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The Critical Turn in Social Entrepreneurship Research

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abstract Extract:

Critique of Social Entrepreneurship: An Impossible Act?

On the face of it, ‘social entrepreneurship’ represents a concept whose meaning cannot be exhausted by a single definition. Where its various interpretations have been conceived by some as a hindrance to the unfolding of its full potential (e.g. Martin and Osberg, 2007), the worrying point, in our estimate, is not that ‘social entrepreneurship’ encompasses too many meanings but that the term’s potential richness, inventiveness and radicalness has been narrowed down by dominant, politically-shaped understandings of the word ‘social’. Giv-en that social entrepreneurship has not been properly understood in its relation to power, ideology and the rendition of the social as governable terrain (Carmel and Harlock, 2008), our contribution departs from the conviction that prevailing understandings of social en-trepreneurship are limited as a result of being aligned with elites’ comprehension of the good life and society propre. Many possible understandings of social entrepreneurship be-come unthinkable, precisely because they are made to appear to be unreasonable, odd or illegitimate by prevailing standards of truth.
We should critically reconsider the limitations to which social entrepreneurship is currently subjected, so as to instigate more imaginative articulations. However, the point is that a critique of the social entrepreneurship canon is highly unlikely. But why exactly is this the case? There are many reasons for the current paucity of critical engagement with social entrepreneurship, however, a case can be made that the widespread belief in the redemp-tive power of management, combined with an unshakable belief in the market as leverage for ‘making a difference’, makes social entrepreneurship appear to be good, reasonable, and necessary. Partly due to social entrepreneurship’s taintless evaluative reputation, it has, in fact, become easier to celebrate the most far-reaching utopia than to express even the most marginal point of discontent. In other words, any provocative, counter-intuitive or anach-ronistic enactment of social entrepreneurship is neutralized a priori because this would direct attention away from the ostensible “real-life” pressures of the day, thus delaying the immediate involvement with today’s most pressing social problems. Where dominant nar-ratives of social entrepreneurship promote harmonious social change based on instrumen-tal business-case logic (Arthur et al, 2010), this leaves little space for a substantial critique of social entrepreneurship, for the simple reason that the canon suggests that the solution is already there. Anyone who raises concerns is immediately looked at suspiciously, because social entrepreneurship is overwhelmingly perceived to have already passed the test of critical scrutiny.

Whilst the costs related to the current normalisation of social entrepreneurship are mani-fold, one of the pre-eminent problems is that social entrepreneurship has been envisioned as a de-politicised blueprint for dealing with social problems. In extremis, social entrepre-neurship has been appointed the role of tackling the symptoms of the capitalist system rather than its root causes (Edwards, 2008), thus reinforcing a system that has lately re-vealed its full toxicity (Noys, 2011). Because social entrepreneurship appears to be beyond question, this paper wants to reclaim the space of critique, for, as we will argue, critique is the pivotal quality that must be fostered to overcome social entrepreneurship’s current stasis and to unlock its potential. Given that the academic treatment of social entrepreneur-ship has played a crucial role in mainstreaming logics of problem-fixing, linear progression, and social equilibrium, we will start by analysing academia’s immanent critical potential.28 The first objective of this paper will be to develop a typology of critical approaches that maps how critique of social entrepreneurship is currently being done. As we make clear that scholarly mechanisms of censorship and control are not fully effective in averting criti-cal activity, the second objective of this contribution will be to go beyond current possibili-ties and to consider ways to expand the range of critical approaches and, in particular, to describe ways for radicalising, both conceptually and pragmatically, the critique of social entrepreneurship. Overall, critique is viewed as a means for problematising ‘social entre-preneurship’ with the aim of releasing some of its suppressed possibilities (Sandberg and Alvesson, 2011). By implication, critique is never an end in itself, but rather serves as a means for creating solutions (both imaginative and real) which are not possible within the matrix of the present. Thus, by critically examining social entrepreneurship we will, in the end, be able to implement social entrepreneurship differently.
To develop our contributions, we will proceed in the following manner. After a short expo-sition of the emergence of critical approaches in social entrepreneurship, we will identify, based on a review of the extant academic literature, four types of critique, called ‘myth busting’, ‘critique of power effects’, ‘normative critique’ and ‘critique of transgression’, all of which will be presented and discussed in terms of how they question and add a differ-ent, if not fresh, view to some of social entrepreneurship’s most powerful assumptions. Each type of critique is illustrated through a particularly demonstrative study. Thereafter, we will discuss new possibilities by focusing on the kinds of critique that elicit the radical cause of social entrepreneurship. Emphasis will be placed on fostering the view of critique as intervention (Steyaert, 2011), for interventions clearly show that social entrepreneurship, the way we know it, does not exhaust what social entrepreneurship might become.
type conference paper (English)
name of conference Reconstructing Social Enterprise (Event 1 of ESRC-Seminar Series) (University of Northampton, UK)
date of conference 12-11-2012
title of proceedings Toward an Ideology Critique of Social Entrepreneurship
page(s) 20
publisher ESRC Economic and Social Research Council (Swindon UK)
review not reviewed
citation Dey, P., & Steyaert, C. (2012). The Critical Turn in Social Entrepreneurship Research. In Toward an Ideology Critique of Social Entrepreneurship, pp.20. Swindon UK: ESRC Economic and Social Research Council.