Cooperation occurs when actors help one another to achieve their goals even when each could stand back and let others bear the burden. Sometimes, individuals and groups must cooperate in order to survive, such as in ancient societies based on hunting or farming, and in contemporary societies in confronting climate change and pandemics. To be sure, many cooperative ventures today arise because due to the benefits of developing a common opportunity, whether it be the development of an entrepreneurial ecosystem or the creation of hobbyist and practitioner communities that foster innovation and entrepreneurship. Given the challenges associated with successful cooperation and the high stakes involved, cooperation is naturally the subject of deliberate strategizing and organizing, with much debate over the most effective strategies. Developments in the shape of such discussion and debates may be discernible. One development are lessons from game theory that have sharpened our understanding of how coordination and cooperation challenges are distinct and intersect. Whereas cooperation is about eliciting contributions to public goods despite private incentives to withhold contribution, coordination is about eliciting adoption of shared standards when each party prefers that everyone adopt its own standard. Another development is discernible in economics; whereas in the 1970s and 1980s the field was highly atomistic and market-oriented, it has much greater appreciation today for social arrangements and institutions that foster coordination and cooperation. Other social sciences have also exhibited shifts in this area, including increased attention to prosocial behavior in psychology, morality in sociology, and citizenship behaviors in organizations.

Another important set of developments is in the environmental changes that have generated new opportunities and challenges for individuals and organizations that seek to cooperate and coordinate. Foremost here are technological changes that have dramatically decreased the cost of communication across organizational and spatial boundaries, enabling wider and more diverse collectives to come together and cooperate in pursuit of their shared goals. Such cooperative efforts not only occur within formal organizations, but increasingly cross formal and informal organizational boundaries to include inter­organizational networks as well as geographical clusters, communities and crowds. Indeed, while various theories of the firm are essentially premised on the idea that the firm is a tool for facilitating cooperation, firms often struggle to elicit cooperative behavior, in part because they often resort to high-powered market-like incentives. Conversely, and especially with the help of technological platforms, various interorganizational relationships and institutions that transcend organizations may support high degrees of coordination and even cooperation.

For social scientists, the challenges and opportunities associated with the understanding of cooperation as an organizing principle offer a fertile ground for exploring new ideas, relationships and logics of organizing while also having a positive impact. They also present opportunities to engage with unorthodox methodologies that are often needed to tackle complex causal interdependences that cut across social, technical, political as well as disciplinary boundaries.

The purpose of “The 2021 Medici Summer School” is to bring together leading researchers who are focused on advancing our knowledge on the way in which cooperation shapes what organizations are, how they function and how they interact with their environment. This theme choice reflects a sense of excitement about how societal demands for solidarity and cooperation are addressed in contemporary organizing. In particular, our goal is to discuss cutting-edge organizational research that sheds new light on theoretical mechanisms, processes as well as methodological approaches that can enhance our understanding of major questions.

Some of the topics and questions that will be discussed include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • How is cooperation addressed across organizational forms and domains?
  • What is the role of cooperation in processes that stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship?
  • How do the challenges of coordination and cooperation intersect?
  • How do various new technological developments support or hinder cooperative efforts?
  • How are efforts to sustain cooperation over time?
  • What institutional conditions may enable cooperation as an organizing principle? Alternatively, what institutional pressures may threaten cooperative organizing efforts?
  • What are the dilemmas of cooperation with regard to organizational processes and decision-making?
  • What organizational principles inform cooperative innovation efforts within and across organizational boundaries?
  • In what ways are practices and processes of cooperative organizing similar or different in different fields (such as market and non-market based settings)?
  • How can cooperation emerge and thrive in market settings?
  • What are the theoretical opportunities and limitations for building more comprehensive theorizing on cooperation as a general organizing principle, e.g. with regard to different disciplinary traditions or levels of analysis?
  • What are the possible unintended consequences of efforts to organize cooperation and how do organizations deal with these?
  • How do trust and prosocial behavior extend beyond the boundaries of the family, clan or group to larger and more diverse collectives?
  • What are the dispositional mechanisms through which cooperation emerges in specific social settings?

To function, collectivities need to foster solidarity and cooperation among their members. Answering these questions is therefore crucial to achieving cohesion in the heterogeneous social worlds we increasingly inhabit today.

Overall, the goal of the 2021 edition of the Medici Summer School is to shed light on the sources and consequences of cooperation as a general principle for organizing and innovating. The Medici Summer School is to equip students with theoretical and methodological tools that will enable them to untangle a complex theoretical landscape, define the key questions, identify open puzzles, and delineate the central ideas for a future agenda devoted to understanding organizational cooperation. To this end, the 2021 Medici Summer School brings together interdisciplinary scholarship at multiple levels of analysis to shed light on organizational tensions, market challenges and social dilemmas associated with the occurrence of many instances of collective action. By learning from different theoretical and empirical approaches, we believe attendees will substantially enrich their particular research agendas.


The host faculty members include representatives from the three co-sponsoring institutions and those who have been organizing the Summer School over the years. Host faculty at this year’s summer school include Simone Ferriani (Bologna), Ezra Zuckerman Sivan and Emilio J. Castilla (MIT), Rodolphe Durand (HEC Paris).

In addition to the host faculty, the Summer School will bring together guest faculty who consist of leading strategy, organizations, sociology, and social psychology scholars. The five days of the Summer School will see the following scholars taking turns in sharing their ideas and perspectives:

  • Ray Reagans, MIT Sloan
  • Claudine Gartenberg, The Wharton School
  • Delia Baldassarri, NYU
  • Alessandro Lomi, University of Italian Switzerland in Lugano
  • Arnout van de Rijt, European University Institute

Each faculty member will be present at the School for 2 days, allowing ample time for one-to-one sessions, knowledge sharing, and networking opportunities.