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Towards Normative Theories of Social Entrepreneurship. A Review of the Top Publications of the Field

Abstract

In this article, we apply deductive content analysis to the 100 most influential publications in the field of social entrepreneurship (SE) to identify the normative assumptions in SE scholarship. Using eight contemporary schools of thought in political philosophy as a template for analysis, we identify the philosophies underlying SE literature and the important consequences of their (often ignored) normative stances, such as: ambiguous concepts, justifications and critiques, and normative contradictions. Our study contributes to the SE literature by proposing that political philosophy can help to identify what counts as the ‘social’ in SE. We are showing some of the field’s inherent normative tensions that could dampen its impact, and propose ways in which a normative awareness would help to establish a basis upon which to evaluate and demonstrate the social, economic, and cultural impact of SE.

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Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available in the Zenodo repository. The paper sample database is available at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4767012. The Atlas.TI coding file is available at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4767088. The paper’s final coding is available at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4767203.

Notes

  1. A Pareto optimal allocation of resources is one in which it is impossible to reallocate resources to make someone better off without making someone else worse off, where ‘better off’ means gaining utility or satisfying more preferences. Pareto optimality is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition of a utilitarian criterion. Since Paretianism focuses on utility rather than rights or freedom (Sen, 1979), we categorise references to market (Pareto) efficiency as a utilitarian idea.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Gibson Burell for his editorial work as well as the anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments. We would also like to thank our colleague Thibault Daudigeos, Stephane Jaumier, Ismaël Al-Amoudi and Fiona Ottavianni for their valuable feedback and expertise.

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Appendices

Appendix A: Description of political philosophies

Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism is a consequentialist philosophy that claims we should maximize human welfare, or utility. Consequentialism means that the ‘rightness’ of an action is judged by the consequences of this action. The concept of utility is central in utilitarianism and different streams of thought define it in different ways. It can be pleasure (in hedonistic utilitarianism), any mental state that people wish to experience (since we might want to experience something other than pleasure), or the satisfaction of informed preferences. Informed (or rational) preferences are the preferences we would have if we had all information concerning the consequences of my actions, and if my preferences themselves were not restrained by beliefs preventing me from having certain aspirations.

In utilitarianism, human welfare is the aggregation of utilities. Each person’s utility must be given equal weight in the calculation of human welfare. The most important critiques addressed to utilitarianism are that summing utilities does not allow for consideration of the distribution of utilities (inequalities) and that the focus on utility accords no intrinsic value to rights or freedoms.

Liberal egalitarianism

Starting from the critique of the inequality of resource distribution that can arise from utilitarianism, liberal egalitarian theories aim at defining the ‘fair share’ of resources that each person deserves. Rawls defines then two principles about how to distribute resources:

“all social primary goods – liberty and opportunity, income and wealth, and the bases of self-respect – are to be distributed equally unless an unequal distribution of any or all of these goods is to the advantage of the least favoured” (Rawls, 1971, p.303, cited by Kymlicka, 2002).

These principles are justified by reference to our intuitions regarding the ‘veil of ignorance’ thought experiment – that if we did not know what our place in society would be, we would choose such a distribution to compensate for social and natural inequalities.

There are various kinds of egalitarianism rooted in Rawls’ foundational work. For example, Amartya Sen criticizes Rawls, arguing that with the same ‘primary goods’ different people cannot achieve equal outcomes. For example, a disabled person cannot achieve the same thing as an able-bodied person, even if they have the same bundle of primary goods. For this reason, Sen proposes that equality of capabilities, rather than primary goods, should be the basis of an egalitarian theory of justice (Sen, 2001).

Libertarianism

Libertarianism uses various arguments to justify the free market and property rights against egalitarian redistribution. We can distinguish four different arguments justifying absolute property rights. First, the voluntary agreement argument states that if people voluntarily give money to others in exchange for some good, the result must be fair (if not necessarily equal) since the trade was freely chosen. Second, the mutual advantage argument states that rational agents can choose to define moral conventions when they work for their mutual advantage, for example to solve social dilemmas.

Next, the self-ownership argument claims that what is produced with one’s own talents is one’s property. Then, in order to treat people as equals and as ends in themselves, one cannot violate someone else’s exercise of his or her absolute property rights. All property rights acquired through chosen exchanges are thus legitimate. Concerning the appropriation of resources that are not created by humans, unowned resources can be freely appropriated as long as it does not worsen the conditions of others, even if the resulting distribution is not equal. Finally, the argument of liberty establishes liberty as a fundamental value and defines the goal of society as ‘maximizing liberty’ or giving people the most extensive liberty compatible with the same liberty for all.

Marxism

Marxists denounce the exploitation and alienation of workers by capitalists (owners of the means of production), and argue in favour of the socialization of the mean of production as a solution. Marxism gives value to self-realization in work. Labour in the capitalist system is viewed as alienating since the worker loses power over his or her own labour. Technically, exploitation is defined as the capitalist appropriation of the added value produced by the worker.

According to the labour theory of value employed by traditional Marxists, the worker is the only agent who produces value. S/he is therefore exploited when capitalists receive some of the value s/he creates. As this theory of value is close to the libertarian view inasmuch as it assigns property rights according to people’s labour, some contemporary Marxists avoid it and instead converge with a liberal egalitarian argument to promote an equal distribution of the means of production.

Communitarianism

Communitarians investigate the role of communities within society. The schools of thought are diverse, but their reflexions centre around a common set of questions that aim at resituating the individual in its social context. Communitarians question the liberal egalitarian paradigm from a perspective of cultural relativism. Certain communities defend particular ways of life and claim the liberty to perpetuate them. Questions raised by this approach include: To what extent can certain ways of life and visions of the common good be promoted? Can some ways of life be promoted against individuals’ rights of self-determination (the rights to choose and revise one’s conception of the good), defended by liberal egalitarianism?

Communitarians also argue that social deliberation is necessary to define a conception of the good and question whether and how the state should intervene to encourage the formation of a pluralist ‘offering’ of cultures. Furthermore, communitarians question the bases of social unity necessary to allow citizens to trust each other, realize solidary and accept democratic decisions. The response of western democracies has been to build a relatively neutral national identity based on a common language and history.

Citizenship theory

While liberal egalitarian theories define citizenship as individual rights and entitlements, citizenship theories shift the focus and try to “identify the virtues and practices needed to promote and maintain the sorts of institutions and policies defended within theories of justice” (Kymlicka, 2002, p. 287). Different theories of justice lead to different visions of citizenship, and citizenship debates concern which kinds of virtues should be promoted and how. The ‘virtues’ of citizens include participation in political institutions and in public debate, but also ‘civility’ in how citizen treat each other. The potential ‘seedbeds’ of civic virtues identified by citizenship theorists have been ‘civil society’ and education through public schools.

Multiculturalism

Multiculturalism addresses the problem of cultural injustices, whereby a minority group suffers cultural domination, non-recognition or disrespect. It asks if a ‘politics of recognition’ and the attribution of differentiated rights for particular groups can be justified. These groups include, for example, indigenous peoples, national minorities, immigrants, ethnocultural groups, ethnoreligious groups, refugees, etc.

Multiculturalism began as a communitarian critique of liberalism, but liberals tried to integrate it. Within a liberal framework, minorities’ claims can be separated into asking for the right to protect their group against their own members (e.g., those who refuse to follow the community’s rules) or the right to protect their group against external pressures of wider society (Kymlicka, 2002, p. 340). For egalitarians, the first claim is not legitimate because it implies restricting individual rights, while the second is legitimate as it implies realizing or expanding such rights. Minority rights claims are also a response to nation state building processes that tend to impose a particular language and/or culture on minorities.

Feminism

Each political theory is represented within feminism, yet within this diversity feminists share a common core of critiques against mainstream political theories and their incapacity to consider women’s interests (Kymlicka, 2002, p. 377). First, the principle of non-discrimination against the female gender is not sufficient to rule out sexism. The concept of domination introduces the idea that society is defined for men. The more social institutions are designed for men, the fewer arbitrary discriminations are needed to exclude women because they will simply fail to fit positions defined for men (Kymlicka, 2002, pp. 382–383) (e.g. minimal weight requirements to enter the army, the incompatibility of childcare and full-time work, etc.).

Second, classical theories draw a division between the public and private spheres. In this way, they neglect the question of equality within the family. Establishing a family has different consequences for men and women. Women perform most domestic work, must choose between career and family, and often become economically dependent on men who thus gain more decision-making power within the family (Kymlicka, 2002, p. 387). Contemporary feminism additionally argues that ‘feminine’ moral reasoning, through the ethic of care, can be a source of moral insight. While theories of justice focus on moral principles universally applicable and based on concepts such as rights and fairness, the ethic of care focuses on the development of moral dispositions that allow one to identify appropriate responses to particular cases based on concepts of responsibilities and relationships (Kymlicka, 2002, p. 401).

Appendix B: References of the sample

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Zahra, Shaker A.; Gedajlovic, Eric; Neubaum, Donald O.; Shulman, Joel M A typology of social entrepreneurs: Motives, search processes and ethical challenges Journal of Business Venturing 2009 1369
Murphy, Patrick J.; Coombes, Susan M A Model of Social Entrepreneurial Discovery Journal of Business Ethics 2009 1182
Thompson, John L The world of the social entrepreneur International Journal of Public Sector Management 2002 1044
Weerawardena, Jay; Mort, Gillian Sullivan Investigating social entrepreneurship: A multidimensional model Journal of World Business 2006 1020
Thompson, John; Alvy, Geoff; Lees, Ann Social entrepreneurship – a new look at the people and the potential Management Decision 2000 1004
Eikenberry, A. M.; Kluver, J. D The marketization of the nonprofit sector: Civil society at risk? Public Administration Review 2004 965
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Zahra, Shaker A.; Rawhouser, Hans N.; Bhawe, Nachiket; Neubaum, Donald O.; Hayton, James C Globalization of social entrepreneurship opportunities Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal 2008 610
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Waddock, Sandra A.; Post, James E Social Entrepreneurs and Catalytic Change Public Administration Review 1991 529
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Spear, Roger Social entrepreneurship: a different model? International Journal of Social Economics 2006 444
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Haugh, Helen A research agenda for social entrepreneurship Social enterprise journal 2005 360
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Nicholls, Alex 'We do good things, don't we?': 'Blended Value Accounting' in social entrepreneurship Accounting Organizations and Society 2009 355
Perrini, Francesco; Vurro, Clodia Social entrepreneurship: Innovation and social change across theory and practice Social entrepreneurship 2006 355
Korosec, Ronnie L.; Berman, Evan M Municipal support for social entrepreneurship Public Administration Review 2006 340
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Corner, Patricia Doyle; Ho, Marcus How Opportunities Develop in Social Entrepreneurship Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice 2010 312
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Cho, Albert Hyunbae Politics, values and social entrepreneurship: A critical appraisal Social entrepreneurship 2006 295
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Choi, Nia; Majumdar, Satyajit Social entrepreneurship as an essentially contested concept: Opening a new avenue for systematic future research Journal of Business Venturing 2014 231
Parkinson, Caroline; Howorth, Carole The language of social entrepreneurs Entrepreneurship and Regional Development 2008 231
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Calic, Goran; Mosakowski, Elaine Kicking Off Social Entrepreneurship: How A Sustainability Orientation Influences Crowdfunding Success Journal of Management Studies 2016 227
Littlewood, David; Holt, Diane Social Entrepreneurship in South Africa: Exploring the Influence of Environment Business & Society 2018 224
Weerawardena, Jay; McDonald, Robert E.; Mort, Gillian Sullivan Sustainability of nonprofit organizations: An empirical investigation Journal of World Business 2010 219
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Townsend, David M.; Hart, Timothy A Perceived institutional ambiguity and the choice of organizational form in social entrepreneurial ventures Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice 2008 218
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Stephan, Ute; Uhlaner, Lorraine M.; Stride, Christopher Institutions and social entrepreneurship: The role of institutional voids, institutional support, and institutional configurations Journal of International Business Studies 2015 213
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Mair, Johanna; Schoen, Oliver Successful social entrepreneurial business models in the context of developing economies: An explorative study International Journal of Emerging Markets 2007 194
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Ruebottom, Trish The microstructures of rhetorical strategy in social entrepreneurship: Building legitimacy through heroes and villains Journal of Business Venturing 2013 124
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Appendix C: Initial political philosophy keywords

Philosophy Key ideas Keywords
Utilitarianism Maximization of welfare welfare, utility, maximization, preferences, interests, value
Liberal egalitarianism Primary goods primary goods, liberty, opportunity, income, wealth, self-respect, power, equal rights, basic rights, equality of opportunity, civil rights, political rights, basic liberties, fair share, basic income, equal freedom
Least favoured least favoured, disadvantaged, disabled
Libertarianism Absolute property rights property, property rights, property ownership, absolute property, material welfare, self-ownership
Mutual advantage and chosen exchanges mutual advantage, contract, convention, social contract, rational choice, bargaining power, cooperation, freeriding
Liberty liberty, freedom
Marxism Alienation and exploitation of workers alienation, exploitation, socialization of the means of production, class conflict, oppression, revolution
Communitarianism Culture and group identity culture, tradition, common good, communitarian, shared practices, shared experiences, shared culture, shared identity, shared goal, solidarity, identity, way of life
Citizenship theory Virtue and citizens behaviour civic, civic virtue, citizenship, voice, empowerment, responsibility, public debate, deliberation, deliberative democracy, civility, civil society, republican
Multiculturalism Minority cultures diversity, cultural diversity, cultural pluralism, recognition, exclusion, excluded, marginalization, marginalized, assimilation, integration, minority group, minorities, stigmatization, stigmatized, indigenous peoples, national minorities, immigrants, ethnocultural groups, ethnoreligious groups, refugees
Feminism Gender equality male biased, sexual discrimination, sexual inequalities, gender-biased, sex discrimination, sexual discrimination, sex equality, domination, dominance, women’s subordination, sexist, sexism, oppression, family, private sphere, domestic, women
Feminist ethic ethic of care, care theory, feminine ethic, feminist ethic, caregiver, empathy

Appendix D: Final political philosophy keywords*

Philosophy Theme Keywords
Utilitarianism Social welfare public welfare | total welfare | global welfare | total utilit* | public utilit* | global utilit* | wellbeing | well-being | life satisfaction | preferences satisfaction
Maximization maximiz* | maximis*
Efficiency efficient |inefficient |cost*benefit* | avoid* cost*
Liberal Equality Basic rights primary good* |basic right* |basic good* |equal* right* | equal* opportunity | political right* | civil right* |basic libert* | fair share | basic income |equal* freedom | basic need* | capability approach | capabilities | empower*
Least favoured least favour*|least favor*| disadvantag* | disab*
Libertarianism Mutual advantage win–win | mutual advantage| bargaining power | social contract
Maximize freedom |maximi* libert* | maximi* freedom
Property rights private property | private ownership |property right*
Marixsm Marxism alienat* | exploit* worker | exploit* employee*| socializ* mean production | class* conflict* | oppress* | revolution | marxi* | bourgeois
Communitarianism Communitarianism common good | communitarian | share* practice* | share* experience* | share* culture | share* identity | share* goal* | common practice* | common experience* | common culture | common identit*| common goal* | collective practice* | collective experience* | collective culture | collective identit* | collective goal* |solidarity | way of life
Citizenship Theory Civic civic | civic virtue | citizenship | civility | civil society | engagement | commitment | involvment
Democracy | deliberati* | deliberative democracy | public debate | democra* | participatory | participation
Multiculturalism Cultural Groups indigenous | indigenous peoples | national minorities | immigrant* | migrant* | ethnocultural group* | ethnoreligious group* | refugee* | ethnic* minorit*
Cultural Diversity cultural diversity | cultural pluralism | cultural recognition | cultural* exlus* | cultural* marginaliz* | cultural assimilation | cultural integration | minority group* | minorities | cultural* stigmatiz*| cultural* stigmatis* | multicultural*
Feminism Feminism feminis*
Ethics of Care ethic* care | care theor* | feminine ethic* | feminist ethic
Empathy empat*
Gender equality male bias* | male dominat* | men dominat* | sex* discrimination* | sex**equalit* | gender-bias* | gender *equalit* | gender discrimination* | gender dominat* | gender oppression | wom*n* subordination | wom*n* right* | wom*n* discrimination | wom*n* oppression | sexis* | gender

* The pipe ‘|’ represents the Boolean operator OR and the wild card ‘*’ represents multiple missing characters.

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Ranville, A., Barros, M. Towards Normative Theories of Social Entrepreneurship. A Review of the Top Publications of the Field. J Bus Ethics (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-021-04867-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-021-04867-4

Keywords

  • Social entrepreneur
  • Social entrepreneurship
  • Political philosophy
  • Normative theory