Reference : Social Enterprise, Social Innovation and Alternative Economies: Insights from Fair Tr...
Parts of books : Contribution to collective works
Business & economic sciences : Strategy & innovation
Business & economic sciences : General management & organizational theory
Business & economic sciences : Social economics
Social Enterprise, Social Innovation and Alternative Economies: Insights from Fair Trade and Renewable Energy
[en] Entreprise sociale, innovation sociale et alternative économique : illustrations par le commerce équitable et les énergies renouvelables
Huybrechts, Benjamin mailto [Université de Liège - ULiège > HEC-Ecole de gestion : UER > Management en économie sociale >]
Alternative Economies and Spaces. New Perspectives for a Sustainable Economy
Zademach, Hans-Martin
Hillebrand, Sebastian
Global Studies
[en] social enterprise ; social innovation ; fair trade ; renewable energy ; alternative economy
[en] The transition towards a more sustainable economic system is increasingly seen as an urgency to respond to the social, environmental and economic challenges of our times. Mirroring this increased attention, the scholarly literature on transition and transition management, “degrowth” and sustainable development (e.g., Loorbach, 2007, Boulanger, 2008) has considerably developed across a set of disciplines (sociology, geography, economics, engineering, etc.). The solutions put forth by the different literature streams vary to a large extent and rely on distinct if not opposed ideological foundations, from the radical, anti-consumerist vision of “degrowth” to the much softer and vaguer, reformist trend of “sustainable development”.
Common to the different literature streams, however, is to mainly focus on two levels of analysis. First, the systemic level receives most attention when it comes to diagnoses of limitations in the extant system and exploration of what alternative – non-growth, post-transition or at least sustainable – systems or economies would look like. This focus on systems is logical given the scope of the expected (r)evolutions to undertake. It is also coherent with the main disciplines involved in this “macro-level” research effort: economics, sociology, political science, philosophy, etc.
A second and subsequent level of analysis that has been considered lies at the other extreme of the continuum: the individual. Indeed, as the failures of the extant economic system have been linked to the unrealistic and ideologically oriented vision of the individual as an ever-calculating, utility-maximizing “homo oeconomicus” (Stiglitz, 2009), questions have arisen about the human behavior required to generate or at least participate in the alternative systems conceived at the macro level. Put another way, to what extent and in what sense do we need to change our individual behaviors, in terms of purchasing, working, voting, investing, moving, and acting in general, in order to liberate ourselves from the homo oeconomicus patterns and consider alternative behaviours that, put together, may contribute to alternative systems? This “micro-level” perspective has relied on work in psychology and anthropology in order to (re)discover new avenues for increased reflexivity and conscious action.
Between the macro and micro perspectives lie a diversity of “meso” actors consisting of more or less formalized groups of individuals, organizations and institutions such as: public authorities (from local to global), businesses, civil society, educational institutions, etc. Much work has been undertaken on the role of these different types of “meso-actor” in the transition towards alternative economies, but in view of the author of this chapter this has been developed either in a superficial way, mentioning the different actors to engage in these processes, or using “black boxes” that suppose homogeneous sets of actors such as “companies” or “civil society actors”. In other words, although several case studies enter into the complexity of one or several of these black boxes, there is lack of clarity and depth in the study of how different types of actors, especially economic actors, may engage in and inspire societal change. In particular, little work makes the connection between how economic organizations function internally, and how they (may) act towards society (e.g., Moore et al., 2009).
This chapter does not aim, of course, to fill this knowledge gap on its own. It intends to bring a modest contribution to understanding the role of meso actors and in particular economic organizations by focusing on one specific, under-researched but important actor that is social enterprise. As will be described further, social enterprises are still weakly defined and heterogeneous (Dart, 2004, Defourny and Nyssens, 2010, Huybrechts and Nicholls, 2012). Yet, they share two features that seem of particular interest in the debate mentioned here. First, they do not correspond to a neatly defined organizational category as they precisely lie at the intersection of two spheres that are commonly clearly separated and often opposed to each other: the market and the civil society. Such a “hybrid” nature offers the potential for a specific and original contribution to the debate on alternative economies and systems, insofar as hybridity is synonym for innovation and unconventional thinking, as this chapter aims to show. A second feature of social enterprises is their supposed coherence, at least theoretically, between internal functioning and external contribution. In other words, the new societal solutions that social enterprises offer through their products and services are supposed to be coherent with the solutions experimented within their very organizational structures. Despite their diversity and their obvious limitations, it is thus suggested here that examining social enterprises may offer at least two contributions to the discussion on alternative economies. First, by understanding the potential of hybridity, i.e. combination of distinct institutional patterns, to the reconfiguration of economic systems. Second, by highlighting the link between intra-organizational functioning and societal behavior, in order to show how engaging actors in building alternative economies must involve in one way or another these two dimensions.
Centre d'Économie Sociale - CES

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