Learning entrepreneurship through coworking

By Mindaugas Danys (CC. BY 2.0)

I have been reading Tom Butcher’s paper on Learning everyday entrepreneurial practices through coworking. I was interested in this partly as coworking is a specific manifestation of wider changes in the economy associated with the knowledge and/ or ‘weightless’ economy and with increasingly

atomised and precarious workforce. As this paper notes, coworking can be a site of experimentation of new practices, new ideas and new ways of working. Yet co-working spaces do no determine that these effects will happen, rather, participants need to ‘learn to co-work’ involving connecting with others and evolving to participation in collaborative activities and ’ subscribe to community norms’ (p. 5). Butcher characterises this as a process of legitimate peripheral participation as a coworker moves to fully participating in the practices of the community – learning to cowork is a process of socialisation. Butcher suggests entrepreneurship is a practice that is part of that socialisation process and a generic norm in becoming a coworker. 

Entrepreneurship is presented in the paper as an enterprising self manifested in contributing and leading the organisation of social activities, networking and knowledge sharing events. Such activities are undertaken out of a sense of community expectations but also as a means of connecting with others and, potentially, develop new project and business opportunities. Hence learning to be enterprising in particular coworking spaces is an approach to reduce future uncertainty. As Butcher notes (p. 13) “such intentionality might be seen to be individualistic and in tension with the communal ethos of coworking”. So coworking spaces involve the performance of a networked interdependence often associated with knowledge work as I discuss here.

A really interesting theme in the paper is that of contestation, that coworking is understand as a sight for challenging and changing existing work and business practices – a incubator for innovations. With contestation comes increasing sense of precariousness or vulnerability.

Overall, Butcher identifies two situated learning process: learning to cowork and coworking to learn. So learning to cowork coalesces around participation in communal everyday practices and in learning to be collaborative while co-working to learn involves more enterpreneurial endeavours of formulating new practices, opportunities as well as engaging in practices associated with contestation and to influence change. In doing so, co-working spaces are sites enacting a combined communal and individualistic self-hood.

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