Collective Action, Work, and Partial Plans

Thu 12, 9:20-9:50 am PDT

In his work on collective action, Michael Bratman draws a sharp distinction between what he calls shared co-operative activity, and pre-packaged co-operation (Bratman 1992) Shared co-operative activity involves two or people carrying out a shared plan in a way that involves some degree of flexible mutuality and interdependence of the plans of the participants in some activity, whereas pre-packaged co-operation involves participants slotting into a predetermined form of co-operation involving minimal mutuality. Bratman focuses his efforts on offering an account of shared co-operative activity, and (to my knowledge) no-where does he offer an account of the structures of agency involved in pre-packaged co-operation.

Bratman—along with most of the literature on collective action (see (Searle 1990), (Bratman 1992), (Tuomela and Miller 1998), (Gilbert 1990, 2009)—focuses on collective actions which are small-scale, non-hierarchical, co-ordinated, and democratic. This means that they do not have the resources to make sense of cases of collective action which do not fit this model (Kutz 2000, Shapiro 2014, Habgood-Coote 2020). Bratman’s distinction between shared co-operative activity and pre-packaged co-operation exemplifies this problem, committing him to not accommodate the role of the division of labour in collective action.

In this paper, I contrast Bratman’s picture of shared co-operative activity with examples of work in which the division of labour is the primary organising principle. Taking my lead from Harry Braverman’s account of collective action in work under capitalism in Labor and Monopoly Capital (Braverman 1974), I argue that Bratman took a false step by screening off actions involving a division of labour, and that the planning theory in fact has resources to explain the features of work which Braverman highlights. In particular, Bratman’s notion of a partial plan (Bratman 1987) suggests an analogy between the diachronic division of labour involved in individual action, and the interpersonal division of labour involved in collective action. I argue that we should think about partial plans as being more or less fine-grained, and that we should think about shared co-operative activity and pre-packaged co-operation as lying on a spectrum of cases of partial plans for collective action that have different levels of granularity. Thinking about work under Capitalism as involving a fine-grained partial plan for collective activity both allows us to understand the features of degraded work highlighted by Braverman, and highlights the continuities between work, other kinds of collective action, and intentional action in general.


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4 thoughts on “Collective Action, Work, and Partial Plans

  1. Franklin, Alexander says:

    Hi Josh, I’m sorry I missed the Q&A but really enjoyed the talk — very interesting and thought-provoking!

    1. Habgood-Coote, Joshua says:


  2. Chennells, Matt says:

    Thanks for the talk Josh – I’m based at Warwick Uni and work on joint action / Bratman as well. If you’re keen to connect, give me a shout !

    Also, hopefully relevant, Bratman explicitly disavows power relations (as most theoretical accounts of shared intentional activity seem to do…) – work contexts seem to naturally involve these kind of relations. Perhaps you might need to address this to avoid claims that you’re just talking about something completely different to Bratman in the cases you are taking into consideration.

  3. Habgood-Coote, Joshua says:

    I recorded this in a hurry, so it’s not great for accessibility! Here’s the slides as a pdf, and if I can accomodate any other way let me know

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