Social Economy and the Greek welfare state: can Polanyi help us?

Sofia Adam

EMES Conferences Selected Papers Series, ECSP-T09-05
Thematic line: Fields of activities and country studies

Addressing social enterprises within the scope of the social economy debate raises important questions with regard to the working hypotheses underlying research projects. Rephrasing Fine’s critique on the concept of social capital (2001), we can address the following question: Is there an asocial economy? This positioning raises the question of embeddedness. If economy is always embedded on social relations, why add the term social in front of economy? The concept of embeddedness dates back to the work of Polanyi who, however, used the term in a dual way (Gemici, 2007), namely both as a “methodological principle” (holistic approach, economy cannot be studied without recourse to social relations), and as a “gradational concept” (some economies are more embedded on social relations than others).

If we adopt the first approach, then we can actually enrich research on Work Integration Social Enterprises by unfolding their particular manifestation in specific socio-economic formations. This involves a dialectic move from the macro (socioeconomic formation) to the micro (social enterprise) level: WISE are shaped and shape welfare state trajectories, intermesh with both labour and product markets and appeal to value-driven behaviour. However, these linkages do not correspond to distinct modes of integration (distribution, exchange, reciprocity) in a one-to-one way.

Especially, in countries such as Greece which manifest certain peculiarities (dual type welfare state, clientelistic networks, underdeveloped social movements for and/or from the excluded), we may find that isomorphism (mainly with the state) brings about clientelism and exclusion of the supposed beneficiaries at the work place. However, for these potential findings to show up, we need to readdress empirical analysis by allowing explicitly for the voice of the beneficiaries, namely vulnerable social groups working in these entities. That is, we have to incorporate the power distribution dimension.

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