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“Co-research" = a form of research that tears down the division between the object of inquiry and the researcher

Details on the workerist co-research tradition

From an article "Common notions, part 1: workers-inquiry, co-research, consciousness-raising", by Marta Malo de Molina


"The Italian Alessandro Pizzorno, after importing it to Europe, helped to develop its politicised dimension. Pizzorno, together with a group of Italian militant-intellectuals, (including Romano Alquati and Danilo Montaldi7) would begin to transform and radicalise these methods between 1966 and 1967 applying them practically to struggles in the province of Cremona.

During the sixties and the seventies, the use of the worker inquiry and co-research spreads under different formats: it is used as a device to analyse forms of exploitation in the factory and neighbourhoods, as well as a mechanism to track forms of insubordination by teams from journals such as Quaderni Rossi and Quaderni del territorio (Italy) or groups such as Socialisme ou Barbarie (France). However on many occasions, these techniques were driven by workers’ spaces themselves, in a more or less flexible way, without the intervention from theoreticians or “experts" external to the processes of self-organisation. These techniques were used as methods to construct platforms for struggle8. In the Spanish state, the journals of Teoría y Práctica, and Lucha y Teoría would develop their own forms of worker research, conceived to write the history of class struggle “narrated by its own protagonists" (as the subtitle to Teoría y Práctica put it).

From our point of view, it is worthwhile paying special attention to the uses of the worker-survey employed by Italian operaismo (workerism a section of the Italian workers’ movement)9. The young operaisti, gathered in initially around the journal Quaderni Rossi10, attempted to explain the crisis of the workers’ movement during the fifties and the early sixties. For the operaisti, it was not possible to interpret this lived crisis merely as a result of either the theoretical errors, or betrayals by the leadership, of leftist parties (an argument repeated by those orthodox elements of the communist and anarcho-syndicalist sections of the workers’ movement). In contrast, the operaisti argued that the crisis had taken place because of the intense transformations, in the productive process and the composition of the labour force, introduced by the Scientific Organisation of Work. Thus, the use of the inquiry was intended to reveal a “new worker condition". Looking at the condition of these new subjects, how they could reopen spaces of conflict and reinvigorate workers’ demands become a central theme for the operaisti’s practice and discourse.

However, divergences around the procedures and focus of theinquiry emerged from the beginning. As Damiano Palano tells us “a rather basic fracture emerged around the form and the goals of the survey, since the formation of the first Quaderni Rossi group. On the one side, there was the faction of “sociologists" (lead by Vittorio Rieser), and at that time the most numerous. This section understood the inquiry as a cognitive tool in order to understand a transformed worker reality, and oriented towards provide the tools for producing a theoretical and political renovation of the worker movement’s official institutions. On the other side, we find Alquati and a few more (Soave and Gaparotto), who, based on factory experiences in the US and France, considered the inquiry as the basis for a political intervention oriented towards organising workers’ antagonism. It was a considerable difference from the point of view of the concrete goals of the survey. The distance was even greater though in terms of method: in fact, while the first faction was actualising Marxist theory with themes and methods from North American industrial sociology, Alquati was proposing a kind of strategic research in the study of the factory" (

More Information

Special issue of Transversal on 'Militant Research', at