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Squaring the challenge: reconciling business and ethical goals in social enterprises

MAZZEI, MICAELA (2013) Squaring the challenge: reconciling business and ethical goals in social enterprises. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



The narrative surrounding social enterprise, both politically and theoretically, tends to emphasise a narrow definition and a set of expectations as to their role and meaning, generally reducible to organisations able to reconcile business and ethical aspirations. Policies devised to support the development of these organisations are generally based on the assumption that social enterprises have to be self-financing and that their developmental pathways lead to financial sustainability, generally achievable through trade. The experiences of organisations encountered in the course of this research contradict this view, instead highlighting the diversity characterising these organisations and the circumstantiality of their development pathways. It demonstrates that their ability to balance economic imperatives with social and environmental concerns is the product of negotiations and compromises, resulting in experimentation with what it is available in specific moments in time and place. Indeed the nature of the local environment and culture are found to play a crucial role in both the choice of institutional forms and in conditioning development that is more or less in line with an organisation’s ethos. When successful reconciliation occurs, it is the product of particular, place-specific circumstances, unfolding in the networks of relationships developed between a variety of actors from public institutions, businesses, local networks, activists, social movements and other civic groups, all working towards the same aim, whether this is doing business with a conscience or delivering public services with care. This thesis argues for a stronger commitment to economic pluralism, whereby expectations as to what social enterprises can achieve is rebalanced, informed by greater understanding of the plurality of forms that constitutes the social enterprise ‘constellation’ and their diverse potential. Only then can they contribute to more equitable or geographically even economic development.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:social enterprise, diversity, place, business and ethics, economic pluralism
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Geography, Department of
Thesis Date:2013
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:31 Oct 2013 10:55

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