The recent proliferation of social enterprises around the world has attracted considerable interest from the research community. However, while attention has understandably focused on important issues related to short-term performance, governance and accountability of social enterprises, much less attention has been paid to their longer-term growth process.
In the paper we aim to address this research gap by setting out the conceptual underpinnings of a more historically-informed approach. The paper opens with a critical review of the recent growth literature, and a particular focus on the unfolding tension between social and economic imperatives. The argument is illustrated through a comparative case analysis of three social enterprises located in the United Kingdom. Cross-case comparison, structured around the preceding conceptual discussion, is used to identify common themes.
The concluding section indicates how this approach might be further developed and sets out implications for social enterprise policy and practice.