Neoliberalism and the Marketisation of the Social Economy in the UK

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Return to the true origins of the third sector makes redundant the concept of social innovation
Neglect of earlier antecedents from the 1970s onwards has miscast the role of social enterprise and undermined the legitimacy of earlier socially innovative third sector organisations. Many current academic contributions on social innovation overlook the emergence of essentially innovative third sector structures during the 1970s and 1980s, many of which have been more recently been “colonised” by academic discourses for conversion into vehicles for low cost public service delivery.
Many earlier third sector organisations, including worker cooperatives, in which the author was involved, community enterprises and local regeneration structures, were intrinsically socially innovative in the face of massive job losses through large scale deindustrialisation. “Employment in most was back to the level of the 1940s and some to levels not experienced since before the Second World War” (Cripps 1981)
The author contests recent interpretations of social innovation, which describe UK Cabinet Office funding initiatives for outsourcing and fragmentation of public service provision (Edmiston 2016). In contrast the author supports earlier interpretations, including “the (re)introduction of social justice into production and allocation systems” (Moulaert, Ailenei 2005); “to establish a collective well-being and recreate social bonds between the people within their communities” (Lipietz, 2003); ”to seek solutions for the crisis of employment by the creation of enterprises d’insertion and of worker-owned co-operatives (Mellor et al., 1988); and a ‘third sector’… that combines: formal and informal elements at the level of organisation (market, state, volunteering, self-help and the domestic economy), market and nonmarket-oriented production and valorisation of goods and services, monetary and non-monetary resources at the level of funding”( Levesque et al. 1999)
Apart from Jessop, most UK contributions neglect the “regulationist approach” to de industrialisation and Post Fordism, when during the 1980s Lipietz was developing the concept of a “third sector” (Lipietz 1989).
Meyer later describes (p124) “third sector and social economy programmes that aim to compensate for the simultaneous fragmentation of the traditional structures of market and state” (Mayer 2003). Pierson (Pierson 1996) describes (p151) how “maturing social programs develop new bases of organized support that have substantial autonomy from the labour movement.”

The author’s paper will provide many examples of socially innovative emerging structures across the UK, funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (Thomas 1996, Hewison, Holden 2006), local communities (Gostyn et al. 1981), “established community/voluntary organisations” (Keltie, Meteyard 1991) and the comprehensive CENTRIS Report (Knight 1993).
Many developments in the UK were similar to those in Canada. "While the economic recession of the 1980s speeded the shift in the centre of gravity of Québec’s community movement from mobilizing political demands to providing autonomous services, it was only in the 1990s that the term ‘social economy’ entered the policy lexicon”. (Graefe 2005)
In summary, the author’s paper seeks to restore 1970s and 1980s structures to their rightful place in the social innovation hierarchy, since these were formed in times when without social innovation, their contribution could not have been made.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTrajectoires d'innovation: Des émergences à la reconnaissance
EditorsJean-Louis Klein, Jacques L. Boucher, Annie Camus
Place of PublicationMontreal
PublisherPresses de l'Université du Québec
Number of pages10
ISBN (Print) 9782760551060
Publication statusPublished - 3 Oct 2019

Publication series

NameInnovation Sociale


  • neoliberalism
  • social innovation
  • entrepreneurship


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