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Shape sorting: towards defining Social Enterprise in the UK

Bull, Mike (2015) Shape sorting: towards defining Social Enterprise in the UK. In: Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (ISBE) Conference 2015, 11 November 2015 - 12 November 2015, Glasgow, Scotland. (In Press)

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Abstract

The objective of this paper is to review current conceptualisations of social enterprise and present a new theoretical model towards defining social enterprise in the UK. There has been several visual conceptualisations of social enterprise that have sought to define the concept. This paper tracks the rise of social enterprise in the UK from the 1980-90s, focussing on six key theoretical models that have influenced the development of the field. This paper reviews the literature, comparing and contrasting models and concepts. The focus is on visual representations that articulate and support the positioning of social enterprise. This is followed by my own model that seeks to overcome the disparity and shortcomings of concepts to date. Despite numerous attempts to define social enterprise, as well as calls to move beyond definition, the field appears to be no nearer in providing an inclusive model of social enterprise. Shape sorters do not allow people to put square blocks in round holes, triangular in hexagonal. None of the shapes are the same and none of the holes are the same, so you cannot put everything through the same hole. The analogy is similar to social enterprise as there are different types of organisations. They are not all the same shape. Therefore, the contribution to knowledge here is in identifying and acknowledging the different forms of social enterprise. This paper provides a conceptualisation that embraces the multifaceted nature of social enterprise, which has previously and predominantly been a search for one size fits all. The implications for academics is in new ways of grappling with the concept that provides teaching material as well as scholarly research. For policy makers in re-evaluating their engagement in the sector and for practitioners in positioning themselves, whilst appreciating the various organisational types that can be conceived as social enterprises. The value of this paper lies the conceptualisation of social enterprise in the UK. This is a new contribution to knowledge that strengthens the understanding of the field. The model provides the basis for further scholarly research in refining and building on the theorisation of social enterprise from a clearer position.

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