Constructing the 'social' in social entrepreneurship: A postcolonial perspective

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)

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Abstract

Social entrepreneurship is often depicted as the solution to the various problems we have in society today. In the mainstream literature, it tends to be presented as a site of empowerment, inclusion, morality and compassion. However, while much attention has been granted the ‘entrepreneurship’ part of the term, we know less about the ‘social’ in social entrepreneurship. The meaning of the ‘social’ is largely left vague and open-ended, seemingly implying a neutral and universal form of goodness. Drawing upon a more critical stream of literature, which emphasizes the inherently political and ideological character of the ‘social’, I explore how the ‘social’ in social entrepreneurship is constructed and upheld. In viewing this process through a postcolonial lens, I further address the power relations involved in shaping the ‘social’.

Through a qualitative study, I explore a social entrepreneurship initiative that took place on a small Danish Island. Facing challenges such as depopulation and a high unemployment rate, with many residents having to tackle various social problems and health issues, a group of actors initiated a project aiming to bring life back to the Island. The project, referred to as a strategy by some and as branding by others, went under the label ‘Sustainable Island’ and aspired to change the image of the Island from that of a rural society in decline to a sustainable society in the forefront of green technology. While receiving praise and support from an international audience, the project was met with protests and scepticism from the local community. To understand the power relations present in the local construction of the ‘social’ on the Island, I draw upon Bhabha’s (1994) concepts of Otherness, ambivalence and mimicry.

By considering both human and non-human actors, I analyze how the ‘social’ is held together. My findings highlight how the ‘social’ takes form as an idea of what is good for society and how it relates to an idea of what it means to be a good citizen. I argue that social entrepreneurship involves processes of Othering necessary to uphold an idea of the ‘social’ as well as the ‘entrepreneurial’. I further show how associations with ‘good’ objects facilitated the settlement of a certain idea of the ‘social’ on the Island. ‘Good’ objects as well as the discursive construction of the Other became important actors in upholding a certain meaning of the ‘social’ against resistance. Based on these findings, I argue that the relational construction of the ‘social’ involves parallel processes of exclusion and inclusion. While a variety of actors were necessary to construct the ‘social’, they did not participate equally in the conversation on what was good for society. My study thus adds to our understanding of how power relations shape the idea of what the ‘social’ in social entrepreneurship means.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor
Awarding Institution
  • Lund University School of Economics and Management, LUSEM
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Wigren-Kristoferson, Caroline, Supervisor
  • Rennstam, Jens, Supervisor
Award date2021 May 21
Place of PublicationLund
Publisher
Print ISBNs978-91-7895-845-0
Electronic ISBNs978-91-7895-846-7
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Apr 19

Bibliographical note

Defence details
Date: 2021-05-21
Time: 13:15
Place: Rhenmansalen/Ideon Alfa 5:B413
External reviewer
Name: Śliwa, Martyna
Title: Professor
Affiliation: University of Essex
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Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Business Administration

Keywords

  • Social entrepreneurship
  • postcolonial theory
  • inclusion/exclusion

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