Social Entrepreneurship and The Political: Theorizing Social Change in Critical Entrepreneurship Studies

  • Amelia Olsson Stockholm Business School
Keywords: social entrepreneurship, post-politics, the political dimension, neoliberalism


An interest for the political dimension of social entrepreneurship has emerged, driven by the insight that research on social entrepreneurship tends to overemphasize the phenomenon’s managerial and entrepreneurial aspects (Barinaga, 2013). Cho (2006) illustrates that the social mission in social entrepreneurship is necessarily political, and explains how assumptions on the contrary derives from a perception of society as in a state of consensus. Because such assumptions often are made by people with power, who’s narratives dominates public discourses, this risks further marginalizing values and ideas of groups who already have a weak voice in society. He thus encourages us to engage in a dialogical approach to the phenomenon. Barinaga (2013) shows that social entrepreneurship in practice can follow different rationalities even if they approach similar social problems, and Jarrodi et al. (2019) reveal that social entrepreneurs may even be motivated by radical ideas such as attacking and destroying existing systems. Farias et al. (2019) moves on to suggest that entreprenuership has been colonized by an enterprising discourse, and instead use Rancière to illustrate how entrepreneurship implies breaking norms and rules, which per definition makes it political.

At the same time, scholars studying our political institutions talk about the political arena being in a state of post-politics, caused by neoliberalism’s displacement of the political. In such a state, political struggles have been reduced to policy problems best dealt with by experts. A false sense of consensus is conveyed where free market economics, cosmopolitan liberalism, and representative democracy is seen unquestionable. The notion of post-politics may explain why research on social entrepreneurship lack insights in the political dimension of the phenomenon. Especially since critical entrepreneurship scholars have revealed dubious connections between neoliberalism and social entrepreneurship. These studies show that neoliberalist governmental strategies use social entrepreneurship to legitimize a withdrawal of governmental responsibility for social protection and citizens’ welfare. Instead, such responsibility is outsourced to individuals who are encouraged to engage in innovative problem solving through the market (Eikenberry, 2018; Fougére et al., 2017). It seems to me that, since social entrepreneurship has become a preferred policy strategy in a time where our political institutions appear to be in a post-political state, the calls to study the political dimension of social entrepreneurship may be related to the neoliberal displacement of the political. I thus pose the question: How is the concept of social entreprenuership affiliated with the notion of post-politics? In order to answer this question, I engage with Mouffe's (2005) work on post-politics and her definition of the political as antagonisms inherent to society generated by conflicting interests amongst groups that cannot be reconciled.

Although the displacement of the political occurs in neoliberal discourse, this does not necessarily mean that it follows through to the practice of social entrepreneurship, which is what empirical studies such as the one conducted by Jarrodi et al. (2019) shows. In fact, according to Mouffe, the political can never fully disappear. This is an argument that comes from Laclau & Mouffe's (1985) framework, which views the current social order as constructed by hegemony, with the implication that a social order can never be completely fixed. Counterhegemonic discourses are always present and ready to undermine the existing order. This means that a displacement of the political dimension in policy discourse on social entrepreneurship does not necessarily imply a displacement of it in the practice of social entrepreneurship. This begs the second question: How can we understand political antagonisms in the practice of social entrepreneurship?

Answering these questions may help us to distinguish between social entrepreneurship in policy discourse and social entrepreneurship in practice. It may enable us to understand the practice as permeated by struggles of discourses, allowing us to engage with incongruences and conflicting ideas in our empirical cases of social entrepreneurship while at the same time taking both hegemonic and counterhegemonic discourses seriously.


Barinaga, E. (2013). Politicising Social Entrepreneurship –Three Social Entrepreneurial Rationalities Toward Social Change. Journal of Social Entrepreneurship, 2013(4(3)), 347–372.
Cho, A. H. (2006). Politics, Values and Social Entrepreneurship: A Critical Appraisal. In Social Entrepreneurship (pp. 34–56). Palgrave McMillan.
Eikenberry, A. M. (2018). Social entrepreneurship and democracy. In Social Entrepreneurship: An Affirmative Critique. Edward Elgar Publishing.
Farias, C., Fernandez, P., Hjort, D., & Holt, R. (2019). Organizational entrepreneurship, politics and the political. Entrepreneurship & Regional Development, 31(7–8), 555–566.
Fougére, M., Segercrantz, B., & Seeck, H. (2017). A critical reading of the European Union’s social innovation policy discourse:(Re)legitimizing neoliberalism. Organization, 24(6), 819–843.
Jarrodi, H., Byrne, J., & Bureau, S. (2019). A political ideology lens on social entrepreneurship motivations. Entrepreneurship & Regional Development, 31(7–8), 583–604.
Laclau, E., & Mouffe, C. (1985). Hegemony & Socialist Strategy. Verso.
Mouffe, C. (2005). On the Political: Thinking in Action. Routledge.
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