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What Is Cooperation?

Is it time we thought again about the old dichotomy between co-operation and competition? Sociologist Richard Sennett encourages us to think again about these important concepts.

There is a crude line which can be drawn between apparently different approaches to pursuing a goal. An individual might decide what they would like to do and then aim to benefit exclusively from the fruits of their labour, contracting and allying with other people as needed: let’s call that the liberal approach. Alternatively a group of people might come to understand that they have a common set of interests and goals, then work together to hit those goals and take collective credit for the products of their endeavour: let’s call that the collectivist approach.

Both liberalism and collectivism in these definitions understand the interaction of people through end products and their ownership. What is missing from them is an account of cooperation itself. To what extent is knowledge held in social practices – the social sum being greater than individual parts? Whether one takes a liberal or collective view of the ownership of the products of labour, can either be reconciled to an admiration for craftsmanship, a concept which contains collaborative effort down the ages? Does a cooperative approach inevitably quash individuality and creativity?

Richard Sennett is an eminent sociologist whose work is also rich in historical, philosophical and psychological perspectives influencing his view of the city, the public sphere, collaboration, cooperation and competition, to name but a few of his interests. He teaches sociology at New York University and the London School of Economics and, in addition to these academic homes, maintains informal connections to MIT and to Trinity College, Cambridge.


Professor Richard Sennett | talks | www


Date and Time:

26 April 2011 at 8:00 pm


3 hours



The Wheatsheaf
25 Rathbone Place

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Organised by:

Big Ideas
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For more information, visit www.bigi.org.uk

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