Democracy, institutional entrepreneurship and socio-political performance: the contribution of management science to a reassessment of traditional associationism

Patrick Valéau

EMES Conferences Selected Papers Series, ECSP-P16-16

Although the 2008 global crisis led to a questioning of the relevance and sustainability of a mode of development exclusively based on a global liberalism ruled by finance, the « great transformation » (Polanyi, 1944) is already back on track, with an extension of the market to all areas of society, including the nonprofit sector. In this context, “social entrepreneurship” is often presented as the best way for nonprofit organizations (NPOs) to survive. However, we argue that this economic adaptation deeply undermines the socio-political dimension of the nonprofit movement and, in doing so, distorts its original nature and purpose. Drawing on Laville’s (2010) “associationist” approach to nonprofit organizations on the one hand, and on Di-Maggio’s (1988) “institutional” approach to entrepreneurship on the other, we situate nonprofit action at the nexus of the economic and socio-political spheres, opening up new possibilities for alternative transformations of society.

Over the past two decades, a growing number of political leaders have begun to refer to the social entrepreneurship approach to nonprofit organization. Drawing on Dees’s (1998) seminal text, American literature defines social entrepreneurship as a series of strategies aiming to acquire more resources in order to achieve more efficiently social goals. In this view, the adaptation of nonprofit organizations to the great transformation can be interpreted as a form of effectiveness. However, this approach situates the action of the nonprofit sector almost exclusively within the economic sphere. From our point of view, this adaptation of the nonprofit sector to the new ultra- liberal world has led to the « great transformation » of the “associationist” movement. it could be viewed the last of a long series of attempts from both, the state and the market, to undermine the socio-political dimension of the nonprofit sector (Laville, 2010). While economic development constitutes a necessary means to empowerment and emancipation for people and groups demanding their rights to be respected (Laville, 2010), economic development alone can also lead to a dependency trap. Social entrepreneurship introduces a risk of commodification of the nonprofit sector.

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