A theory of coworking: entrepreneurial communities, immaterial commons and working futures

Waters-Lynch, J 2018, A theory of coworking: entrepreneurial communities, immaterial commons and working futures, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Management, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title A theory of coworking: entrepreneurial communities, immaterial commons and working futures
Author(s) Waters-Lynch, J
Year 2018
Abstract This thesis explores contemporary experiences of entrepreneurial knowledge work in emerging and rapidly changing areas of economy and society through a detailed ethnographic analysis of the motivations, social practices and changing experiences of a pioneering Coworking community in Melbourne, Australia. Coworking is a complex social phenomenon. Whilst ‘Coworking spaces’ are open plan office environments that mobile, independent knowledge workers share as places of work, ‘Coworking practices’ are the methods by which these independent actors choose to work in close proximity, interact socially and sometimes collaborate on shared projects. Since its emergence in 2005, the rapid global expansion of Coworking has been regarded as both an expression of, and response to, significant changes in how knowledge work is performed and organised. As the processes of globalisation and technological innovation continue to transform working practices and cultures, ‘Coworkers’ have been held up as early adopters of disruptive trends in mobile and distributed knowledge work, and ‘Coworking spaces’ have been regarded as emblematic sites within evolving entrepreneurial knowledge economies. These claims present Coworking spaces as compelling sites in which to conduct social inquiry.

Curiously, ‘community’ has been advanced as the central organising construct around which Coworking has rapidly expanded, and yet many scholarly analyses have problematised this construct in examining specific Coworking arrangements. This thesis takes up this theme by offering a comprehensive theoretical treatment of the ‘concept of community’ within Coworking and wider entrepreneurial cultures, and a careful empirical examination of the ‘community constructing practices’ that may be said to characterise these cultures. This investigation is grounded in a rigorous ethnographic analysis of the social practices of a pioneering Coworking community in Melbourne, conducted between 2012 and 2017. The ethnography is guided by three key questions, ‘why people Cowork’, ‘how they Cowork’ and ‘how Coworking experiences change over time’. Although the literature investigating Coworking has grown during the period of this research, a thorough examination of the core social practices that constitute Coworking, and especially the tensions evoked as Coworking experiences change over time, has not been accomplished until now.

Methodologically, this thesis comprises a ‘grounded theory ethnography’ dedicated to empirically describing and analysing the core social practices that constituted Coworking for this pioneering Melbourne community. The analysis is informed by theories of ‘communities of practice’, ‘immaterial labour’ and ‘the commons’, which I use to conceptualise the collective product of Coworking labour as a shared ‘immaterial commons’ that is subject to a distinct set of social dilemmas germane to ‘commonsbased peer production’. Hence, the central finding of this thesis is that entrepreneurial communities produce immaterial commons that require appropriate governance arrangements to be sustained and renewed. This finding makes two contributions to the scholarly literature. Empirically, the thesis contributes to the emerging literature on Coworking by providing a detailed examination of social practices observed within a Coworking community as it evolved over time. Theoretically, it proposes a novel conception of the collective product of immaterial labour as a commonly pooled resource, and in doing so proposes a pathway for research that examines the organisation and governance dilemmas that are likely to emerge in the future within specific ‘entrepreneurial communities’ and the knowledge work they produce.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Management
Subjects Entrepreneurship
Social Theory
Organisation and Management Theory
Keyword(s) Coworking
Communities of practice
Immaterial commons
Entrepreneurial communities
Futures of work
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Created: Fri, 20 Jul 2018, 09:55:09 EST by Denise Paciocco
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