Offshore democracy: a socio-technical experiment

29 September 2011

Economy and Society

DOI:10.1080/03085147.2011.602296 Javier Lezaun

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In the 1970s a group of social scientists attempted to create a new, more democratic form of work organization aboard the Norwegian merchant ship Balao. To do so they redesigned the physical structure of the ship to facilitate the emergence of a participatory shipboard community. This paper revisits the journeys of Balao as an example of the potential and limits of experimental democracies. It describes the processes of social miniaturization implemented in the organization of Balao's work processes, the particular ergonomics of democracy that resulted from the new model layout and the vexing question of the project's landfall: its limited impact as a ‘demonstration experiment’ for a more democratic organization of production.