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    Shape Sorting: Towards Defining Social Enterprise in the UK

    Bull, Mike (2016) Shape Sorting: Towards Defining Social Enterprise in the UK. In: International Conference: Transforming Emerging Economies Through Sustainability and Innovations in Businesses (IC TEE 2016), 08 November 2016 - 09 November 2016, Bengaluru, India. (Unpublished)


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    The objective of this paper is to conceptualise social enterprise in the UK. Through an analysis of various theoretical positions this paper argues that current theory fails to fully represent the variety of organisational types that are coined ‘social enterprise’. There are numerous theoretical conceptualisations positioning social enterprise in various contexts and continents. This paper tracks the rise of social enterprise in the UK from the 1980s to the 1990s. A decade where the concept emerged and formed in both the political consciousness and as an academic discipline. The focus of the analysis here is on five key theoretical models that have influenced knowledge building, yet fail to fully appreciate the breadth of organisational types within the concept. The model presented in this paper 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. 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 a 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 in 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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