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Context, Narratives, Drawings and Boundary Objects: Where Social Enterprises Draw The Line

Seanor, P and Bull, Mike and Baines, S (2018) Context, Narratives, Drawings and Boundary Objects: Where Social Enterprises Draw The Line. In: 34th Institute of Small Business and Entrepreneurship Conference (ISBE) 2011, 09 November 2011 - 10 November 2011, University of Sheffield. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

Objectives The objectives of this paper are threefold: To question how social enterprise identity and actions are experienced in practice; to examine processes of change associated with social enterprise identity and actions; and to stimulate discussion on the nature, methodologies and methods used in social enterprise research. Prior work We contextualise social enterprise in relation to voluntary and community sector action and social movements as well as within the entrepreneurial literature, which increasingly questions the ability of a single grand theory to explain all phenomena. We propose the notion of ‘boundary work’ to understand the ‘everydayness’ of social entrepreneurship processes and learning. Approach We report empirical research based upon two independent qualitative studies with social enterprise practitioners (based in social enterprises and in support agencies) in the north of England. Both studies were informed by ethnography and phenomenology, and both utilised interviews and visual data in which participants drew Xs, lines, circles and arrows onto models to illustrate the contexts they perceived themselves to be working within. The paper is written in the spirit of ‘critical plurality’ to open up space for discussions of different ways of seeing and understanding social enterprise. Results Participants from social organisations did not find ‘Ideal types’ of social enterprise and traditional notions of being socially entrepreneurial entirely relevant to describe their experiences. These concepts however were useful as ‘boundary objects’ capable of respecting diverse viewpoints. We show how participants identified and located their organisations, and how they interpreted the ‘social’ and ‘economic’ of social enterprise in pictures and words. Whereas support workers typically drew straight lines indicating progress from social to economic orientation, participants from social organisations themselves tended to represent incremental changes in balancing social and economic goals, sometimes drawing circles and lines that bent round. Implications The empirical data illustrates varying tensions between ‘the social’ and ‘the economic’ in how contemporary practitioners understand social enterprise in everyday practice. The paper suggests that social enterprise can not be told as a single narrative but as a set of stories showing oscillations, ambiguities and contradictions. Value This paper borrows from methods utilising visual data to learn from practice and offer little narratives (Dey & Steyaert, 2010) in response to the need to raise the critical reflexivity of writing on social enterprises.

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