Reconfiguring the Enterprise: Shifting Manufacturing Culture in Australia

Researchers (Chief Investigators):

Funding: ARC Discovery Project, DP160101674

Period: 2016-2019

Research Project Manager: Dr Joanne McNeill  (opens in a new window)- Western Sydney University, Institute for Culture and Society


Hands at Work

Using images sourced at the sites of the case study enterprises involved in the project, this short video clip brings to life some of the diversity that exists within manufacturing sectors.

Hands at Work from Institute for Culture & Society on Vimeo. Produced by Think Well (opens in a new window)

Project background

If the manufacturing sector is to genuinely contribute to ecological and social wellbeing, then the culture of business needs to shift. In Australia, there are innovative manufacturers that are doing this by reorienting their businesses towards social and environmental sustainability. This project is exploring how these enterprises are making this shift, and the negotiations and compromises involved in operationalising both social and environmental sustainability while remaining financially viable. In so doing, the project contributes to debates about the nature of the enterprise in the 21st century, particularly in the context of climate change and growing social and economic inequality.

Since the end of 2016, the research team has been working with nine case study enterprises: A.H. Beard(opens in a new window); Interface(opens in a new window); Norco(opens in a new window); OzGroup(opens in a new window); Sebel Furniture(opens in a new window) ; Soft Landing(opens in a new window); The Social Outfit(opens in a new window); Varley Group(opens in a new window);  WorkVentures(opens in a new window); and NCMC(opens in a new window) (Phase 1). Together the case study group includes: cooperatives, family-owned firms, social enterprises and globally listed companies.  They manufacture across a wide range of sectors including: dairy, fashion, mattresses, blueberries and packaging, mattress recycling, carpet tiles, furniture, electronics re-use and repair, and specialised vehicles. They service local, national and international markets and are also engaged with global supply chains in sourcing their material inputs.

Field work activity

At May 2019, the research is in its third and final phase and to date the team has conducted 78 interviews with representatives of the participating enterprises; nine enterprise-specific workshops; one ‘whole group’ workshop; and multiple site visits to each enterprise. Meetings have also been held with representatives of 15 other ‘informant’ organisations.

The team has also visited a number of overseas manufacturing enterprises, who have also made valuable contributions to the project: Interface’s plant in the Netherlands; Pocheco(opens in a new window), France; KOMOSIE(opens in a new window), Belgium; Innesto Coop(opens in a new window), Italy; Altus Enterprises(opens in a new window), NZ; Zero Waste Network(opens in a new window), NZ; and Goods that Matter(opens in a new window), USA.

Outputs to date (May 2019)

Following a ‘whole group’ enterprise workshop held in December 2019, a Public Declaration on Just & Sustainable Manufacturing in Australia (PDF, 52.34 KB) was developed in conjunction with the enterprise representatives. This was disseminated widely to industry associations and representatives, NSW State and Commonwealth politicians, unions, researchers, and other interested stakeholders. As a result, a number of targeted meetings that are informing the development of the final project report have been generated.

Images of hands engaged in the wide variety of workday tasks undertaken across the enterprises were collected during the site visits, and have been compiled into the short video clip above.

Papers published to date:

  • Gibson-Graham, J.K., Cameron, J., Healy, S. & McNeill, J. (2019). Roepke Lecture in Economic Geography – Economic Geography, Manufacturing and Ethical Action in the Anthropocene. Economic Geography, (DOI:10.1080/00130095.2018.1538697)
  • Gibson-Graham, J.K., Cameron, J., Healy, S. & McNeill, J. (2019). Economic Geography and Ethical Action in the Anthropocene: A Rejoinder. Economic Geography, (DOI: 10.1080/00130095.2018.1538696)
  • Healy, S., McNeill, J., Cameron, J. & Gibson, K. (2018). Pre-empting apocalypse? Postcapitalism as an everyday politics. Australian Quarterly (AQ), 89(2), 28-33
  • Gibson, K. (2017). What ethical business can do to help make ecocities a reality. The Conversation. Available at: https://theconversation.com/what-ethical-business-can-do-to-help-make-ecocities-a-reality-80673

To generate feedback on papers under development, team members have delivered papers on various aspects of the research at the following:  Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting 2018, New Orleans – including the invited Roepke Lecture; Alternative Futures Symposium 2018, Sydney; NZ Geographical Society & Institute of Australian Geographers 2018 conference, Auckland; International Social Innovation Research Network conference 2017,Melbourne; EMES’ International Social Enterprise Research conference 2017, Belgium; EcoCity Conference 2017, Melbourne; Wheelwright Lecture 2017, Sydney; Institute for Australian Geographers 2017 conference; and the New Economy Network Australia conference 2016 Sydney, 2017 Brisbane and 2018 Melbourne.

To date team members have delivered 30 presentations on various aspects of the research, with others scheduled for the final phase. Some of these were at forums where feedback was sought to inform publications in development, including: : Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting 2019 in Washington DC, and 2018 in New Orleans – including the invited Roepke Lecture; Alternative Futures Symposium 2018, Sydney; NZ Geographical Society & Institute of Australian Geographers 2018 conference, Auckland; International Social Innovation Research Network conference 2017,Melbourne; EMES’ International Social Enterprise Research conference 2017, Belgium; EcoCity Conference 2017, Melbourne; Wheelwright Lecture 2017, Sydney; Institute for Australian Geographers 2017 conference; and the New Economy Network Australia conference 2016 Sydney, 2017 Brisbane and 2018 Melbourne.

In early 2018, a submission (opens in a new window) (#48) to the Senate’s Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers resulted in an invitation to present evidence at the Public Hearing in Sydney on 21 February.

In 2017, the project was awarded Affiliated Researcher status with Seed Box: A Mistra-Formas Environmental Humanities Collaboratory based at Linköping University, Sweden.

The Research Team

Professor Gibson's seminal work over several decades on re-thinking 'the economy' as diverse - with Professor Julie Graham, writing as J.K. Gibson-Graham - provides the theoretical framework for the project, whilst she also applies her significant research and management skills to leading design and delivery. Dr Healy brings expertise in researching cooperative enterprises in the solidarity economy and analysing subjectivity formation. Associate Professor Cameron brings expertise in studying social enterprises, undertaking research in participatory modes, and pioneering new techniques for distributing research findings through digital story-telling and other media. These three have previously engaged in sustained collaboration including producing a jointly authored book, Take Back the Economy: An Ethical Guide for Transforming Our Communities(opens in a new window) (2013, University of Minnesota Press). Dr McNeill brings substantial industry experience in social enterprise development, social innovation policy and practice, and research project management to the team.

Further Information

For further information about the REMaC project please contact Dr Joanne McNeill: j.mcneill@westernsydney.edu.au

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