What Is the Difference Between Co-Option and Co-Optation?

by Valencia Higuera; Updated September 26, 2017

If you belong to a committee or organization, you and your group members might periodically select new members to join the group. Members play a vital role in organizations, and they usually participate in the decision-making process. When choosing new members, your organization might use the method of co-option or co-optation in making the final selections.

Co-option and Co-optation Defined

There is no difference between "co-option" and "co-optation." Both terms are variants of the word "co-opt" and carry the same meaning; and typically involve the election or summarily appointment of new members in an organization, board, council or group. Co-option and co-optation can also describe the attitude of a group member who proposes and initiates changes within an organization. For example, a newly co-opted organization member might strive to win over other members and convince members to accept his ideas. In addition, co-option and co-optation can indicate a business strategy, in which companies aim to gain the support of resisters when implementing change.

Voting Process

Organizations and groups can hold elections and vote in new members. Existing members discuss the qualifications of potential candidates, and based on these qualifications, they decide to accept or decline an individual. Adding new members fills vacancies within the organization; and once this person becomes an official organization member, he attends meetings and contributes to the outworking of the organization's goals or objectives.


The act of appointing summarily, which is appointing the new member without his consent, is also considered co-option and co-optation. Organizations that employ these methods typically take or assume authority and power. Once the organization appoints the new member or members, the objective is usually to take the individual(s) ideas and adopt these ideas within the organization. This might occur if the new member presented a threat to the organization. The organization reduces this threat by assimilating this person into its group.

Manipulative Strategy

Co-option and co-optation is also used to manipulate change. In the corporate world, it's common for employers or management to implement change within the organization. However, certain personnel might resist or prevent changes. By means of co-option, employers or managers who implement change might invite resistant workers to participate in their efforts and assign them a role. Giving resisters a lead role in the change process can trigger compliance and support.

About the Author

Valencia Higuera is a freelance writer from Chesapeake, Virginia. She has contributed content to print publications and online publications such as Sidestep.com, AOL Travel, Work.com and ABC Loan Guide. Higuera primarily works as a personal finance, travel and medical writer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English/journalism from Old Dominion University.