Social Enterprise Discourses

Ulrika Levander

EMES Conferences Selected Papers Series, ECSP-B08-24
Thematic line: Social entrepreneurship and social enterprise

The idea of the “social enterprise” is blending traditionally conflicting ideologies of the left and the right and mixing principles of the market, the voluntary sector and the public sphere.
In this paper this concept and phenomenon is approached from a constructivist perspective. What kinds of discourses can be tracked in the idea, and which social consequences do they imply? In analysing different ways of talking about the phenomenon, the discursive analysis of the social enterprise includes both interdiscursive analysis and linguistic analysis of texts.

The study presented in the paper was conducted in a Swedish context and is part of a Ph.D. project in social work. It was based on printed or net-published documents concerning, or dealing with, the concept of social enterprises. Critical discourse analysis (CDA) was the main method of analysis, and a basic methodological assumption was that each discursive environment constructs, reproduces and confirms particular accounts for institutional purposes. In the rhetoric of the documents preferred and disparaged frames of understanding the idea of social enterprising were traced.

The study showed that the idea of social enterprise as an activity involving multiple goals, multiple principles and multiple resources, opens up for a wide range of competing discourses. In the analysis, three main discursive formations emerged, contesting the way the social enterprise, and the welfare produced by the social enterprise, are to be understood.

While the dominating discourse in the first discursive formations to a great extent reflected the social enterprise as a method to empower marginalised individuals or disadvantaged groups, the other discursive formations showed a different result. Here, the discursive formations originally used were reconstructed. What was previously viewed as a means, were now being described as the goal. Appearing as a goal in itself, the social enterprise was here utilized as a solution communicated by governing authorities to handle issues of structural character in the society. As it is held to bring new dynamics to the third sector, deconstructing the idea of “social enterprise” should be of relevance for an international audience outside Sweden.

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