'Utopia’ failed? Social enterprise, everyday practices and the closure of neoliberalism

Micaela Mazzei*, Thomas Montgomery, Pascal Dey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
77 Downloads (Pure)


In the context of recurrent economic crises, ‘alternative’ models of economic organising such as social enterprise offer compelling examples of utopian imageries of a better future ‘to come’. Social enterprise qua utopia implies not only that alternative ways of being and co-existence are desirable, but that there is often a disjuncture between the desirable futures such utopian imaginaries project and the extent to which they are actualised or even actualisable in practice. The UK, which has long been considered the most conducive environment for social enterprise activity, offers a fertile ground to study this tension between utopian imagination and empirical actualization. Drawing from three large-scale research projects focusing on the social economy in Scotland and the North of England, this paper explores the link between social enterprise as a political program and as lived material practices unfolding under conditions of extreme resource scarcity caused by austerity measures. Our findings reveal that whatever utopian impulse social enterprise might contain, it is constituted, in the last instance, in the movement between ideas and everyday life, i.e. the aggregate of mundane practices, routines and experiences. Attentiveness to the precariousness instigated through austerity measures, such as social budget cuts, the key contribution this paper makes is to jettison approaches that treat social enterprise as a context-independent and totalizing ideal that divorces its utopian potential from the everyday practices through which this potential is being realized.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1625-1643
Number of pages19
JournalEnvironment and Planning C: Politics and Space
Issue number7
Early online date9 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021


  • Utopian program
  • social enterprise
  • everyday practices
  • context
  • neoliberalism
  • precariousness
  • UK
  • austerity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Public Administration


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