Ethnographies of social enterprise

Stefanie Mauksch, Pascal Dey, Mike Rowe, Simon Teasdale

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Purpose: As a critical and intimate form of inquiry, ethnography remains close to lived realities and equips scholars with a unique methodological angle on social phenomena. This long editorial explores the potential gains from an increased use of ethnography in social enterprise studies.
Design/methodology/approach: We develop the argument through a set of dualistic themes, namely (1) the socio-economic dichotomy and (2) the discourse/practice divide as predominant critical lenses through which social enterprise is currently examined, and suggest shifts (3) from visible leaders to invisible collectives and (4) from case study-based monologues to dialogic ethnography.
Findings: We find that ethnography sheds new light on at least four neglected aspects. (1) Studying social enterprises ethnographically complicates simple reductions to socio-economic tensions, by enriching the set of differences through which practitioners make sense of their work-world. (2) Ethnography provides a tool for unravelling how practitioners engage with discourse(s) of power, thus marking the concrete results of intervention (to some degree at least) as unplannable and yet effective (3) Ethnographic examples signal the merits of moving beyond leaders towards more collective representations and in-depth accounts of (self-)development. (4) Reflexive ethnographies demonstrate the heuristic value of accepting the self as an inevitable part of research and exemplify insights won through a thoroughly bodily and emotional commitment to sharing the life world of others.
Originality/value: The present volume collects original ethnographic research of social enterprises. The editorial develops the first consistent account of the merits of studying social enterprises ethnographically.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-127
Number of pages14
JournalSocial Enterprise Journal
Issue number02
Early online date20 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2 May 2017


  • ethnography
  • social enterprise
  • literature review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Business,Management and Accounting
  • General Social Sciences


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