoid and certainly would have in this case, too, if it were not for a favor collected upon by a colleague who happened to be invested in the model. Months before, CSD agreed to turn one of their main sustainable development initiatives – a burgeoning cotton-spinning cooperative employing 45 men and women called Ge ´ nesis – into a test case for the first OW in Nicaragua. Tobı ´as’ arrival marked the workshop’s imminent inauguration. Although the details of what, exactly, the workshop was going to entail had long been lost amid a sea of emails and a carpet of sticky notes spread across the shared desk space in the small NGO’s rather unpretentious office, the basic idea was clear enough. As Roger had understood it, the OW is a workshop that provides training in the ideology and practice of cooperativism by problematizing and dismantling the ‘‘artisan consciousness’’ (conciencia artesanal) of the cooperative’s membership, equipping them instead with the more sophisticated and flexible worker’s ‘‘organizational consciousness’’ (conciencia organizacional) – defined, in contrast to the former, as the comprehensive technical, social, communicative, and organizational ‘‘mentality’’ that a group of people requires in order to work together and run a collectively owned enterprise. On the ground, this basic schematic ideally translates into short-term, relatively largescale workshops that emphasize an interactive and pragmatic pedagogy, following Freire, in which participants ‘‘learn by doing.’’ Proponents of the workshop claim that OW’s method of organizational conscientization – often referred to as ‘‘capacitation’’ (capacitacio ´ n) during the workshop itself – is not only the most compelling implementation of Freire’s idea of conscientization to date, expanding its scope beyond the limits of literacy into the vital realm of economic development, it is also a ‘‘proven’’ (Carmen 2000:47) solution for overcoming the many obstacles 71

& 2010 by the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved.

Rather. not to mention those that sneak up unexpectedly from the outside. a 40-day workshop in which the original. such as in the case of microlending (e.’’ of participants. As an outsider himself. regardless of social identity.g. In the second part. While the small NGO of only eight permanent staff members welcomed experimentation with new. and spirit of cooperativism within the emerging industrial cotton-spinning cooperative called Ge ´ nesis. Brodkin 2007). All rights reserved. I move on to examine the broader social and cultural context in which the 72 & 2010 by the American Anthropological Association. Karim 2008). and still others have taken the form of social movements. 1998). he and his associates often championed workplace democracy as the only road to social sustainability. without which even a democratic and worker-owned enterprise would still only exist as a shared idea. the cotton gin. one of the consequences of my impromptu involvement with the OW was that Volume XXXI. included the idea of ‘‘instilling consciousness. what is organizational ‘‘consciousness’’ that it can be instilled through a workshop? And what does a workshop like the OW provide that its participants are not already equipped to do on their own terms? In the long shot. the OW belongs to a larger set of projects of social transformation. stated goal was to generate the knowledge. or the cultivation of new political subjectivities through activism (e. I do not see this as a significant limitation. I was also solicited by the project’s funders to conduct a formal assessment of the workshop. This article is based on my experiences working as the gerente te ´ cnico (technical director) of the OW in Ciudad Sandino. alternative. While many of these projects have historically drawn on state resources. Nicaragua. Of course. in one way or another.g. I learned about the model of the OW as cooperative members did. at the same time their experiences in organizing and supporting a number of cooperatives in Nicaragua over the previous 15 years stirred in them a measure of skepticism toward any approach promising to be a magic bullet. efficiency. and competitiveness’’ (Ong 2006:4). Roger soon tracked me down to do some delegating. organizing a cooperative is a very messy task that involves dealing in pragmatic terms with all of the issues that can arise within a heterogeneous group of people. It was for this reason that Roger not-sosecretly expressed hesitation about the palabrerı ´a (hot air) of consciousness as the OW’s object of development. while seeking at the same time to build a kind of collective consciousness based in the management of collective resources (Carmen and Sobrado 2000). as well as from the questions and concerns that cooperative members themselves posed: What does a democratic and participatory enterprise – an enterprise in which resources are held in common and governed in common – need in order to succeed in the long run? If ‘‘organization’’ is frequently a barrier to the success of such enterprises. a task that I chose to approach using the ethnographic tools of participant observation and focused individual and group interviews. In the capacity of the technical director. The OW stands out among many of the more powerful currents in contemporary politics and economics as a project that focuses squarely on economic issues of distribution. . Many of these projects meaning (A also attempt. political. believing the development industry to be highly problematic. and my research questions emerged gradually from the numerous debates and conversations that I witnessed (and sometimes instigated). it hardly came as a surprise when. In the first part. gains traction in social reality. whether in terms of the ‘‘market principles of discipline. he believed his time would be much better spent on the task of furnishing the cooperative with its own productive machinery (e. I briefly summarize the principles of the OW and its concept of consciousness that have informed its implementation over the past 40 years.’’ From the perspective of CSD. such as in the case of large-scale economic development... This article focuses on the active role of consciousness within the model of the OW as well as the complications and contradictions that arise when the concept. This. The problem was that he simply did not believe that it could be engineered by technicians who did not count themselves as members of the group undergoing transformation. Thus.1 To say that CSD staff members were unenthusiastic about the project is perhaps an understatement. as Tobı ´as pulled his car through the gates. or ‘‘mentalities. others have depended on the wide reach of civil society initiatives like NGOs. to intentionally modify the subjective states. for which CSD had for a solid year been trying to secure funding). As an adherent of sustainable community development. currently involved in organizing groups of people into collectivities for the purposes of specific social. often initiated from afar. successfully and unsuccessfully. Number 2 I could not go about the project with the kind of research design that many cultural anthropologists are accustomed to having in place well in advance of their fieldwork. of course.Anthropology of Work Review to a democratic organization of the workplace and for cultivating a cooperative ‘‘culture of productivity’’ (Porter 2000:25). pointing to my higher tolerance for abstractly ‘‘academic’’ pursuits. and economic causes. mentality.g.. emerging from the level of the grassroots and calling to their aid shared identity or shared domains of ´ lvarez et al. and especially grassroots approaches to economic development. on the 1st of October 2007. it was not that he denied the importance of an equitable and democratic workplace – indeed.

the workshop’s methods register a general critique against mainstream development paradigms and the top-down organization of power and authority. De Morais’ method.e. and access to credit has even been elevated to the level of a basic human right (Yunus 2006).. the notion that development is properly done by empowering individuals and families in the market is supported by the concomitant drive to liberate development from the ineffectuality of the state (Rocha and Cristoplos 1999. In microcredit. is indelibly marked by the friendship that the two scholar-activists subsequently formed. Backed in recent years by the broad ideological shift of neoliberalism. that are largely responsible for the currently unequal distribution of wealth and power in the world. capital (i. Amid accusations of graft and dishonesty. workshops enlist at the very least 40 people. In the months following the workshop. they may themselves critically engage and transform the organizational conditions of their collective. They may undergo a fundamental change in thinking. incapable as it is of effecting structural change or giving rise to formal-sector enterprises that are large enough to carve out a competitive edge for themselves in the global marketplace (Gulli 1998). Without sustained intervention by technicians.e. working lives. Some developers have therefore preferred the route of cluster and cooperation initiatives. I show that Ge ´ nesis cooperative members developed socially. the OW is a model that emphasizes the importance of large-scale firms. for example. moreover. could become a successful entrepreneur. In sharp contrast to the OW’s presumption that identifiable mentalities of work form characteristic sets the world over.e. who identified a problematic pedagogy as an oppressive instrument of consciousness. I give an ethnographic account of the OW’s implementation. or 73 & 2010 by the American Anthropological Association. Similar to Freire (1970). All rights reserved. which instead emphasize the importance of enhancing the position of whole groups (Colloredo-Mansfeld and Antrosio 2009). when people instead maintain control over the instruments of organization. Abbink et al. but for lack of credit. collective enterprises. According to de Morais. the originator of the model. as a wedge by which the leaders secured their status over and above the collectivity. In fact. In microcredit lending strategies. and historically particular organizational strategies – their own ‘‘organizational style’’ – in the early stages of the enterprise’s formation. as reflected in the OW. Finally. Rather. culturally. however. In the broad spectrum of enterprise-building initiatives. . de Morais argues that one of the central problems in the development industry has been the fact that development projects are inscribed in concrete relations of power such that a privileged class of people (i. on the ground. 2006). ‘‘technicians’’ or ‘‘specialists’’) deprive target populations of control over the instruments of their own development (Carmen and Sobrado 2000). focusing especially on some of its unintended consequences. This scale is not. Background: Consciousness and Organizational Consciousness One question that has repeatedly vexed development specialists has been whether poverty alleviation initiatives should chart their course through individualist entrepreneurial activity or the more complex and demanding route of large-scale. moreover. development specialists have also recognized the limitations of the small-scale lending model. in the third part. however. who was the former prison cellmate of Paulo Freire during the 1964 Brazilian coup. this is problematic because the approach tends to reproduce the hierarchies of the dominant social order – hierarchies. Snow and Buss 2001). Number 2 structures of joint liability as group members exert social pressure on one another and ensure that payoffs reach a greater number of people (Rahman 2001. a large faction of Ge ´ nesis members mobilized to successfully oust the cooperative’s leadership who had been charged with the task of administering the OW. learning). de Morais also observes. the model of the OW is premised on the idea that.Anthropology of Work Review Ge ´ nesis OW was staged. Hence. the individual is often hailed as a figure who.. at the cost of a democratic methodology. that is. which in theory draw on the social ties between borrowers in order to create stabilizing Volume XXXI. At the same time. These cooperative members pointed to the leadership’s use of the terminology of the workshop. The roots of the OW harken back to Clodomir Santos de Morais. redistribution). Along the lines of Freire’s critique of the ‘‘banking concept of education’’ (1970:58) – the problematic dynamic in which the teacher is imagined to ‘‘deposit’’ knowledge in the learner by process of extension – the OW’s use of the terms capacitation (capacitacio ´ n) and conscientization (concienciacio ´ n) suggest that real development cannot consist in a mere transfer of skills (i. well prior to the OW’s implementation of the paradigm of artisanal and organizational consciousness. development projects frequently fail because the intended beneficiaries are either insufficiently invested in the initiative’s success or estranged from the organizational know-how that would allow them to sustain its success in the long term. having no upper limit to the number of people who may participate. the cooperative entered into a period of upheaval.. following Freire. development specialists work hard to establish group lending rules. including the language of consciousness (conciencia). and they may experience a renewed sense of ownership and control over their own futures. for example.

according to de Morais. This all makes more sense when one first considers the notion of consciousness that is at work in the OW.’’ development-inducing strategies that Raff Carmen (1996) refers to as ‘‘projectile projects. autonomy. Luria.. reflects the idea that people may realize their own. not only over the means of production but also over the instruments of the consciousness of the group. such as Coopesilencio in Costa Rica and the Guaymas complex in Honduras.e. are perfectly capable of effecting change in their own lives. narrowly defined. and the lumpen neither work nor have the desire to work.’’ In the words of Branco Correia. Perhaps the most illuminating aspect of the Ge ´ nesis OW.. On the other. empowerment) from one party to another.e. . de Morais describes consciousness in terms of the ‘‘mental organizational structures. Some workshops have resulted in notable successes. small producer activities). in other words.. On the one hand. for example. and the UNDP (Carmen and Sobrado 2000). following Freire’s pedagogy. these artisans universally need to change their habits of thinking.Anthropology of Work Review power (i. organizational consciousness is not ‘‘instilled’’ (i. de Morias’ typology is informed by the idea of ‘‘objective activity’’ (Deyatel’nost) first developed by the Russian social psychology school of Vygotsky. however. that one gains from the experience of one’s daily work activities. it would seem that participants have at their disposal the tools of their own liberation and.. material conditions) which teaches and makes participants organizationally ‘‘literate. In the OW. Erazo 2000). such as that of Thompson’s (1966.e. self-sufficiency. de Morais’ idea of consciousness is similar to a structural Marxist reading insofar as it posits a nearly direct line of causation with one’s class position within a social formation. is that the peasant’s problem is the very nature of their artisan (i. given a framework in which they may critically approach the material and organizational conditions of their existence. however. and Eastern Europe and with the active participation of international development organizations such as the UN Food and Agricultural Organization. Wertsch 1981. which recognizes a very great degree of historical and cultural contingency. like real development. e. Theoretically speaking. Leacock 1971). it is ‘‘the object’’ (i. Africa. In fact. isolated (i. spontaneity.2 On the ground..e. in other words. This kind of ‘‘artisan consciousness’’ would preclude them from running a factory even if they had at their disposal the necessary means of production. for de Morais. On the one hand. ‘‘only in the total surrender of the bicycle to the learner can the capacitation in bicycle-riding be fully achieved’’ (2000:46). Many other implementations of the OW have been doomed to obscurity. and self-sufficient (i. Branco Correia 2000. inimical as they are to efficiency. in order to succeed in the marketplace. Lave and Wenger 1991). the ILO. making it difficult to discern the true contribution of the model in the world of development. and control. noncomplex). Yet... Lewis 1966. the OW has been staged dozens of times in settings as diverse as Central and South America. very far from the kind of antireductionist reading often embraced by anthropologists. nonsocial). the ‘‘Object’’ (de Morais 1987. but rather the unintended consequences that have originated in large part from the space between the actual existing social and 74 & 2010 by the American Anthropological Association. the OW thus attempts to eliminate all tendencies toward the ‘‘vices’’ of individualism.e. wherein consciousness is conceptually enclosed within a dynamic envelope of subject-object interactions with ‘‘material reality. these concepts form a set of problematic ‘‘interventionalist.e. the relevance of the OW. for de Morais.’’ ‘‘extensionalist. the OW does not employ teachers to impart such lessons. In fact. Rather. Sobrado 1999. de Morais seems to glide over the experiences of particular people with an attitude of inevitability. and other artisanal behavioral forms. and capacitation. is not its success or failure. transferred to the target population) so much as it arises organically from the ‘‘ideal conditions’’ (Sobrado 2000:22) that the workshop creates. organizational potential and take initiatives toward finding solutions to their own problems. it also seems to be the case that. and so it follows that. according to their own schedules). workers are accustomed to living by some form of work that involves a more or less complicated division of labor. treating the resistance of artisans. as well as many of the Landless Workers’ Movement’s (MST) claims in Brazil during the 1980s (Barrantes 1998. On the whole.e. heretofore untapped.g. 1991). peasants are also somewhat antichange. needs to be reconsidered from the ground up. Number 2 is habitually ‘‘simple’’ (i. trapped within the stubborn ‘‘bad habits’’ of thought and work (cf. which form characteristic sets: artisans are accustomed to being self-sufficient and involved in the production of a particular good from beginning to end. and Leont’ev. How this apparent contradiction has played out in the praxis of the OW is of course not knowable in theoretical terms alone..’’ or ‘‘habits’’ of thought. whether by dint of social assistance or poverty alleviation. De Morais’ idea of consciousness is. the fact that the organization of their work Volume XXXI. then. is about genuine ownership. All rights reserved. Over the past 40 years.’’ Development.’’ that is. Real power. The basic principle of the OW in this respect is that it is possible to intentionally modify the consciousness of the peasant and thus enable the ‘‘cross-cultural transition from the artisanal (small producer) to the industrial (complex ‘worker’) mode’’ (Sobrado 2000:23). to the conceptual structures of the market as their basic inability to adapt. Rather.

Anthropology of Work Review organizational dynamics in the Ge ´ nesis cooperative before the workshop. to develop effective administrative. even mentality that members gained. All rights reserved. the role of the NGO in the early stages of the enterprise was to provide the necessary training. Even before they were part of Ge ´ nesis. With this necessary background. The initial months of Ge ´ nesis’ precooperative phase solidified that organizational knowledge while also creating ample opportunity for new organizational experiences. and economic realm. or. cultural. however. CSD envisioned socias as doing the bulk of the legwork in building the cooperative from the ground up. the principal and immediate objective of this project was to generate a sustainable. it consisted of a group of 18 women from Ciudad Sandino whom CSD had recruited to be the founding members. Volume XXXI. They possessed various professional. and the OW’s model for those dynamics.’’ remarked Jasmine. From CSD’s perspective. While some of these may appear at first glance to involve the navigation of mundane. participating in workers’ unions during the 1990s. as cooperative members are termed. The original members of the cooperative comprised a group of women ranging in age from 18 to 80 who claimed a diverse range of political and social identities. and decision-making structures for their future cooperative. And. source of employment for the municipality of Ciudad Sandino. that each hour of work would contribute a predetermined amount of social capital toward the ‘‘buy-in’’ of US$500 – the task of constructing the spinning plant facility fell to the socias themselves. ‘‘as mothers [and heads of household]. Based on a constantly evolving template that was first generated in the NGO’s original cooperative project. The first steps in long. while the NGO established the broad guidelines and conditions for membership in the cooperative – for example. Sometimes it’s impossible to do it all by yourself. the purpose of which was to organize and direct the general membership’s efforts. We cook. administrative. on the one hand. You have to be organized in order manage all of the tasks of the day. which covered the business of electing the provisional executive board ( junta directiva). managerial. Other socias gained important organizational and leadership knowledge while enlisted in the Sandinista military during the 1979 revolution or the subsequent Contra War. we manage the kids. like some Weberian ideal-type run amok. doing so required the organization of the group’s efforts to go door to door or to arrange group informational meetings. and start-up capital in the form of low-interest loans. the label of artisan. an industrial sewing cooperative. if relatively small. in effect. they ultimately had many different reasons for wanting to be part of the project. legal and organizational support. a Ge ´ nesis socia. Although the socias. was never a good account of the ‘‘mentalities’’ or ‘‘habits’’ of these Ge ´ nesis cooperative members. When Ge ´ nesis was formally inaugurated in December 2006. would eventually gain full administrative control and ownership. We know how to organize. I then move on to an account of the OW’s implementation in October and November of 2007. and historical specificities – to flatten. in the process of which the socias would learn by trial and error. and material existence. . arduous process occurred during the initial organizational meetings in January of 2007. the many historical dimensions of the interplay between social. the Ge ´ nesis OW tended to ignore these social. so you also have to find support in other people. that the architect raises his structure in the imagination before he erects it in reality. and it is doubtful that such simplistic categorizations have ever related the complexities of consciousness anywhere. all are central to the operation of large-scale enterprises in the political. and other specialized skills and experiences. and we try to make ends meet when we need to. Indeed. bureaucratic activities. much like the ‘‘vulgar’’ Marxisms. Lacking a central public forum. and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. on the other. I provide an ethnographic account of the early stages of the Ge ´ nesis cooperative starting in 2006 with an eye toward accounting for the organizational knowledge. Although the tools for 75 & 2010 by the American Anthropological Association. coming from many different socioeconomic and class situations. preprofessional. In what follows. we clean. the junta’s first act was to canvass for new members in Ciudad Sandino.’’ For one. in the case of one member. [Marx [1867] 1930:178] Ge ´ nesis is the second cooperative enterprise project initiated by CSD and based on the philosophy that the means of production should be democratically held in common by its workers. employment as a lawyer for the national police. cultural. let alone participants in the OW. it is certainly safe to say that they did not possess a consciousnesses that could be so narrowly defined as ‘‘artisanal’’ or ‘‘individualistic. Recognizing that the cooperative’s membership would eventually need to grow significantly to meet the demands of a full-scale cotton spinning plant. rather than simulation. as Weber (1978:956) points out. The Origins of Ge ´ nesis A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver. Instead. Number 2 This meant that. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this.

An ongoing project during this time was also to produce the concrete blocks and losetas (long. Yet. proved a valuable skill set as the project moved along. Number 2 required to work side by side with everyone else. a startlingly loud machine that compressed the mixture into eight-shaped blocks. Socias therefore voted to form two shifts. while the tasks of setting up and running meetings and evaluating and screening prospective members were easy for some. they (successfully or unsuccessfully) learned how to be assertive without appearing officious. hauled off mounds of trash and rusty scrap metal. socias frequently characterized the feelings of mutual respect for one another. Although there existed no single idiom in everyday parlance for the social transformation that they both initiated and experienced. The way we treat one another is based on mutual respect and professionalism. power operated in the other direction as well. including the men.. And yet another group operated the bloquera. To this assertion Dalia responded: Civic solidarity is how one aligns oneself (alinearse) and one’s attitudes toward the group. ‘‘We all do the same work and contribute the same amount. they were nevertheless in the tenuous situation of working without direct remuneration. By the end of the month Ge ´ nesis had expanded their membership to just under 50 socias. a common thread binds our fates together. around which they gathered at one member’s home. concrete. dug up sand.3 Although the labor thus far contributed toward each one’s social capital (i. Cecilia explained. so that one’s relationships are built on mutual respect and one’s attitudes and outlooks are harmonious with those of others. Others. forcing them. ‘‘It is important to show that no one thinks of herself as more important than the others. to some extent. the treasurer. they were Volume XXXI. In contrast to many discourses of consciousness. and directing the group’s efforts toward specific goals. had never held a ‘‘formal’’ job before – found themselves directing the activities of 40 people. Of course. each working half a day. As Cecilia pointed out. it is a matter of ‘‘aligning oneself’’ (alinearse).’’ explained Laya. The coordination of the sum of these endeavors. and set up a small office and meeting place in the shade of a Guanacaste tree. in the reflexive sense of the word. found themselves in the unfamiliar position of taking directions from women in their community. one team made trips to a dry riverbed known as La Trinidad.’’ Rather. and the recognition that each was responsible for communicating with the group instead of making her own way. to cease treating their coworkers as women and to understand them to possess a common membership and equal status.’’ If this physical labor had a clearly defined endpoint. concrete slabs) for the primary structure of the facility.Anthropology of Work Review accomplishing this were only a white board and a marker. They cut down or uprooted trees and bushes using only small hatchets and machetes. With a tractor and trailer loaned by CSD. the act of drawing up a work plan while working around the responsibilities of each socia to the cooperative and home life was an immensely complicated undertaking. in terms of ‘‘civic solidarity’’ (solidaridad cı ´vica). recognizing that. to give individuals the flexibility to be able to tend to other business. In constant dialogue with the general membership. Rather. regardless of disagreements we might have. regardless of individual political preferences. All rights reserved. in fact. civic solidarity for these socias is not some individuated substance to be ‘‘gained’’ or ‘‘acquired. Sometimes that thread may be strained by disagreements or outside factors. building the social structure of the cooperative was significantly less straightforward. but we’ve learned that in order to make it strong we need to communicate and respect one another. Meanwhile. ‘‘buy-in’’).e. We do not pour our hearts out to one another or bring our problems from home to work. the junta performed the organizational role of prioritizing tasks. This task was significantly aided by the infrastructure left behind by a now-defunct concrete block-making enterprise (bloquera) that CSD had sponsored a decade before. and water to make the block mixture. even though we’ve all invested our lives in this project. With this organization of time and with the junta coordinating the work divided between the two shifts. In so doing. the junta was not allowed to sequester themselves to the ‘‘office’’ and send out directives. A group interview with eleven socias during August of 2007 sheds some light on the idea. Each of the two shifts divided up into three teams and established a rudimentary bloquera production line. 76 & 2010 by the American Anthropological Association. or interpersonal differences. Five members dropped out during the first 6 months and three more were ejected for being disruptive and divisive. Another group mixed the appropriate proportions of sand. and hauled it back to the industrial complex. constructing long. they began the physically intense labor of preparing the grounds for the facility.and short-term work plans. religious identities. others were forced to deal directly with personal limitations such as a fear of public speaking. ‘‘gaining’’ a collective sense of civic ethic is not enough for solidarity in its own right. Those who had never before taken on leadership roles – some of whom. including a number of men. and upon constant (and publicly broadcast) threat of removal. . Moreover. making sure that the labor involved was divided up equitably. this did not work out for everyone involved.

As Ariela told me in an interview in August of 2007: As a group. the junta assembled their multicolored plastic chairs in a semicircle opening up toward Tobı ´as. this meeting invited the participation of only the 12 members of the junta directiva. . where he was awaiting the cup of coffee Roger had promised to him and carefully arranging his notepad. he launched into what seemed to be a prepared lecture on the OW. given resources like land and capital. Organizing the Organizers: Constructing a ‘‘Model’’ Workshop Roger and I greeted Tobı ´as in the largest of the three rooms in CSD’s main office. realizing the building. Out of a tangled. The work of construction on the Ge ´ nesis cooperative was an intensely social process that required a shared idea of what is going on. . .’’ he continued. part of becoming a cooperative member – in this case. All rights reserved. Although the messages were clear in and of themselves. During the meeting or afterward. We Volume XXXI. Echoes of Marx’s architect abound in Alicia’s imagination of the factory as well as their collective capacity to own and run it. and thus in terms of their orientation toward the group. and a blue binder on a wicker table with a thin.Anthropology of Work Review Individuals also have to adopt as part of their conception of themselves. the intention of which was to prime us on the workshop’s philosophy. is necessary for such an enterprise to succeed. ‘‘The Ge ´ nesis cooperative. Although the reality of the matter is of course infinitely messier than can be easily summarized here. In effect. a stack of wellworn papers. Tobı ´as and I chatted briefly about my role as the technical director. and about the institutional biases against small producers and individualized entrepreneurial activity that make them untenable in the open market. and that the role of the facilitator was only to function as an intermediary. . Up until now. which Tobı ´as titled ‘‘Organizing the Organizers’’ (Organizar los Organizadores). only a handful of us have a high school diploma. Number 2 must reach consensus. but we also have to understand that part of the job is a responsibility to other people in the cooperative. And as cooperative members it is important for all of us to listen. pausing only occasionally for questions. giving it materiality. Apart from the facility itself. dusty area bearing the promise of future construction. Alicia summarized some of the views of her coworkers during a second group interview: We could visualize where the factory was going to be built . shot through with the many complexities and inequalities of everyday interaction. Everyone has the right to speak and be heard and make her opinions known. an effective and fair division of labor. we are building our economic future. about the differences between the OW and the Grameen Bank microcredit model. an equitable scheme for remunerating labor. capacitation. rubble-filled mess appeared a flat. When we resurfaced 45 minutes later. who signaled the beginning of the meeting by opening up his blue notebook and laying out the basic principles of the workshop in much the same manner as he had done for me: that the organizational reigns would be handed over to the workshop’s participants. We are poor women. by virtue of self-consciousness. 77 & 2010 by the American Anthropological Association. . the model of cooperativism embraced by socias is one that seeks to avoid the systematic alienation from decision making and other creative activities that is so common for workers in conventional enterprises. and the highlights of its implementation over the years. how they were communicated seemed quite contradictory. and the factory floor over here. that the ‘‘objective’’ of the capacitation was open ended and was open to participants’ definition. glass top. and he repeated his position that the more appropriate and effective solution to the structural problem of unemployment lay in the promise of large-scale enterprises. is a different matter altogether.’’ For many.’’ Our next stop was the introductory meeting with the Ge ´ nesis socias. may erect a building in her imagination. . the social experience of organizing a cooperative was further complicated by the drive to construct a democratic and participatory administrative structure based on an idea of common membership. encouraging the active and critical reflection of the participants. by contributing the labor required for the membership ‘‘buy-in’’ – is the primary social process by which each socia comes to understand that she is (sometimes quite literally) an architect of the project. its basic set-up. Under the tin roof of the bloquera. For reasons still unknown to me. the transformation of the landscape served as a symbol for the social transformation of the group. a relational identification as a civic person: ‘‘We each have our individual jobs in the cooperative. a factory that we own . . ‘‘will provide a model case study for how consciousness-building. But while an architect. in our lives. as well as a common understanding of the conditions of possibility. we never thought it would possible to achieve such a thing . [pointing into the distance] the main entrance over there. rather than the full membership of the cooperative. After some brief pleasantries. it occurred to me that Roger and the other CSD staff member who had been in attendance at the beginning of the meeting had both left the room to accept phone calls and had subsequently failed to return. our visions must be in harmony with one another.

organizational meetings were closed to the public in order to avoid. as Marı ´a put it. and within the next half hour. took classes of their own choosing. then retiring to the meeting area at the end of the work day where they would detail a work plan for the following day or week and discuss finances or any membership issues that may have arisen since the previous meeting. nor about the specific organizational experiences or skills that socias may have gained thus far. ‘‘We have no more right to know what is going on in our cooperative than anyone else in Ciudad Sandino. management. comparing the position of the socias to the community members also taking the OW classes. would not only be open to the general membership of the cooperative but also to anyone from broader Ciudad Sandino community who wished to attend. his presumed role as an authority on artisan consciousness was further solidified when he proceeded to discuss his expertise in development. It was only when the results of that Volume XXXI. these meetings were open to anyone who desired to bring an issue to their attention. Sometimes going on for hours. the relevance of the class to the cooperative. embracing Tobı ´as’s entreaty for them to become the ‘‘organizers’’ of the workshop. they voted.’’ What was to Tobı ´as a matter of efficiency. ‘‘stimulate’’ (estimular). The majority of this meeting was then dedicated to answering a handful of questions on the OW: why certain classes had been chosen and not others. however. check in on the junta. and. the artisan mentality (conciencia artesanal). accounting. now such a common term with the junta that it was part of their role as organizers to ‘‘instill’’ (inculcar). in our cooperative. including large-scale employment generation projects in urban communities. is run in the case of existing communities who seek organizational training. .’’ overseeing the implementation of these classes. The socias complied.’’ This changed once the junta began to double as organizers of the OW. the structures of model OWs have typically broken down into one of two types. The junta.’’ on the other hand. or acquaintances whom they could hire with OW funds to teach courses ranging from brick making to electricity. was that the project was in such an early stage that it did not yet even have the ‘‘bicycle’’ of production. design. friends. second. providing examples of the 25 years worth of OWs that he had staged as a facilitator. These courses. as he put it. upon which socias were to be capacitated. . cooking. given the cooperative’s long-term goals. The OW also had disruptive effects in the administrative structure of the cooperative. side by side. he then proceeded to indicate that the course-style OW was the only choice available. recognizing that at least one condition of the OW – its timing – was not within the power of the socias to decide. Tobı ´as told the junta. would of course dictate the enterprise model. with hands shooting up in the air one after another like a classroom. works best for mass capacitations. the junta is where they should be.’’ 78 & 2010 by the American Anthropological Association. with la asamblea [the general assembly]. Over the next 40 days.’’ on the one hand. and processes that had thus far given form to Ge ´ nesis under a ‘‘model OW. The problem. the concepts of organizational consciousness and conscientization were imparted to the socias. . Indeed. the rhetorical effect of this communicative event was to subsume all of the various contingencies. the group decided upon 12 courses to offer as part of the OW and identified family members. In other words. as a matter of precedent. that they knew almost nothing about it. The ‘‘course OW. he explained.Anthropology of Work Review Tobı ´as asked no questions about the Ge ´ nesis cooperative or its history.’’ Tobı ´as then continued to explain that. meanwhile. In a move that left very little room for participants’ creative problem solving. first. The ‘‘enterprise OW. Number 2 meeting were reported to the General Assembly the following day that most socias discovered. continued to operate under the now self-applied title of ‘‘organizers. ‘‘We watch them carefully because everywhere power breeds generalillos [little generals] . They found themselves in the position of being the recipients of lectures on the ‘‘vices’’ (vicios) of organization. In contrast to the message that he was there only to encourage the participants. carpentry. that the allegedly open-ended workshop had already been organized. Normal circumstances for the Ge ´ nesis OW. a mentality. who were in turn positioned as possessing an artisanal consciousness. was to others a sudden lack of transparency. as it were. the junta had up to this point taken to spending the day working along the other socias. and who was going to be paid to teach these classes. welding. Per Tobı ´as’s suggestion. moreover. Last but not least. All rights reserved. particularities. As one socia put it. the executive board made themselves the de facto leaders of the OW. the encumbrance of ‘‘every dissenting voice of the whole group. not above them. One of many consequences of this sudden differentiation of roles was that the de facto nonorganizer socias were now grouped with the Ciudad Sandino community members. and English language. why the junta directiva did not consult the general membership. or ‘‘raise up’’ (levantar) – all in the transitive senses of these words. that is fundamentally resistant to adapt on its own to more complicated contexts. beauty. socias and community members. Having regarded transparency as an important component of leadership. or simply sit and listen. Taken as a whole. and of course the idea of gaining organizational consciousness (conciencia organizacional).

or bus fare. or to use a computer. tengo que cambiar mi forma de trabajar (that voice also tells me that my life is ineffective. that I should change my way of being) became esa voz tambie ´n me dice que mi vida es inefectiva.’’ About half understood it to be about generating employment in the Ciudad Sandino community. Number 2 In the months following the OW. For the newly elected junta directiva. For example. trying to come to terms with the difference between the ‘‘model OW’’ and what had happened at Ge ´ nesis. una voz a mı ´ me dice que tu eres infiel (My conscience dominates me. For many of these socias the term ‘‘organizational consciousness’’ (conciencia organizacional) – as conciencia in Spanish means both ‘‘consciousness’’ and ‘‘conscience’’ – was the topic of a great many discussions and jokes. that the Ge ´ nesis cooperative in particular would fail before even opening its doors – a fear that was only exacerbated by the delay in the construction schedule for which the OW was responsible. laundry soap. such as being able to repair electrical devices. reveals a measure of disdain for the language of consciousness and the perceived condescension of its use by the junta during the OW. thus empowering others to be its ‘‘organizers. All rights reserved. The accusations of fraud and theft. informal bakery. however. or neighbors at a fraction of the normal social capital rate while they pursued work elsewhere.000. most of the discussion revolved around nepotism in selecting and paying teachers as well as the lack of transparency in accounting for the OW’s funds. the success of which was measured by the ability to take in some extra money on account of the new skills. General Assembly meetings resumed with the OW’s conclusion. which was widely and surreptitiously repeated thereafter. ‘‘Conciencia. In the coming weeks. one socia was inspired to parody the popular radio song. covering La Purı ´sima in early December and Christmas). By May. Volume XXXI. even though they were never really substantiated. a voice tells me that you are unfaithful) became Mi conciencia me domina. a voice tells me that we are slow-witted). With food prices on the rise in Nicaragua – a larger event that was later termed the ‘‘world food crisis’’ – Ge ´ nesis socias were also feeling the pinch of the temporarily nonremunerative aspects of their cooperative work. The new version. Afterwards. That discussion. they decided to require all social capital labor to be performed by the person him or herself. compelled three members of the original junta to drop out of the cooperative altogether. talking about their day’s encounters with junta members. forcing many socias with only one other stable household income to eliminate from their budgets nonessentials such as vegetables and fruit. instead of being dedicated to planning construction. I accompanied a group to celebrate at the local cantina. I decided to ask many of the remaining socias what they perceived the goal of the OW to have been and to what extent they though that it had succeeded or failed. rumors of fraud and theft came to a head. I have to change my way of working). to build a wooden table or chair. working without pay in the cooperative was a heavy burden. The chorus line. Arguing that the process of being a cooperative member was as much a social as an economic issue.’’ by the Bronx-based bachata band Aventura. Perhaps most noteworthy was the change in these individuals’ attitudes toward the cooperative. the prices of staples like rice and beans had doubled in only a year. but took issue with the distraction that it represented from the primary goal of getting the cooperative on its feet. the end of the OW was celebrated by a work fair (ferı ´a del trabajo). Mi conciencia me domina. and in what turned out to be a late and drunken night. The results demonstrate the great degree to which the socias had actually been dispossessed of the knowledge. For example. esa voz tambie ´n me dice que mi vida es aburrida que cambie mi forma de ser (that voice also tells me that my life is boring. The rest understood the OW to be a basic organizational training for the cooperative. or. several more socias dropped out to search for work. In this context. in which class-goers were encouraged to show off their new skills. friends. was cut short in early December of 2007 on a note of tension and uncertainty when socias left for their scheduled holiday vacation (which in Nicaragua is 4 weeks. the discontentment of the socias with the junta directiva was nowhere more visible than in the whispers of small groups who congregated for lunch or those who walked home together. while others decided to pursue outside work simultaneously. socias were torn between wanting to maintain their membership in the cooper79 & 2010 by the American Anthropological Association. Consequently. Likewise. When they returned to work in January. una voz a mı ´ me dice que somos lentos (My consciousness dominates me. Another group decided to pool resources and draw on some of their newly minted OW skills to start a small. had mobilized a majority of the socias to vote no confidence in the junta and demand a financial audit. . given the recent conflicts. this was of course a troubling development. but. thus allowing them to maintain their membership in the event of its success. three-quarters of the socias now expressed reluctance about either the organizational model of the cooperative in general. language. and concepts of the workshop. the junta discovered that the comite de vigilancia (vigilance committee). in Ciudad Sandino markets. Whereas the general attitude the previous summer had been quite optimistic. which had amounted to nearly US$30. a subcommittee within the General Assembly.Anthropology of Work Review In an ethnographic view. some decided to outsource their ‘‘buy-in’’ labor to family members. In fact.

Stonich. and historically mediated narratives of consciousness that cooperative members express in terms of ‘‘aligning oneself’’ (alinearse). Notes 1 The Portuguese term conscientizac ¸a ˜ o was introduced in Freire (1970) and has been translated to English as conscientization. and E. we can get on with aligning ourselves [alinearnos] as a cooperative. In so doing. conceptual tool? The case of the Ge ´ nesis OW demonstrates some of the consequences of the disjuncture between socially. A Cultures of Politics/Politics of Cultures. 1998. Agrawal 2002). the junta and the general membership together voted to petition CSD. Group Size and Social Ties in Microfinance Institutions. remarked. 2000. Acheson 1989. From Paulo Freire to Clodomir Santos de Morais: From Critical to 80 & 2010 by the American Anthropological Association. . As Herna ´ n. ´ lvarez. T. one that recognizes. Arun.’’ 3 Spanish collective nouns are typically masculine when they contain one or more male subjects. in addition to the specific habits of workers. In Economic Anthropology. . E. or can it be made into a precise. Klaus. 41–86. it is also eminently clear that there is more complexity in the social world than is dreamt of in any one philosophy.’ ‘deviations. Weber. Ostrom. to put it simply.. In so doing. it is necessary to ask: What is consciousness that it can feasibly be instilled through a workshop? Or. economic development (McCay and Acheson 1987. and A. critical reflection. Volume XXXI. eds. Now that people can eat. In June of 2008. Number 2 In that light. even if there are 50 females. Barrantes. generate a mentality and according set of organizational practices adapted to those conditions. E.C. Bernd Irlenbusch. Pp. to provide a temporary loan to match. Washington. 351–378. the new treasurer of the cooperative. As such. Pp. Heredia. in so doing. as a solution to that struggle. S. likewise. References Abbink. Stanford. 2006. come to an understanding about the social and material conditions of their existence and. [are not] excellent in their own right and in a non-conflictual environment’’ (Sobrado 2000:17). culturally. James M. Escobar. N. which is the meaning intended here. . All rights reserved. Stern. in direct payment to the socias. complex – social organization. Artisanal consciousness is only valued as ‘‘‘bad habits. DC: National Academy Press. what is consciousness that it can shape the way a group of people work together for a common goal? Consciousness has enjoyed a great deal of explanatory power with regard to social movements ´ lvarez et al. Dolsak. whether or not a workshop like the OW provides its participants with something they are not already equipped to do on their own terms. Jacinta Castelo. The question of how to do so. economically speaking. derives from the Portuguese capacitac ¸a ˜ o. and it is de Morais’ meaning that I use here (Carmen and Sobrado 2000). In The Drama of the Commons. perhaps it is also true that the OW could benefit from an expanded view of both organization and consciousness. the OW suggests the concept of organizational consciousness: that a group of people may. S. critical definition. 1998. After all. I choose to use the term socias because cooperative members refer to their collectivity in such terms. Sonia E. there are as many ways to organize and maintain collective enterprises as there are to create stable sociomaterial relations. 2002. Victor. P. and the abstract concept of concept of consciousness mobilized by the OW – occupying. Economic Inquiry 44(4):614–628. the entrenched power relations between development agencies and target populations as well as between the organizers themselves. CA: Stanford University Press. however – how not only to generate those collectivities. Boulder. Agrawal. 1989. alternately. is it simply a brickbat. 1998) as well as economic transformation (A (Hobsbawm 1971). Ge ´ nesis demonstrates that. Management of Common Property Resources. La construccio ´ n de un suen ˜o: Coopesilencio 25 an ˜os despue ´ s. Branco Correia. . 2 De Morais is careful to point out that this is not to say that the ‘‘ideological structures of organization that are typical to the small producer .’ or ‘vices’ when transferred to the totally different – that is. collective resources. but at the same time it has undoubtedly suffered from disproportionately little concrete. Dagnino. Acheson. any social capital value generated. The question that I have posed in this article is. by way of intense. and Elke Renner. the funder of the project. The English term capacitation.’’ Conclusion The successful management of communal resources is undoubtedly a central component of democratic. Common Resources and Institutional Sustainability. Ostrom 1990. and governance structures in the first place but also to manage them in the long term – is infinitely more complex.Anthropology of Work Review ative but. on the one hand. Dietz. ed. as it does. ‘‘People need stability to think and to focus . Plattner. not being able to. As an answer. Costa Rica: EUNA. the narrow space of ‘‘objective’’ interactions with the material world – on the other. while the language of consciousness may often function as a cornerstone of a movement or project to form a collectivity. CO: Westview Press. .

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