Thesis Title: Working to Live or Living to Work: Alienation, Participation, and Worker Cooperatives
My thesis, “Working to Live or Living to Work: Alienation, Participation, and Worker Cooperatives” examines the experience of alienation among workers in worker-owned cooperatives. There were two main components to my research. On the one hand, I conducted qualitative interviews with workers to assess their work experience. On the other, I engaged deeply with theoretical texts on alienation from Marx to today.
Two main things came out of my research. In my empirical research, I found cooperative workers to be non-alienated, particularly because of the opportunities for connection to their work. Related to this, I came to understand alienation as a result of the social relations that exist in a given workplace. When those social relations inhibit a worker’s ability to actively participate in their own work, they experience alienation.
The thesis-writing process was difficult but rewarding. Partly because of the limitations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, there ended up being some methodological issues with my empirical findings. In particular, I had a lot of trouble implementing controls on my data given my limited access to participants.
However, I don’t think that the most important thing about writing a thesis is having perfect research. Rather, I am glad that I was ambitious in my questions and methods, because that is what led me to truly learn. In the process of writing this thesis, I learned how to conduct interviews, how to engage with texts on a much deeper level, how to write a long-form piece, and how to think in new and different ways. All of this was much more important to me than the validity of any research finding.
My advice for you, then, is to be ambitious. I was ambitious and didn’t always succeed, but I gained a lot from it. For most thesis-writers who aren’t planning to turn their thesis into a published piece of academic work—and perhaps for those who are as well—the exploration and self-improvement you will get out of setting your sights high and trying wild things will be worth it.