Social Bricolage: Theorizing Social Value Creation in Social Enterprises

Article excerpt

Current theorizations of bricolage in entrepreneurship studies require refinement and development to be used as a theoretical framework for social entrepreneurship. Our analysis traces bricolage's conceptual underpinnings from various disciplines, identifying its key constructs as making do, a refusal to be constrained by limitations, and improvisation. Although these characteristics appear to epitomize the process of creating social enterprises, our research identifies three further constructs associated with social entrepreneurship: social value creation, stakeholder participation, and persuasion. Using data from a qualitative study of eight U.K. social enterprises, we apply the bricolage concept to social entrepreneurial action and propose an extended theoretical framework of social bricolage.


As the academic field of entrepreneurship has evolved and matured, it has benefited from the injection of ideas derived from a broad array of theoretical traditions and methodologies. The borrowing of approaches from other fields has helped to cultivate "the garden of entrepreneurial theories.., from many different disciplines and perspectives" (Gartner, Bird, & Starr, 1992, p. 27). This has allowed entrepreneurship researchers to develop and refine understanding of the social processes involved in entrepreneurial action, and has led to novel and incremental advances in theory development. Focusing on the domain of social entrepreneurship, we seek to contribute to this task of theory extraction, generation, and extension by using the conceptual lens of bricolage.

Social entrepreneurship has become an increasingly significant domain of enquiry. Its emergence is closely aligned to changing perceptions about the role and function of markets whereby, particularly in the late twentieth century, it came to be seen as an important mechanism for supporting economic activity in areas deemed unprofitable by the private sector and neglected by the state. There is now an established body of work that has extended the economic discourses of entrepreneurship to include aspects of the social (Steyaert & Hjorth, 2006) and which refined and developed theoretical understandings of social entrepreneurship within the fields of entrepreneurship, management, and economics (Dees, 1998). Although entrepreneurship scholars have used the concept of bricolage to address reactions to resource scarcity (Baker & Nelson, 2005; Garud & Karnoe, 2003; Johannisson & Olaison, 2007), social entrepreneurship presents an opportunity to further refine the concept. It is therefore within this particular context of social entrepreneurial action that this article is theoretically and empirically positioned. We argue that a more nuanced conception of bricolage, one that is specifically adapted to the context of social enterprises, is required.

Social enterprises have emerged as significant organizational players in market economies. More market driven than traditional nonprofit ventures, and with the capacity to be financially self-sustaining, the term "social enterprise" has been coined by government and other stakeholders to denote socially driven businesses. They have attracted interest from scholars in a range of disciplines keen to explore, explain, and theorize the creation, management, and outcomes of this distinctive organizational form.

Social enterprises seek to attain a particular social objective or set of objectives through the sale of products and/or services, and in doing so aim to achieve financial sustainability independent of government and other donors. Social enterprises thus share the pursuit of revenue generation with organizations in the private sector as well as the achievement of social (and environmental) goals of nonprofit organizations. In doing so, they blur the boundaries between the private and nonprofit sectors (Dees, 1998). Dominant social enterprise activities include: trading; service delivery contracts; cross-sector partnerships; cultural arts, community development, education, and employment skills training; child-care provision; community safety schemes; low-cost transport; recycling; and infrastructure and subsidized housing (Pearce, 2003, pp. …