Charlotte Lee

Spring 2021

Cooperatives and Sociotechnical Design

Directed by Scott Mainwaring, Affiliate Assistant Professor, HCDE
Co-Directed by Charlotte P. Lee, Associate Professor, HCDE

This DRG is at capacity for spring quarter and no longer accepting applications.

How can we design and develop technologies that foreground critical concerns of social justice and inclusion? There are no simple answers. One path forward is to take inspiration from the idea of cooperatives and cooperative principles. What traditions and histories can we draw upon for inspiration–and as cautionary tales? In this DRG, we will focus on cooperatives and cooperative principles, both inside and outside of technology domains. We will discuss what we find along the way and produce an annotated bibliography to help technology students and professionals learn about designing for (re)distribution of power, wealth, and knowledge. This is a large topic, with few scalable success stories, more than a few controversies and failures, but nevertheless powerful underlying ideas that have persisted since (at least) the 19th century. 

Cooperatives present an alternative to existing structures of capitalist exploitation and hierarchy, based on mutual aid and joint ownership. Cooperativism is a set of theories and principles (see the Seven Cooperative Principles) embodied to greater and lesser degrees in a wide range of practices, platforms, and companies, including:

  • Movements such as participatory design, citizen science, and platform cooperativism
  • Financial cooperatives such as credit unions, savings banks, and informal ROSCAs
  • Peer-production technology platforms like blockchain and wikis
  • Co-op businesses, member-owned (e.g., REI and PCC), worker-owned (e.g., WinCo Foods, Spain’s Mondragon), or citizen-owned (e.g., rural electric cooperatives and public utility districts)

This DRG will conduct exploratory research, to identify key concepts, questions, readings, and examples, as a 2-3 credit, active reading and discussion group, focused on key questions for HCDE researchers and designers. Each week students will read and write reflections on a primary reading, with one student taking the lead in presenting the reading, leading discussion, and drafting an annotation for bibliography deliverable. Secondary readings and examples will be explored throughout the quarter as well. For additional credit, students can produce materials to accompany the jointly produced annotated bibliography.

Dr. Lee's Research Group archive