Working Together: How Workplace Bonds Strengthen a Diverse Democracy

Posted: 10 May 2004


American society suffers both from fraying communal ties and from the stubborn persistence of division and segregation, especially along racial lines. We enjoy less trust, cooperation, sociability, and sense of community; yet whatever sense of community we do experience is still racially-skewed and divided. What happens within the workplace responds to both concerns: The typical workplace is a hotbed of sociability and cooperation among co-workers day after day, and often year after year. And that interaction is increasingly likely to cross categories of race and ethnicity, as well as gender. The striking convergence of close interaction and growing demographic diversity makes workplace ties crucial in a diverse democratic society.

The democratic potentialities of human interaction at work are clouded by the unfree, unequal, and undemocratic nature of workplaces. Workplace interactions are compelled and constrained by economic power and necessity, and are circumscribed by a staggering array of governmental regulations. Paradoxically, however, the very involuntariness of workplace interactions - both external law and internal constraints - help make the often-troubled and often-failed project of racial integration work relatively well there. People can be forced to get along - not without friction, but with surprising success.

This book explores the paradoxical nature and the paramount importance of workplace bonds in a diverse democratic society. It stakes a claim for the civic value of the millions of conversations that take place every day among co-workers. It argues that the law has played a crucial part, and could play a more effective part in the future, in realizing the good that can come of working together. It may be where we are forced to get along and get things done together, and not where we choose to do so, that we have the best chance of meeting some of the most profound challenges facing American society.

Keywords: workplace, civil society, labor, race, diversity, social capital

JEL Classification: J70, J71, J79

Suggested Citation

Estlund, Cynthia L., Working Together: How Workplace Bonds Strengthen a Diverse Democracy. Columbia Law School, Pub. Law Research Paper No. 04-70, Available at SSRN:

Cynthia L. Estlund (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States
(212) 998-6184 (Phone)
(212) 995-4881 (Fax)

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