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2022/2023  KAN-CSOCV1040U  Organizing for Social and Environmental Change. Theory and Practice of Alternative Organizations

English Title
Organizing for Social and Environmental Change. Theory and Practice of Alternative Organizations

Course information

Language English
Course ECTS 7.5 ECTS
Type Elective
Level Full Degree Master
Duration One Semester
Start time of the course Autumn
Timetable Course schedule will be posted at calendar.cbs.dk
Min. participants 20
Max. participants 80
Study board
Study Board for MSc in Social Sciences
Course coordinator
  • Birke Otto - Department of Business Humanities and Law
  • Lena Olaison - Department of Business Humanities and Law
Main academic disciplines
  • Management
  • Organisation
  • Sociology
Teaching methods
  • Blended learning
Last updated on 07-02-2022

Relevant links

Learning objectives
  • Explore alternative forms of organizing in private, public and civil society sectors
  • Understand the visions, strategies and limitations of alternative organizations to incite change
  • Identify the operational, managerial, entrepreneurial and leadership challenges of organizing for change
  • Develop a critical understanding of the historical, social and economic conditions of alternative organizations as well as their paradoxes and unintended effects
  • Explain and defend a position on alternative ways of organizing in relation socio-economic and cultural theories of change and their critiques.
Organizing for Social and Environmental Change. Theory and Practice of Alternative Organizations:
Exam ECTS 7,5
Examination form Oral exam based on written product

In order to participate in the oral exam, the written product must be handed in before the oral exam; by the set deadline. The grade is based on an overall assessment of the written product and the individual oral performance, see also the rules about examination forms in the programme regulations.
Individual or group exam Oral group exam based on written group product
Number of people in the group 2-5
Size of written product Max. 10 pages
Assignment type Report
Written product to be submitted on specified date and time.
10 min. per student, including examiners' discussion of grade, and informing plus explaining the grade
Grading scale 7-point grading scale
Examiner(s) Internal examiner and second internal examiner
Exam period Winter
Make-up exam/re-exam Home assignment - written product
Size of written product: Max. 10 pages
Assignment type: Essay
Duration: 7 days to prepare
Description of the exam procedure

Students must show the ability to critically engage with the theoretical concepts and literature discussed in class by focusing on one particular case. 

Course content, structure and pedagogical approach

The aim of this course is to explore managerial, entrepreneurial and leadership challenges that alternative organizations face when striving to organize for change. Alternative organizations broadly describe a variety of practices that aim to ‘organize differently’ than the conventional governance forms presented in neoclassical economics, and which have the intention to tackle environmental degradation, social inequalities and democratic instability. By foregrounding values related to sustainability, equality, responsibility and care, alternative organizations seek to challenge the prevailing dominance of shareholder value, growth and competition.


The first module of the course discusses the context and definitions of alternative organization. What are the various critiques posed to conventional organizing, and how do alternative organizations emerge as a reaction to issue salience or institutional failure? We will learn about the different types of alternative organizations, including large business organizations, startups, social enterprises, public agencies, workers/consumer cooperatives, and social movements; and discuss the role of values, ownership models, decision making structures and social relations for eliciting change. In the second module, students will work with case studies to explore the concrete organizational challenges that emerge from managing tensions between financial growth and sustainability, collaboration and competition, autonomy and authority, inclusion and exclusion, innovation and disruption, and change and cooptation. The course also invites practitioners, who will share how they translate their values into daily organizing practice. In the final part, we ask what kind of change a singular organization can elicit? We examine the systemic and institutional conditions for scaling up change initiatives, and for creating resilient and sustainable organizations.


The aim of this course is to develop a critical understanding of alternative organizing practices including their paradoxes and unintended effects by considering various socio-economic and cultural theories. We will discuss this on case studies drawing on alternative finance, ‘non-growing’ companies, leaderless organizations, digital commons, circular economies, sustainable entrepreneurship, and feminist organizations. Further case studies can be selected by the students themselves.


The course is part of the minor in Transforming Business and Organizations to Build Sustainable and Democratic Economies, but can also be selected individually. It addresses students in their last year of their master who are looking for inspiration for their master theses.

Description of the teaching methods
The course consists of lectures, case discussions and group work. Student groups are expected to prepare an oral presentation based on a case of an alternative organization to be presented in class. This exercise acts as preparation of the oral exam.
Feedback during the teaching period
The course offers the following feedback mechanisms:
Students will have the opportunity to present a case study on an alternative organization followed by structured peer-to-peer feedback. This prepared interaction will form the basis for in-class discussions. Student presentation groups will also receive individual feedback from teaching staff.
Student workload
Preparation 125 hours
Teaching 33 hours
Examination (incl preparation) 50 hours
Expected literature

Davis, G.F. (2016) ‘Can an economy survive without corporations? Technology and robust organizational alternatives’, Academy of Management Perspectives, 30(2): 129–140.


Freeman, J. (1972) ‘The Tyranny of Structurelessness’, The Second Wave (2:1).


Jackson, T. (2019) ‘The Post-Growth Challenge: Secular Stagnation, Inequality and the Limits to Growth’, Ecological Economics, 156: 236-246.


Mair, J., & Rathert, N. (2019) ‘Alternative organizing with social purpose: Revisiting institutional analysis of market-based activity’. Socio-Economic Review.


Parker, M., Cheney, G., Fournier, V. & Land, C. (eds.) (2014) The Routledge Companion to Alternative Organization. London: Routledge.


Rothschild-Whitt, J (1979). The Collectivist Organization: An Alternative to Rational-Bureaucratic Models., American Sociological Review, 44(4):  509-527.

Last updated on 07-02-2022