Where social enterprise practitioners draw the line: Towards an understanding of movement from social entrepreneurship as boundary work

Pam Seanor, Michael Bull, Susan Baines, Martin Purcell

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    6 Citations (Scopus)


    Purpose-The purpose of this paper is to offer new reflection upon the contested interaction of social enterprises with the public sector. It does this by fore fronting the notions of boundaries, boundary work and boundary objects. Design/methodology/approach-The paper reports qualitative research with social enterprise practitioners (from social enterprises and support agencies) in the north of England. Accounts elicited through interviews are combined with visual data in the form of pencil drawings made by practitioners when the authors invited them to respond to and rework diagrammatic models from the literature about the social and economic dimensions of social enterprise. Findings-Participants explained in words and images how normative images of social enterprise depicting linear and static boundaries inadequately represent the complexity of ideas and interactions in their world. Rather, they perceived an iterative process of crossing and re-crossing boundaries, with identities and practices which appeared to shift over time in relation to different priorities. Research limitations/implications-Through participant generated visual data in which social enterprise practitioners literally redrew models from the literature, the paper open space to show movement, transgression and change. Originality/value-This paper is timely as social enterprises are becoming increasingly prominent in the welfare mix. The authors make novel use of conversations and drawings in order to better understand the dynamic and everyday practices of social enterprise within public services. In doing this, the authors also potentially contribute to richer methodological resources for researching the movement of services between sectors.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)353-368
    Number of pages16
    JournalInternational Journal of Public Sector Management
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 6 May 2014


    • Boundary objects
    • Boundary work
    • Public services
    • Social enterprise
    • Transgression
    • Visual data

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Geography, Planning and Development
    • Public Administration
    • Political Science and International Relations
    • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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