Social Enterprise as Lived and Practiced: The Methodological Potential of Ethnography
Call for papers
Social enterprise, as a field of study, has provoked scholarly engagement ranging from spontaneous celebration to critical engagement. However we lack a deep understanding of how the optimistic and politically powerful, yet ambiguous and elusive ideal is lived in social practice. Ethnography, ethnomethodology and workplace studies offer the methodological potential to carve out local experimental practices of social-problem solving, and to capture the ways managers, staff and/or target groups reflect on their engagement in entrepreneurial activities. Such insights are essential for (1) developing multilayered, contextualised views on social enterprise (2) understanding the temporal, spatial and cultural dynamics of social entrepreneurship, and (3) taking sufficient account of the effects of social entrepreneurial policies on vulnerable target groups.
Ethnography also offers the potential to move the debate around social enterprise beyond idealized concepts and managerial views. Since emerging from the field of Anthropology, ethnography has been employed to study, in particular, the social realms of colonized, deprived, and marginalized groups of people. It has proven analytical strength in unraveling the contradictory, paradoxical aspects of human practice and the subtle workings of power. Social enterprise – as an organizational form comprising competing logics of social inclusion and management practice – demands an appropriate set of methods that makes room for complexity and counter-discourse, that considers social enterprise within its wider (political) context, and that attends to the longitudinal and spatial dimensions of organizational behavior which, to date, have been neglected in much of the academic literature. Potential questions which might be studied from an ethnographic perspective include: What are the long-term effects of social entrepreneurial practices? How do organizational actors sustain their social values in times of economic pressure? Which hopes and expectations motivate clients to participate in social entrepreneurial projects and how do they experience “personal improvement”? Under what circumstances do these initiatives fail or succeed?
Ethnographic participation in these local worlds involves abandoning the (impossible) role of detached observer and becoming involved in the everyday practice of running, working with, or being a client of a social enterprise. This special issue of Social Enterprise Journal is interested in methodological and empirical work pursuing an ethnographic approach to social enterprise. We welcome all forms of in-depth inquiry including, but not limited to: methodological reflections and empirical contributions in the form of a single case study, a multi-sited ethnographic framework, or an auto-ethnography of being a social enterprise practitioner.
Expressions of interest in the form of an abstract to the special issue editors: 30th November 2015
Full papers for review: 18 July 2016