A preliminary exploration of a contested concept

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This paper explores the contested concept of social innovation by using the ideas of discourse and framing as a lens to explore the contested definitions of social innovation. A selection of definitions is then deconstructed in relation to these discourses and framings. It is argued that the political pressures which create interest in social innovation have resulted in a confused and contested series of definitions, which remain largely unconnected to wider debates and theories about innovation. Instead, many authors contrive an almost alchemic status to social innovation when the reality of social innovation in practice may be rather more prosaic.

The authors present a range of six different framings or discourses of social innovation that lie behind the use of the term and reflect both disciplinary and epistemological differences of scholars and the policy and practitioner communities. In addition, they argue that the transposition of these multiple framings into both workable definitions and policies creates a range of challenges. As a result, a set of emerging issues and dichotomies often discussed in the literature are presented, such as agency and intentionality, process or outcome, the primacy of the social, dimension citizen-led or citizen engaged engagement, societal impact vs. individual benefit. The authors conclude with a call for a more nuanced understanding of the facets and contradictions within the concept, which may help to pave the way for further exploration and inquiry. To discover more read the whole paper.

To cite this article:

Bill Slee, Catie Burlando, Elena Pisani, Laura Secco & Nico Polman (2021) Social innovation: a preliminary exploration of a contested concept, Local Environment,DOI: 10.1080/13549839.2021.1933404.