Conceptualizing Social Enterprises and the Social Economy

The articles introduced below discuss conceptual dilemmas related to defining the social economy, and related concepts–in particular social enterprises, social entrepreneurship and community based organizations.  In addition to introducing a variety of analytical and conceptual models, a number of pieces utilize a comparative perspective to explore cross-national empirical distinctions.

For further discussion of conceptual issues, including a brief video distinguishing the social economy from social enterprises, click here.

Berner, Erhard & Benedict Phillips. 2008. “Left to Their Own Devices? Community Self-Help between Alternative Development and Neo-Liberalism.”  Pp. 284-295 Community Development in Theory and Practice: An International Reader. Nottingham, UK: Russell Press.

The chapter scrutinizes the practical assumptions and political under-pinnings of the self-help approach.

PDF: Community Self-Help

Boschee, Jerr.2006. “Social Entrepreneurship: The Promise and the Perils.” Pp. 356-390 in Social Entrepreneurship: New Models of Sustainable Social Change. New York: Oxford University Press.

Provides historical context of social entrepreneurship in the United States, outlining the obstacles and success that most entrepreneurial not- for profit encounter.

PDF: Boschee Soc Entrepreneurship .

Galera, Giulia and Carlo Borzaga. 2009. “Social Enterprise: An International Overview of its Conceptual Evolution and Legal Implementation.” Pp.  210-228 in Social Enterprise Journal. 5(3).

The purpose of this paper is to analyze the evolution of the social enterprise concept at an international level. It provides a comprehensive overview of the existing literature in this subject area and focuses on the legal implementation of social enterprises.

PDF: GaleraBorzagaSocialenterprise-1

Jones, Declan and William Keogh. 2006. “Social Enterprise: a Case of Terminological Ambiguity and Complexity.” Social Enterprise Journal, (2) 1: 11-25.

This paper explores the complexity and terminological ambiguity prevalent within the social economy concerning the definition of the term social enterprise and associated interpretations and resulting policy implications. It seeks to clarify the position, which currently causes confusion for social entrepreneurs, policy makers, funders, wings of government and the general public. It is the contention of this paper that it is necessary to accurately define and differentiate how we come to treat, in policy terms, the diverse range of organizations within the social economy.

Kerlin, Janelle. 2009. “A Comparison of Social Enterprise Models and Contexts,” Pp. 184 in Social Enterprise: A Global Comparison. Tufts University Press.

Bringing together essays written by social enterprise researchers and practitioners from seven regions and countries, this volume examines, from a local perspective, the diverse ways that social enterprise has emerged in different areas around the world. Each chapter examines the conceptualization, history, legal and political frameworks, supporting institutions, and latest developments and challenges for social enterprise in a given region or country. In the final chapter, Kerlin presents a comparative analysis of the various models and contexts for social enterprise, showing that particular unique strengths in each environment lead to different enterprise initiative models in different areas.


Mance, Euclides A. 2007. “Solidarity Economics.” Turbulence. June, 13.

A daring hypothesis: there is a global revolution underway. It is not led by any political party or vanguard. It has no military bases and its strategy is anti-belligerent. It mobilizes millions of people all over the world. We know little about it. What we do know is that at the grassroots level of its mobilizations, organization and popular education, there are thousands of movements and millions of people who have begun weaving collaborative networks of economic solidarity, creating channels and connections with the potential to bring together and strengthen local and global struggles. They are working collectively, from the bottom up, and democratically, building consensus while respecting reasoned dissent. We see these movements and their achievements everywhere, yet we know little about the power of this phenomenon, for at first they seem insufficient in number and size to change the world. And yet, I maintain: there is a global revolution underway.

Mendell, Marguerite; Lévesque, Benoît & Laville, Jean-Louis. 2005. “The social economy: Diverse approaches and practices in Europe and Canada.”

This paper, which is divided into three sections, provides an overview of the realities and approaches to the social economy in the European Union and in Canada. The literature and the experiences that we draw upon for our overview in this article is the result of extensive research and engagement of the three researchers in close collaboration with the research teams to which they belong – ARUC-ÉS and CRISES in Canada and CRIDA and LISE in France.


Mendel, Stuart. 2010. “Are Private Government, the Nonprofit Sector, and Civil Society the Same Thing?. “ Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. 3(4): 717-733.

This article argues that the concept of private government contributes to an elegant framework for understanding the public and private nature of American civil society. Private government has two distinct elements comprised of the interests of businesses and nonprofit organizations that exercise power to interact with government to achieve their specific goals and objectives. This new, yet familiar, lens on which to consider the role of the nonprofit sector in the United States and the manner in which it interacts with government policy makers and business decision makers adds clarity to the muddle of terminology scholars have assembled to classify and characterize one of American society’s most distinguishing features. The article will be of interest to domestic and international scholars seeking yet another tool to compare nongovernmental organizations and the particular character of civil society in countries that do not have the same political traditions as the United States.

Monzon, Jose Luis &  Rafael Chaves. 2008. “The European Social Economy: Concept and Dimensions in the Third Sector,” Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics.

In recent years a new context has emerged in Europe characterized by a larger growing Europe, the creation of a new European platform for social economy named ‘Social Economy Europe’ and an improvement in research, networks and initiatives in this area from certain European Institutions such as the European Social and Economic Committee.

This paper focuses on recurrent topics that need clarification such as the question of definitions, the national recognition of the concept of Social Economy and the size of this European third sector. It begins with a proposition of a conceptual delimitation of the Social Economy and of the different classes of company and organization that belong to it. Second, it identifies the different agents, which irrespective of their legal form, are part of the Social Economy in each of the member states of the European Union and to compare the different national definitions that are related to the Social Economy concept. Finally, it provides quantitative data on the European Social Economy.


Shragge, Eric and Fontan, Jean-Marc. 2000. Tendencies, Tensions and VisionsSocial Economy: International Debates and Perspectives. Black Rose Books.

Our goal is to present a wide perspective. The common theme that underlies all of the essays is that capitalist societies, particularly advanced industrialized capitalist societies, are in the process of undergoing some important changes, shaped by globalization of the economy and related changes in the state. As a consequence and related to the specific context of each country or region, new practices have emerged and new importance is accorded to the “third sector” or social economy. It is the significance of this sector and the role it plays in the changes that is debated in these essays.

Young, Dennis. 2001. “Social Enterprise in the United States: Alternate Identities and Forms.” The Social Enterprise: A Comparative Perspective.

In a variety of ways, nonprofit organizations and commercial business are becoming more and more intertwined with one another in the United States. One of the manifestations of this overall pattern is the emergence of the concept of social enterprise – connoting organizations that operate through the marketplace and address social goals. However, there is no one type of social enterprise. Indeed, this notion cuts across a wide spectrum of organizational possibilities, ranging from not-for-profit organizations that engage in commercial activity to profit-making businesses that claim to be driven by social objectives.

Organizations that conceive of themselves as social enterprises face important structural decisions. They can operate as for-profit businesses which make explicit contributions to the social good or they can become not-for-profit organizations with social missions that generate income and social benefits through commercial means. Within these forms, they can design their governance arrangements and specify their financial goals and constraints in a variety of ways. Nonetheless, these alternative forms may not fully accommodate a social enterprise organization’s self-conception, i.e., its organizational identity. This paper describes three distinct possible identities for social enterprises – corporate philanthropist organizations, social purpose organizations, and hybrids. Further, the paper explores the character of these three identities, their structural implications, and how alternative organizational forms can be adapted to accommodate them.

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