Social enterprise came before New Labour

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    There has been a major conceptual shift for social enterprise and third sector activity - from a localised path dependency response to deindustrialisation and market failure in the 1970s and 1980s to a new normative institutional role in the delivery of low cost public services. With this background, social enterprise and wider third sector activity have mushroomed into a prolific area of academic research and discourse on an industrial scale during the past 10 years, with many claiming their origins rooted in Blair, New Labour and even in Giddens’ Third Way. (Giddens 1994). Many of these contributions lack practical delivery experience and fail to recognise the wealth of grey, legacy and public policy literature from earlier periods which supports different conclusions and interpretations.

    Most current literature reviews on social enterprise and social entrepreneurship display few references to developments during the 1970s and 1980s before the advent of New Labour. This narrow focus on the “high voltage” vocalisation and articulation of the concept of social enterprise during New Labour Governments from 1997 to 2005 (Haugh, Kitson 2007) not only neglects previous origins and antecedents, but seriously misplaces and miscasts the role of social enterprise and the wider third sector. Though the current policy predisposition is for the institutional location of most social enterprises as public service delivers, this is not shaped by antecedents or origins of most social enterprises, which are not equipped for this role.

    Considerable grey and public policy literature from the 1970s and 1980s describes a political context for social enterprises which has been misrepresented by many current contributors in describing political alliances between cooperatives and New Labour. The author shows that many alliances did not survive the political transformation under New Labour. There was considerable theoretical underpinning for the author’s this approach, much of this has also been overlooked or ignored. The approach of Lipietz “involves radically new, non-Fordist, forms of political engagement in pursuit of a radically new set of expectations of social and economic progress” (Amin 1994) (p29). “Third sector and social economy programmes that aim to compensate for the simultaneous fragmentation of the traditional structures of market and state” (Mayer 2003) (p124). Lipietz complained that not everyone understood these developments (Lipietz 1996)

    Using Bhaskar’s Critical Realist analysis (Bhaskar 1989), his contribution seeks to rectify this serious omission of public policy, analytical and theoretical literature as a starting point for the relocation and reclamation of traditional roles and territories for social enterprise and third sector organisations.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusUnpublished - 14 Jul 2016


    • social enterprise
    • New Labour
    • third sector


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