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Carolina Bandinelli

PhD Candidate at Goldsmiths College (London)

Department of Cultural Studies
Paper Submitted for the Critical Management Studies Conference, University of Manchester

Social Entrepreneurship and the Entrepreneurial Society

Notwithstanding the multi-faceted nature of the phenomenon, the conceptual core of the
notion of social innovation and entrepreneurship relies in the idea that entrepreneurial
means can be used effectively to pursue the common good, to improve the conditions of
society. It is then assumed that a particular economic rationale is more appropriate and
effective than a social policy based on State-led measures.
Quite often, indeed, definitions of social entrepreneurship build exactly on the failure of
both the private and the public sector in acting for the common good.

What is substantially challenged, then, is the rationale according to which the market
mechanism is inherently responsible for social inequalities. In fact, the market forces of
competition and innovation, embodied by entrepreneurship, are thought of as appropriate
means to achieve social justice. As Fayolle and Matlay put it:

Entrepreneurship can be an important way to restore a better balance between economic

purposes and social well-being. Indeed, entrepreneurship can be a great source of economic value
creation, but it can also be (or at least should be) a means to contribute to greater social justice.
(Fayolle and Matlay, 2010: 1)

The particular revolution proposed by social entrepreneurship proposes to use

economic, specifically entrepreneurial, tools to intervene in the organisation, creation and
amelioration of civic society. In this respect social entrepreneurship can be understood as a
technique to intervene in society. Importantly, such a technique gets actualise through a
profession, it a work-practice. In this respect it represents an extreme form of work, in that
work comes to represent a societal technique.

I shall argue that social entrepreneurship may be seen as indicating a further

development of neo-liberal political economy and in the regime of truth it indicates, for it
claims to direct the market mechanism towards the achievement not only of economic growth
but also of a more equal and just society. Furthermore, it embodies a qualitative idea of
economy that incorporates notion of human and natural capital (Becker, 1994; Hawken and
Lovis, 2000) alongside financial capital.

In order to further the current understanding of what specific regime of truth and what
type of political economy is entailed in the notion of the enterprise as a structure to positively
impact on the social, I will undertake a cultural genealogy of the term entrepreneurship. I
will begin analysing the Schumpeterian concept of entrepreneurship that, though still
referring mainly to the action of an individual within a corporation, or to the entrepreneur as
a mere bearer of the mechanism of change (1934: 61), yet it recognises the role of human
agency and creativity in the economy. Secondly, I will show how in the eighties the managerial
mentality has been applied to entrepreneurship (Drucker, 1985), and will argue this has
paved the way for a democratisation of this notion that then started to assume the status of a
technique. Then, I will analyse the contemporary idea of social entrepreneurship as a
technique for the organisation and amelioration of the social. After that, I will concentrate on
the concept of entrepreneurial society for how it emerges from the contemporary discourses
on social entrepreneurship, and in the light of the Foucauldian analysis of neoliberal
governmentality. Indeed, Foucault (2010) claims that the organisation of society around the
form of enterprise is the logical outcome of a political economy that understands the market
as a mechanism driven by competition. Finally, I will analyse Foucaults critique to this
organisation of the social, and the critique of like-minded thinkers such as Lazzarato and
McNay. Substantially, these criticisms revolve around the idea that if the economic rationale is
applied to the social, then it will be impossible to achieve any sense of collectivity or
solidarity. My intention at this point will be to not directly engage with this argument, rather
to claim that contemporary social entrepreneurship challenges it for it poses entrepreneurial
means at the service of the common good1. Therefore, rather than deciding whether this is

1 The notion of common good is highly controversial and varies according to the different understandings of
political economy. Social entrepreneurship discourses are not precise in the notion of common good they refer to
when mentioning social impact and claiming to ameliorate society. Later in the thesis I will dedicate a chapter
to unfold and analyse the notion of common good that is encapsulated by social entrepreneurship discourses, in
relation to liberal and neo-liberal political economy. In this chapter I shall use this concept in a very broad,
almost commonsensical way, to indicate the notion of the well being of the majority of individuals that constitute
a group, being it a community, a society, a nation or even the world population. This somehow superficial
use is to be considered provisional and instrumental to the discussion of entrepreneurship that makes the core
of this chapter. Furthermore, it reflects the quite vague manner in which it is deployed by social
entrepreneurship discourses.
possible or not, I will attempt at analysing how this has been made thinkable, and what vision
of the market is necessary for such thought to emerge2.

Before starting this journey, as a prologue, I will offer a brief overview of the main actors
and voices that constitute the contemporary scene of social entrepreneurship and innovation.

Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship: an overview

In the last two decades there has been a growing interest for what is called social
entrepreneurship and social innovation on the part of policy makers, business people,
academy, civil society.
Both in the academic and public debate the two terms are mostly used a synonymous, for
the meaning of entrepreneurship entails the ability to innovate, and because the very culture
of entrepreneurship as a means to tackle social issues is perceived as an innovative
In 2011 Ashoka3, a global organisation aimed at supporting social entrepreneurs and
innovators trademarked the term Changemaker, to refer to their entrepreneurial and
Since then, changemaker has become a widely used label, in fact almost a brand within
the field. Arguably, the fortune of Ashoka trademark has to be related to the wide scope of the
term, and to its focus on the element of change; which is a fil rouge between the
entrepreneurial, the innovative and the social cultural that converge in the phenomenon of
social entrepreneurship.

2 In the following chapters I will proceed to the analyses of the notion of the social and of the common good
implied by social entrepreneurship discourses.
3 Ashoka is the largest network of social entrepreneurs worldwide, with nearly 3,000 Ashoka Fellows in 70
countries putting their system changing ideas into practice on a global scale. Founded by Bill Drayton in 1980,
Ashoka has provided start-up financing, professional support services, and connections to a global network
across the business and social sectors, and a platform for people dedicated to changing the world. Ashoka
launched the field of social entrepreneurship and has activated multi-sector partners across the world who
increasingly look to entrepreneurial talent and new ideas to solve social problems. Ashoka Fellows remain the
core of our community, and their insights show us how the world is moving and what is needed next. Ashoka's
mission has evolved beyond catalyzing individual entrepreneurs to enabling an "everyone a changemaker"
world. This means equipping more people including young people - with the skillset and a connection to
purpose so that they can contribute ideas and effectively solve problems at whatever scale is needed in their
family, community, city, workplace, field, industry, country. This evolution comes from the urgent realization
that the pace of change is accelerating in an increasingly complex and interconnected world. Our strategic
initiatives focus on setting in motion the people, resources and ecosystems that will bring about a social
revolution where everyone contributes to change for the good of all. Working in partnership with private,
philanthropic and citizen sector players we are achieving large-scale social innovation that is grounded in
decades of entrepreneurial experience.
Notwithstanding the many different definitions and declinations of changemaking,
innovation and entrepreneurship, at stake there is a growing phenomenon, which is getting
the interest of a vast variety of actors.

Governments have embraced it, promulgating campaigns and designing ad hoc legal
statuses: think of the Big Society programme4, launched by British conservative government
in 2010, which puts social enterprises at the centre of a public sector reformation, or to the
CIC and 155 laws, promulgated to give SE a specific legal status in UK and Italy, respectively.
In February 2012, UK Prime Minister David Cameron has even declared he will use his
presidency of the G8 to push forward the social investment model: We will work with other
G8 nations to grow the social investment market and increase investment, allowing the best
social innovations to spread and help tackle our shared social and economic challenges

Influent business men have settled foundations to celebrate and support the field, the
most famous example being Jeff Skoll5, the creator of EBay, who in 1999 founded the Skoll

4 I will expand on this later.

5 Jeff Skoll is a philanthropist and social entrepreneur. As founder and chairman of the Skoll Foundation,
Participant Media and the Skoll Global Threats Fund, he is bringing life to his vision of a sustainable world of
peace and prosperity.
As the first full-time employee and first President of eBay, Jeff developed the companys inaugural business plan
and led its successful initial public offering []
After pioneering the creation of the eBay Foundation through the allocation of pre-IPO shares, Mr. Skoll then
founded the Skoll Foundation in 1999. It quickly became the worlds largest foundation for social
entrepreneurship, driving large-scale change by investing in, connecting, and celebrating social entrepreneurs
and other innovators dedicated to solving the worlds most pressing problems. Its flagship program, the Skoll
Awards for Social Entrepreneurship, currently supports 85 leading social entrepreneurs whose extraordinary
work serves the neediest populations in over 100 countries. The Skoll Foundation also co-produces the annual
Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship with the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at the Sad
Business School at the University of Oxford. The Skoll World Forum unites acclaimed social entrepreneurs with
essential partners from the social, finance, private and public sectors. []
Jeff founded Participant Media in 2004 with the belief that a story well told has the power to inspire and compel
social change. Participants films are accompanied by social action and advocacy campaigns to engage people on
the issues addressed in the films. Jeff has served as Executive Producer on over 39 films as of May 4, 2012, which
have collectively received a total of 5 Academy Awards and 35 nominations. [] In 2009, Participant launched, an on-line Social Action Network that enables people to learn, inspire, connect and get involved
in major issues which shape our lives. In 2012, TakePart launched a digital magazine on MSN and a YouTube
network and announced the Summer 2013 launch of a new cable television network targeting the millennial
audience.Jeff received a Bachelors degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Toronto and an MBA
from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He has been awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from
the University of Toronto and an honorary Doctor of Public Service from Santa Clara University. In 2012, Skoll
was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada. Jeffs other recent honors include, James C. Morgan Global
Humanitarian Award (2011), Barrons 25 Best Givers (2010, 2009), , Environmental Media Awards Corporate
Responsibility Award (2010), the Producers Guild of Americas Visionary Award (2009), Global Green USAs
Foundation to incubate, promote and support social innovators and entrepreneurs. Skoll then
launched, in 2003, the first academic centre dedicated to social entrepreneurship, in
partnership with the Said Business School at the University of Oxford.
Universities on both sides of the Atlantic have established academic courses on the topic:
in US these are Harvard, Yale, Duke and Columbia, amongst others; and in Europe Goldsmiths
University and University of East London, in London, Bocconi and Cattolica University in
Milan, the Copenhagen Business School, the University of Lige and many others. In Europe
the EMES network6 has been playing a central role in researching social entrepreneurship:
established in 1996, it is a network of academics from 15 countries, devoted to theoretical and
empirical research in the field social economy and social entrepreneurship.
In the last fifteen years a few scholars, mainly from business schools, have moved the first
steps towards the establishment of Social Entrepreneurship as an academic discipline, a
subfield of the Entrepreneurship Studies, which in turn have sprung form the Managerial
Studies. A number of academic journals dedicated to the issue have been launched: e.g. The
Journal of Social Entrepreneurship (Routledge Publishers) in 2010, and the International
Journal of Social Entrepreneurship in 2011 (Inderscience Publisher).
Citizens have founded associations and international networks to implement SE
practices, a significant example is The Hub, an international network of co-working spaces,
aimed at building a community of social entrepreneurs and innovators7. Ashoka (see footnote
3) is another important actor in the field, a global association of 3,000 fellows in over 70
countries, supporting, promoting and building infrastructure for SE, and whose founder,
William Drayton, has been immensely contributing to the definition and diffusion of social
entrepreneurships culture.
In the UK, organs such as Social Enterprise UK 8, NESTA9 and the Young Foundation10
carries out researches and campaigns, provide training and support for existing social
enterprises, and function as think tanks for the government.

Entertainment Industry Environmental Leadership Award (2009), Business Weeks 50 Most Generous
Philanthropists (2003-2007), Time Magazines 100 Most Influential People (2006), and Wired Magazines Rave
Award (2006). (
8 Social enterprise UK was founded in 1992. In Thirteen years it has run campaigns for its members and to
lobby on the sectors behalf, researched the UK sector, built networks between social enterprises [] Social
Enterprise UK runs a number of programmes designed to help social enterprises, public sector organisations,
charities and mainstream businesses improve their skills and expertise in areas including health care
commissioning, social investment, business leadership, social franchising and education.[] Social Enterprise UK
was recently awarded the Big Impact Award at the Third Sector Excellence Awards for its work successfully
campaigning for the Public Services (Social Value) Act, which received Royal Assent in March 2012.
Overall, social entrepreneurship is taking the shape of an expanding network composed
by diverse actors who are attempting at constituting it as a tangible field of discourse and
Under this respect, social entrepreneurship is a process in the making, which hence lacks
sharp boundaries and stable foundations.
Yet a few common traits can be individuated, and subsumed into the idea of the efficiency
of entrepreneurial means for solving social issues.
Therefore, a number of fundamental and interrelated questions arise: what is the nature
of entrepreneurial means? How they have been conceived? Which is the social entailed in the
notion of entrepreneurship? And which kind of action is a social entrepreneurial action?
To undertake this exploration, I will begin with the analysis of the concept of
entrepreneurship for how it has been thought by Schumpeter, one of the first thinkers
probably the most influential - who has recognised it a pivotal importance both for economic
and social theory.

Entrepreneurship, Human Agency and Unternehmergeist

Joseph Schumpeter, in his classic The Theory of economic Developments (published in
German in 1911 and translated in English in 1934) put forth a vision of the economic
mechanism rooted on the potentialities of unexpected changes, contrary to the mainstream
economical theory elaborated by Walras and Pareto - amongst others - according to which the
market is a mechanism with constantly recreates its own equilibrium by means of a natural
and necessary adaptation of prices.


9 Nesta is an independent charity with a mission to help people and organisations bring great ideas to life. It
does so by providing investments and grants and mobilising research, networks and skills. Nesta works in
partnership with other innovators, community organisations, educators and investors [] Nesta overall aim is
to build a rich understanding of how innovation works best in the UK. (

10 The Young Foundation was established in 2005 and has been instrumental in driving thinking, action and
change in social innovation in the UK and abroad. The Young Foundation was forged from a merger between the
Institute of Community Studies and the Mutual Aid Centre, both creations of [its] namesake, the late Michael
Young, leading social entrepreneur. [] The Young Foundation tagline reads: We are the Young foundation and
we are determined to make positive social change happen. The key areas of the Young Foundation work are:
health, well-being and ageing, resilient communities and housing, young people, learning and work.
In respect to neo-classical economic theory, which is based on a stable equilibrium
assured by the predictability and rationality of market mechanism and individual choices,
Schumpeter claims that:

[] there must be a purely economic theory of economic change which does not merely rely on
external factors propelling the economic system from one equilibrium to another. (1989: 165-6)

With his theory of economic development, Schumpeter wishes to account for innovation
and change within the capitalist system. In fact, neo-classical economy is bad equipped to do
so, since it proposes a model based on the necessary equilibrium of supply and demand and
on a fully rational, narrowly self-interested individual. It is then through the introduction of
another type of individual, the entrepreneur, that Schumpeter accounts for change. The
entrepreneur, contrary to neo-classical economic subject, does not act according to a
predictable and rational set of preferences, and does not follow any behavioural model. Quite
the contrary, s/he is defined by her/his ability to operate new combinations, which are not
only a result of a gradual, consequential development of existing conditions, but that are
rather originated by means of a quantum jump. Here resides the creative act of the
It is worth quoting at length this central passage from the second chapter of The Theory,
where the Austrian economist explains the difference between a gradual growth, and a
creative development:

To produce means to combine materials and forces within our reach. To produce other things, or
the same things by a different method, means to combine these materials and forces differently. In so
far as the new combination may in time grow out of the old by continuous adjustment in small steps,
there is certainly change, possibly growth, but neither a new phenomenon nor development in our
sense. In so far as is not the case, and the new combinations appear discontinuously, then the
phenomenon characterising development emerges. For reasons of expository convenience,
henceforth, we shall only mean the latter case when we speak of new combinations of productive
means. Development in our sense is then defined by the carrying out of new combinations.

This concept covers the following five cases: (1) The introduction of a new good - that is one with
which consumers are not yet familiar - or of a new quality of a good. (2) The introduction of a new
method of production, that is one not yet tested by experience in the branch of manufacture
concerned, which need by no means be founded upon a discovery scientifically new, and can also exist
in a new way of handling a commodity commercially. (3) The opening of a new market, that is a
market into which the particular branch of manufacture of the country in question has not previously
entered, whether or not this market has existed before. (4) The conquest of a new source of supply of
raw materials or half-manufactured goods, again irrespective of whether this source already exists or
whether it has first to be created. (5) The carrying out of the new organisation of any industry, like the
creation of a monopoly position (for example through trustification) or the breaking up of a monopoly
position. (1934: 66)
This passage establishes a necessary relation between the notion of change and of
newness, it is in this inherent relation that the term innovation acquires his significance.
The entrepreneur is able to innovate, to susbstantially change the functioning of a particular
section of the market. By postulating an unpredictable and creative human agency at the base
of economic development the Schumpeterian theory connects the social to the economical,
breaking with a mainstream thinking that treats economy as a fully autonomous subject,
independent and separable from the whole of human activities. Schumpeter makes this
connection clear in the very first pages of the second chapter of the Theory of Economic
Economic development is so far simply the object of economic history, which in turn is merely a
part of a universal history, only separated from the rest for purposes of exposition. Because of this
fundamental dependence of the economic aspect of things on everything else it is not possible to
explain economic change on the basis of economic conditions alone. For the economic state of a people
does not emerge simply from the preceding economic conditions, but only from the preceding total
situation (1934: 58)

Schumpeter overcomes the utopia of an analysis of the total situation by putting the
individual at the centre of his theoretical undertaking. For him, it is the human agency of a
particular type of individual the entrepreneur - that actualises the mechanism of change.
However, the economist warns his readers against a simplistic interpretation of this
assumption, which would lead to understand his theory as a form of personalism. Rather, the
individual is thought of as the bearer of the mechanism of change (1934: 61, emphasis in the
original). Hence, ultimately, what is a stake is an an abstract process, which unfolds in
empirical societies, by means of individual actions.
An important trait of Schumpeters theory of entrepreneurship emerges also in his
formulation of the Unternehmergeist, literally: the entrepreneurial spirit. Arguably, the
introduction of a spirit - i.e. something ineffable, transcendent, something that exceeds
calculative reason - at the heart of an economic theory constitutes a quite sharp departure
from neo-classical economy and opens the room for a reflection on economy as a human
enterprise marked by risk, creativity and unexpected turn. In this regard, Schumpeters idea
of the entrepreneur has a strong inspirational potential, rooted on the creative act engrained
in the entrepreneurial undertaking, which makes it the source of radical and revolutionary

Such inspirational character of the idea of entrepreneurship gets fully expressed in

contemporary social entrepreneurship discourses. A few excerpts will make this clear. The
first two are taken from a famous 2001 article by Dees, which has been considered almost as a
manifesto of social entrepreneurship:
Social entrepreneur [are] a rare breed. Social entrepreneurship describes a set of behaviours that
are exceptional (Dees, 2001: 1).

Social entrepreneur are needed to develop new models for a new century (Ibid.)

The third is an excerpt from the Ashoka website, in the section titled what is a social
Rather than leaving societal needs to the government or business sectors, social entrepreneurs find
what is not working and solve the problem by changing the system, spreading the solution, and
persuading entire societies to take new leaps [] Social entrepreneurs often seem to be possessed by
their ideas, committing their lives to changing the direction of their field. They are both visionaries and
ultimate realists, concerned with the practical implementation of their vision above all else (Ashoka12).

As it can be noticed, social entrepreneurs are described as exceptional change agents.

They are a rare breed, and have the function to develop new models for a new century.
Therefore, they are needed for the human society to evolve; they persuade entire societies to
take new leaps. Hence, to a certain extent, they can be well thought of as Hegelian agents who
actualise the spirit of History. They are supposed to do that because they are possessed by
their ideas, thus by somehow spiritual entities, idealistic indeed. Yet, differently from
Schumpeters entrepreneurs - who are mere bearer of a process in Mark I theory and
become actors within large firms in Mark II theory (see footnote 9) -social entrepreneurs are
heroified individuals, who do not only enact a spirit of history that exists before, both logically
and ontologically. Rather, they are aware actors who have the right to forge the spirit of
history and to consciously actualise it. Furthermore, they are free riders, most of the time
even opposed to the corporate culture. In this respect, the discourses on social
entrepreneurship shows a quite pragmatic and realistic quality that permits to formalise,

11 It has to be specified that I am here referring to what has been named Schumpeters Mark I theory, developed
in Theory of Economic Development (1911). Mark I theory stresses the importance of the entrepreneurial spirit
embodied by charismatic individuals. Mark II theory, presented in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1943),
envisage innovation and entrepreneurship as more routinized process within large firms.
12, accessed 10/05/2013
construct and also sell the ethos of the social entrepreneurs, as it becomes a conscious set of
behaviours that can be replicated (more on this in the next section). In this regard, the human
agency that Schumpeter put at the core of his theory of entrepreneurship at a
phenomenological level (individuals actualise in the phenomenic world principles that are
beyond their agency and will), becomes the very ontological foundation of social
entrepreneurship discourse. Indeed, the regime of truth that is established within the
discourse of social entrepreneurship conceptualises the human being, actually the very single
individual, as capable of creating and constructing history, even of persuading it. What is at
stake then, is a very humanistic, as well as individualistic, vision of historical processes and
societal change.

To conclude, what is relevant in Schumpeters theory of entrepreneurship for a genealogy

of the culture of social entrepreneurship is precisely the vision of the entrepreneurial
endeavour as something triggered by a somehow transcendent spirit, which unfolds through
human agency for realising innovations in the social and economical sphere, otherwise
deemed to subdued to the cold mechanism of prices.
Furthermore, entrepreneurship comes to represent what can bring about changes in the
nature of capitalism, which in this way ceases to be understood as an abstract entity
undergoing a deterministic development, but becomes a process to be enacted, diverted and
directed by human beings.
The recognition of human agency, social dimension, and transcendent origin as creative
forces of the economic domain, might open the space for the introduction of an ethical
character to economy, in that it recognises the importance of human will and behaviour.
It is in this space that the idea of social entrepreneurship has been rising in the last
decades of the nineteenth century.

Social Entrepreneurship as a Technique

The contemporary culture of social entrepreneurship makes the social aspect, already
implied in Schumpeters idea of entrepreneurship, much more prominent.
Dees, whose 2001 article The Meaning of Social Entrepreneurship clarifies that social
entrepreneurs are one species in the genus entrepreneur. They are entrepreneurs with a
social mission (Dees , 2001: 2). Dees differentiates social entrepreneurs from the
entrepreneurs described by Schumpeter stating that for this new species the social mission
is central and explicit (Ibid, 2).

In Schumpeters theory the social emerges as the dimension in which entrepreneurship is

originated, as well as the sphere that is impacted by entrepreneurial actions, for economic
change take origin from the total (historical and social) situation and impact on that.

[] it is not possible to explain economic change by previous economic conditions but only from
the preceding total situation (Schumpeter, 1934: 58)

The creative act of the entrepreneur is to be conceived in the whole of history and
human society, and the innovation s/he will give rise to will have an effect on the social

However, Schumpeters entrepreneur is primarily an economic actor, who is looking for

innovation in the market, and who follows the logic of the maximisation of profit. The social,
human, quality of entrepreneurship relies in its origins and effects, but not in the very core
or explicit objective of its activities. Schumpeterian entrepreneurship is intertwined with the
social, but not oriented towards the social. Furthermore, the actual development of
entrepreneurial capitalism has had huge social costs, in terms of global poverty, inequalities,
pollution and so on. Therefore, the factual unfolding of entrepreneurship has impacted the
social dimension indeed, but that has been also a negative impact overall.

The concept of social entrepreneurship entails the social no more as an effect for how
important but as the primary goal of entrepreneurial activities. Moreover, the change to be
brought about is formulated as normatively positive. The definition put forth by the Skoll
Foundation makes this clear and is highly representative of the narrative of contemporary
social entrepreneurship:

Social entrepreneurs are societys change agents, creators of innovations that disrupt the status quo
and transform our world for the better (Skoll13)

In the above definition social entrepreneurs are described primarily as social actor, they
are societys change agents, and their innovations are supposed to involve not only the
business cycles, but the whole world. Finally, the change that will be brought about is
assumed to be inherently positive.

The following passage, taken from one of the first collection of academic essays on social

13, accessed 10/05/2013

entrepreneurship, Fayolle and Matlay (eds) Handbook of Research on Social Entrepreneurship,
unpacks some aspects of such positive change, expressing a few values that are supposed to
motivate social entrepreneurs actions.

Social entrepreneurship aims to better accommodate a social dimension within the traditional
economic behaviour, to take into consideration social problems, countries and communities contexts
and situations, and the plight of socially challenged or disadvantaged individuals. Within this
movement, we encounter the search for greater social justice and inclusion. It is in this way that
entrepreneurs can contribute to the development of humanity and social progress and social
entrepreneurship appears to be a unique method that helps us rethink, reformulate and resolve
human problems on the path to social progress (Fayolle, Matlay, 2010: 3).

Fayolle and Matlay clarify that the objectives of social entrepreneurs should be social
problems and that the target of their small businesses, their costumers, to use a business
terminology, should be socially challenged and disadvantaged individuals. Albeit the
contextual interventions in countries and communities are autonomous and local in
characters, they are supposed to contribute to the overall development of humanity.
Entrepreneurship in this respect is conceptualised as an instrument, a method indeed, well
equipped to solve problems. While normal entrepreneurship has been developing in the
capitalist economy as aimed at meeting consumeristic needs, or even to create new needs in
order to open new markets, social entrepreneurship is thought of as a technique to resolve
problems. These problems, moreover, are conceived to be not merely economical but strictly
social, or even human.

This way, human agency and individual motivations are posed at the core of economic
action, which in turn acquires the status of a method.

Social entrepreneurship is then conceived as a technique to transform society and solve

social problems, and gets articulated trough localised contextual actions that contribute to a
global change. In this respect, it can be thought of as a form of networked and individualised
organisation of the social, where the common good is supposed to be achieved regardless of
the formulation of a plan. On this point, social entrepreneurship culture replicates the pattern
of a certain neoliberal political philosophy, which has been formulated by Hayek (2001, 1996)
and eminently criticised by Michel Foucault (2010). I shall expand on this matter in the next
sections, but before I would like to concentrate on another, more formal, element constituting
the contemporary understanding of social entrepreneurship,.

Social entrepreneurship then is not merely a way of doing business, not only a culture,
neither an abstract philosophy nor a set of definite practices, but also and primarily a method,
a technique. I argue this is fundamental because it is this being conceived as an applicable
technique to construct social entrepreneurship as an all-inclusive solution for social
problems. Also, this characteristic assures social entrepreneurship a formal homogeneity
despite the differences and peculiarities of the single enterprises. Social entrepreneurship is a
cross-sectorial phenomenon indeed, neither defined by a specific legal status nor by the
delivery of a specific set of services or goods. Rather what defines social entrepreneurship is
exactly to be thought of as a technique to tackle social issues. As such, it can be formalised so
that to be learnt and thought.

I think the origin of in this idea of entrepreneurship as a technique to solve social

problems, is to be found in the application of the managerial mentality to the theoretical
notion of entrepreneurship.

Peter Drucker was probably the first to propose a discourse that indicates this shift.

His book Innovation and Entrepreneurship published in 1985 - starts from the
acknowledgement that the US economy had begun to mutate form a managerial economy
into an entrepreneurial economy (Drucker, 2006: 1), made of medium and small size
businesses producing innovative goods and services. This change, according to the
management scholar, is mainly a result of the de-institutionalisation of America that, since the
Seventies, has caused an expansion of the private sector, thus of businesses, into areas (e.g.
health, education) previously organised in a State-centred bureaucratic fashion. As a
consequence, the managerial mentality formerly applied only to big corporations has been
extended to small businesses, new businesses and non-business (Drucker, 2006: 15-16).

Management, Drucker claims, is a practice, hence a technique in the original sense of

techn: a useful knowledge (Drucker, 2006: 14). Entrepreneurship and innovation are the
result of the application of such technique to small businesses, new businesses and non-
businesses. In other words, according to Drucker, the management knowledge started to be
considered useful not only for corporate America, not only at the vertex of Fordist capitalism,
but also in the new businesses dealing with the production and organisation of information,
and for the delivery of public services. At stake there has been the development of a specific
type of management, to be applied not only to the hierarchical massive factory producing
commodities for a mass of consumers, but also to the flexible, small, and ever-changing
entities inhabiting the rising sphere of knowledge economy, and characterised by the need
and will to innovate and differentiate the offer in order to meet the requirements of a
multitude of individualised costumers. This particular form of management has been
conceived as entrepreneurial management, for the concept entrepreneurship entails, since its
first formulation by Jean Baptiste Say in the 19th century, the organisation of disparate
resources in innovative ways so that to change the environment, or at least to take advantage
from change.

I argue the application of management to entrepreneurship is instrumental to the

construction of the latter as a technique, thus as a practice whose characteristics can be
formalised and then taught. Druckers book makes this clear in its very introduction:

This book presents innovation and entrepreneurship as a practice and a discipline. It does not
talk of the psychology and the character traits of entrepreneurs; it talks of their actions and behavior.
[]This is a practical book, but it is not a how-to book. Instead, it deals with the what, when, and
why; with such tangibles as policies and decisions; opportunities and risks; structures and strategies;
staffing, compensation, and rewards. [] Entrepreneurship is neither a science nor an art. It is a
practice. (Ibid. vii-viii)

What does it mean that entrepreneurship becomes a method, a practice? What is at stake
in the articulation of the pragmatic aspect of entrepreneurship into a technique? What is
implied in this sort of grammatisation of the Unternehmergeist?

I would argue the construction of entrepreneurship as technique, and precisely a

technique not only for the economical but also for the social sphere, can be understood as the
attempt to develop an applicable and replicable model so that to produce a democratisation of
the Unternehmergeist.

While in its Schumpetrian formulation entrepreneurship was the unpredictable

mechanism through which changes in society and economy take places, and precisely an
almost metaphysical mechanism involving the actualisation of the entrepreneurial spirit by
means of human agency; in Druckers analysis entrepreneurship becomes a practice that
virtually each individual can consciously apply in order to transform society. Hence, the
inherent unpredictability of the Unternehmergeist is turned into a set of replicable behaviours.

The question then becomes: what is it done for? To what ends is the entrepreneurial
technique to be devoted?

Druckers book as well as the contemporary discourses on social entrepreneurship reveal

that the ultimate goal of the application of entrepreneurial method to societal problems is the
construction of an entrepreneurial society and culture.

In this respect, then, Druckers work can be thought of as a programmatic endeavour to

develop replicable patterns for the realisation of a society whose building blocks are indeed
innovative enterprises. I argue this is exactly what is at stake in the very regime of truth
articulated in the contemporary idea of social entrepreneurship and innovation.

In the second half of this chapter I will analyse the emerging traits of the entrepreneurial
society and culture for how they express some crucial characters of neoliberal political
economy. I shall argue that, while the regime of truth established by the discourses and
theories of social entrepreneurship replicates some important features of neoliberal political
economy, at the same time it indicates a further development worth of attention.

Social Entrepreneurship as a Solution

Drucker, in the last chapter of his 1985s book states that innovation and
entrepreneurship are needed in society to realise those ideals that other forms of action such
as state-led policies or even revolutions have failed to achieve.

Innovation and entrepreneurship are thus needed in society as much as in the economy, in public-
service institutions as much as in businesses. It is precisely because innovation and entrepreneurship
are not root and branch but one step at a time, a product here, a policy there, a public service
yonder; because they are not planned but focused on this opportunity and that need; because they are
tentative and will disappear if they do not produce the expected and needed results; because, in other
words, they are pragmatic rather than dogmatic and modest rather than grandiosethat they promise
to keep any society, economy, industry, public service, or business flexible and self-renewing. They
achieve what Jefferson hoped to achieve through revolution in every generation, and they do so
without bloodshed, civil war, or concentration camps, without economic catastrophe, but with
purpose, with direction, and under control. (Ibid., 254)

Two main points, on which I have already written, emerge from the reading of this
passage, both of great importance for the understanding of the contemporary concept of
social entrepreneurship. Let me repeat them: first, innovation and entrepreneurship are
dragged down from the almost metaphysical space Schumpeter had allocated them, and re-
defined as proper dispositives, as special technologies to be applied in a variety of situations.
Second, these technologies are conceived as tools for a reformation of society that is supposed
to finally actualise those ideals of freedom and efficiency that revolutions and interventionists
policies had failed to realise.

What is important is that in this way entrepreneurship becomes a political technique, a

technique for the organisation and amelioration of society, economy, public services and
private businesses. At stake there is an almost omnicomprehensive method for the
management of resources, being them human, financial, natural etc. Therefore
entrepreneurship becomes the tool to achieve radical changes, a truly radical instrument.
Such radical instrument is compared to traditional politics, and policies, via a set of
contrapositions so as to create a sharp dualism. Entrepreneurship is focused, tentative,
pragmatic, and modest and will lead to a flexible and self-renewing society, economy and
culture. Inversely, the action of government or, supposedly, of traditional big corporations, is
planned, dogmatic and grandiose and will bring stagnation and rigidity.

In this respect, entrepreneurship becomes a tool for implementing change in society,

economy and culture and to achieve political objectives bypassing traditional political
institutions or grandiose events such as revolutions.

The contemporary discourses on social entrepreneurship fully disclose and articulate this
idea of acting for the common good beyond institutions, political parties, big associations etc
Social entrepreneurship becomes conceptualised as a solution to those problems nobody has
been able to resolve so far. This is often hyperbolically stated not only in the reflexive
narratives of social entrepreneurs but also in the academic literature on this topic. For
instance, Fayolle and Matlay, claim that:

Social entrepreneurship appears to be a unique method that helps us rethink, reformulate and
resolve human problems on the path to social progress (Fayolle and Matlay, 2010: 3).

The main vocation of social entrepreneurship [] is to meet social and societal needs that have
not yet been addressed by the state or the commercial sector (Alvord et al., 2004; Thompson, 2002,
quoted in Fayolle and Matlay 2010: 1)

Therefore, if social entrepreneurship is a technique to shape and manage society it

becomes crucial to ask what kind of technique it is.

What is often stressed is the absolutely autonomous character of entrepreneurial actions,

which is supposed to ensure independency and efficiency. Nicholls in the introduction of one
of the first and more complete edited book on social entrepreneurship Social
Entrepreneurship New Models of Sustainable Change, makes it clear:

Social entrepreneurs and their networks demonstrate an unrelenting focus on systemic social
change that disregards institutional and organizational norms and boundaries. (Nicholls,
2006: 10)

Social entrepreneurship is thus understood a set of methodologies to act in society,

economic and culture in an entirely autonomous way. Social entrepreneurs are conceived as a
network of individuals who independently and locally operate for the common good. (As I
explained in footnote 1 I am provisionally using the term common good in its broad meaning
of the well being of the majority of individuals constituting a given group. I will dwell
extensively on this notion which is central to the understanding of social entrepreneurship
political economy - in the next chapters).

The autonomous character of entrepreneurial action is reflected in its local scope. Social
entrepreneurs are supposed to act locally, and then eventually to gradually expand their
businesses (although scalability is one of the main issues debated in the field 14) Social
entrepreneurship has been described as a context-specific and local phenomenon (Mair, in
Fayolle Matlay (eds), 18). As Drucker already wrote in the eighties entrepreneurship has
indeed the character of a pragmatic and on-the-spot intervention. The auspicated change
then, is not to be achieved following a shared design, a plan. Rather, it is supposed to arise as a
result of networked localised action.

As the number of local change makers increases, barriers are replaced by support institutions and
respect, which encourages yet more family, friends, and neighbours to step up and take on other
challenges. (Drayton, in Nicholls (ed), 2010: 49)

The not much hidden utopia is that everyone will become a change maker, that is a social
entrepreneur who takes up the challenge to innovate:

When everyone is a change maker, the problems can no longer outrun the solutions. (Ibid)

As it can be easily noticed, the rhetoric is that of the democratisation of skills, which has
marked the narratives of the culture industry, especially in the UK and US, under the slogan
everyone is creative (see, for instance, the critique of McRobbie (2001); and Peck (2005)).
As I argued before, the re-definition of the Unternehmergeist as a technique has been
functional to its democratisation, hence to diffuse the idea that everyone could eventually

14 See, for instance: Volery and Hackl in Fayolle and Matlay (2010); Bornstein and Davis (2010), NIcholls (2006)
accede to the entrepreneurial spirit. Such process of democratisation is of course understood
as hugely empowering for all those individuals and communities that had been previously
subdued to the decision of the government and the actions of big corporations. As Jeff Skoll, in
a speech delivered at the Said Business School (Oxford) titled Social Entrepreneurship: the 21st
Century Revolution, put it: With social entrepreneurship, were talking about nothing less
than the democratization of power (Skoll, quoted in Drayton 2006).

Such idea of democratisation is typically deployed by the social entrepreneurship

discourses as a motivational dispositive that plays on individual ambition for the pursuing of
social justice. Especially, it is mirrored by the endless list of how-to books that have the
function to promote the ethos of the social entrepreneur or change maker. Below a few

Your chance to change the world. The no-fibbing guide to Social Entrepreneurship (Dearden-
Philips, 2008)

The power of unreasonable people : how social entrepreneurs create markets that change the
world (Elkington, 2008)

The social entrepreneur revolution: doing good by making money, making money by doing good
(Clark, 2009)

As it can be seen, the titles of these books express, even if simplistically, the core of the
social entrepreneurship proposal: a network of charismatic individuals can change the world
through business, i.e. making money and acting autonomously. The needed charisma, for how
extraordinary, is not to be considered a too scarce resource, because social entrepreneurship
is a technique, a method, and as such it can be taught and learnt. Whence the possibility of a
how-to to spread the spirit of the entrepreneur.

Social Entrepreneurship and True Individualism

The idea of social entrepreneurship as a technique for organising the social characterised by a
set of independent and local actions represents a contemporary interpretation of the
individualism typical of liberal and neo-liberal philosophies. It is in this idea, which Hayek
meticulously expressed in his essay On True Individualism, that the bridge between individual
action and common good travelled by social entrepreneurship can be found. According to the
Austrian economist and political philosopher, the liberal concept of individualism has been
misunderstood as the idea that individuals are atomistic and selfish entities.

As the belief that individualism approves and encourages human selfishness is one of the main
reasons why so many people dislike it, and as the confusion which exists in this respect is caused by a
real intellectual difficulty, we must carefully examine the meaning of the assumptions it makes. []The
"self," for which alone people were supposed to care, did as a matter of course include their family and
friends; and it would have made no difference to the argument if it had included anything for which
people in fact did care. (Hayek, 1996: 13)

As a consequence of this misinterpretation, so the argument goes, individual freedom has

been understood as necessarily against the common interest. This was the rationale
underpinning the socialist and Keynesian conviction of the need of a State plan for the
organisation of the social. Hayek claims that in fact what lies beyond an interventionist
political economy is the overbearing assumption that there can be the possibility to foresee
the overall impact of individual actions. But actually, each individual can only have a limited
awareness of the consequences of his or her actions. Therefore, there cannot be a proper plan
to be applied to society as a whole, because there cannot be a directing mind able to
understand the true effects of its actualisation. Rather, it is by letting individuals free to act
within their sphere of influence, the only sphere they can properly know, that the common
good can eventually be achieved.

It is the contention that, by tracing the combined effects of individual actions, we discover that
many of the institutions on which human achievements rest have arisen and are functioning without a
designing and directing mind; that, as Adam Ferguson expressed it, "nations stumble upon
establishments, which are indeed the result of human action but not the result of human design"; and
that the spontaneous collaboration of free men often creates things which are greater than their
individual minds can ever fully comprehend. (Hayek, 1996: 7)

It can be seen that this line of reasoning applies to the ethic of civil society the mechanism
that Adam Smith and then his followers had recognised as the very structure of the market
dynamic. What is at stake is exactly a regime of truth that confers to a given system the
property of coordinating single actions into the achievement of a broader goal. Hayek makes
this analogy quite explicit:
What the economists understood for the first time was that the market as it had grown up was an
effective way of making man take part in a process more complex and extended than he could
comprehend and that it was through the market that he was made to contribute "to ends which were
no part of his purpose." [] The true basis of [this] argument is that nobody can know who knows best
and that the only way by which we can find out is through a social process in which everybody is
allowed to try and see what he can do. (Ibid, 14-15)

According to Hayek, and to liberal and neoliberal doctrines in general, the total common
good is invisible, what can be visible are partial local goods, so partial that they can be even
individual. It is the very invisibility of the overall picture that acts as a profound justification
to localised and individualised actions. Foucault explicates this intuition in his Birth of
Invisibility is not just a fact arising from the imperfect nature of human intelligence which prevents
people from realizing that there is a hand behind them which arranges or connects everything that
each individual does on their own account. Invisibility is absolutely indispensable. It is an invisibility
which means that no economic agent should or can pursue the collective good. (Foucault, 2010: 280)

The invisibility Foucault writes about at the economic level, is transposed to the social domain
and becomes the rationale according to which social entrepreneurship networked and
localised actions appears to be more efficient that the traditional welfare state for the delivery
of public services and the amelioration of society in general.

Many governmental and philanthropic efforts have fallen far short of our expectations. Major social
sector institutions are often viewed as inefficient, ineffective, and unresponsive. Social entrepreneurs
are needed to develop new models for a new century. (Dees, 2001: 1)

A re-organisation of the welfare state through an increasing de-responsabilisation of the

government and responsabilisation (or empowerment, depending from the viewpoints) of the
civil society is what Leadbeater augured for in 1997 in his book The Rise of The Social
Entrepreneur, and what had been already clearly stated by Drucker in 1985, when he flagged
out the need to organise the systematic abandonment of outworn social policies and obsolete
public service institutions (Drucker, 1985: 258).

In the UK, small but growing and successful businesses such as Think Public, are
responding to the call. The Think Public Booklet reads:

The public sphere is facing unprecedented financial challenges. At the same time citizens expect
to have a greater say in how services are designed and run. In response, we must re-think the model of
public services so that we meet the need of citizens (Think Public Booklet,

NESTA (The National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts), which had
played a significant role in the development of UK culture industry, is working hard on
researching social innovation and implement a model for a public service that can deliver
more for less. The input of research paper Radical Efficency states it clearly:

Radical efficiency is all about different, better and lower cost public services. It is about
innovation that delivers much better public outcomes for much lower cost. (Gillinson et al. 2010: 2)

The systemic change proposed by NESTA researchers well represents the general idea
about how the welfare should be transformed:

This implied system change in the short and the long term requires a corresponding shift in
responsibility for innovation and change All of our case- studies of radical efficiency rely on
generating empathy with and responsiveness to the different communities they serve. National or
central government can never hope to do that. It is impossible to engage and empathise with a whole,
diverse population. Success depends on central governments ability to let go of the reins of
innovation and liberate local innovators to develop new systems that will serve their communities in
different and better ways for much lower cost. The alternative is that we end up with less for less by
pumping the tired old system for more than it can give. (Ibid. 8)

Neoliberal Governmentality and the Entrepreneurial Society

What arises from the abovementioned discourses is that social entrepreneurship articulates a
political economy that is rooted on the limiting of the State action and the empowering of
citizens and communities. This limitation of the state is internal, intrinsic, to the government.
It does not come from some external force or moral code. It is the government that have to let
go, as NESTA put it. It is the government that have to recognise its impossibility to
empathise with the whole population. Such activity of self-limitation on the part of
government is what Foucault identifies as the principle of neoliberal governmentality, which
finds its intellectual instrument in political economy (Foucault, 2010: 13). The characteristic
of political economy is that it is not supposed to be a means for discovering natural principles,
or inborn rights, but to produce the conditions for a society to function, and to actualise the
measures that can have successful effects. Success and failure, rather then legitimacy and
illegitimacy, are the criteria of evaluation of political economy (Ibid.,15-16). Of course this is a
moving principle, a mobile horizon that gets re-adjusted according to the changing
conditions and interpretations of society.

As already discussed, the reasoning underpinning this idea is that no greater mind can be
aware of what is needed in the various parts of societies and by the multitude of different
individuals. There is no more a way to discover inborn rights, or to individuate the substantial
morality of the just social contract. Hence, local actions seem to be much more appropriate.
These local actions, to be really effective, should be undertaken by who is fully aware of the
sphere s/he is acting on, so by the very citizens who are part of a given community or who
share a given concern. Consequently, individuals and communities should be given the
resources and knowledge to tackle the social issues they experience. This knowledge is
thought to be of entrepreneurial kind because, as we have seen, entrepreneurial means are
supposed to form the mind-set that sees the possibilities rather than the problems created by
change (Dees, 2010: 2).

Ultimately then, what is pursued and implied by the social entrepreneurship culture is
the entrepreneurialisation of civil society. This is crystal clear in the Ashoka mission:

Ashoka strives to shape a global, entrepreneurial, competitive citizen sector: one that allows
social entrepreneurs to thrive and enables the worlds citizens to think and act as changemakers.

Michel Foucault, in The Birth of Biopolitics, a series of lectures given at the Collge de
France in 1978-79, traces a genealogy of neoliberal governmentality that, starting from the
recognition of neoliberal political economy as a principle of limitation of the state power,
indicates the building of an entrepreneurial society as its logical outcome. Following this
analysis, the entrepreneurialisation of society can be thought of as a technique for the
limitation of government. Therefore, it can be understood as a particular form of political
economy, proper of a certain stage of liberalism that is named neoliberalism. What is typical
of neoliberal governmentality is that, differently from the liberal, it assumes the market to be
not a natural and self-adjusting mechanism, but rather a system whose conditions of
efficiency have to be constantly produced. Liberal governmentality in its declination of Laissez
Faire, and since the Physiocrats, was rooted on the conception of the market as a natural
mechanism that the state had just to supervise and control. The natural mechanism of the
market was supposed to be based on exchange, an activity among equal partners, and
regulated by the self-ruling mechanism of prices. Neoliberalism (which Foucault analyses
mainly in its German version originated by the Ordoliberals and in its more extreme US
version) understands the market as regulated by competition, rather than exchange.

[]For the neo-liberals, the most important thing about the market is not exchange, that kind of
original and fictional situation imagined by eighteenth century liberal economists. The essential thing
of the market is elsewhere; it is competition (Ibid, 118).

To conceive the market as essentially a mechanism of competition means to conceptualise it

in entrepreneurial terms, thus as constantly changing and evolving, and as in need of inputs
from the social and the political to keep on innovating and thus functioning. But if a market is
entrepreneurial and competitive, if it is not an abstract self-regulating mechanism in a
constant state of equilibrium, it follows that no Laissez Faire policies can be effective
anymore. Competition is not a natural given, but it is a dynamic that needs to be constantly
produced. The role of the governmental reason, then, should be that of producing, at the level
of the social, the conditions for the market to function. It is worth quoting at length the
passages where Foucault explains this epochal shift in the art of government:

[] This is where the ordoliberals break with the tradition of eighteenth and nineteneeth century
liberalism. They say: Laissez-Faire cannot and must not be the conclusion drawn from the principle of
competition as the organising form of the market. Why not? Because, they say, when you deduce the
principle of laissez-faire from the market economy, basically you are still in the grip of what could be
called a naive natural- ism,[]For what in fact is competition? It is absolutely not a given of nature.
The game, mechanisms, and effects of competition which we identify and enhance are not at all natural
phenomena; competition is not the result of a natural interplay of appetites, instincts, behavior, and so
on. In reality, the effects of competition are due only to the essence that characterizes and constitutes
it. The beneficial effects of competition are not due to a pre-existing nature, to a natural given that it
brings with it. They are due to a formal privilege. Competition is an essence. Competition is an eidos.
Competition is a principle of formalization. Competition has an internal logic; it has its own structure.
Its effects are only produced if this logic is respected. It is, as it were, a formal game between
inequalities; it is not a natural game between individuals and behaviors. [] This means that pure
competition is not a primitive given. It can only be the result of lengthy efforts and, in truth, pure
competition is never attained. Pure competition must and can only be an objective, an objective thus
presupposing an indefinitely active policy. Competition is therefore an historical objective of
governmental art and not a natural given that must be respected. (Ibid, 120)

As it should be clear by now, the narrative of social entrepreneurship revolves around the
idea of a competitive relationship linking different individuals (persons, communities,
enterprises). Competition is thought to be essential to innovation: only if individuals are
allowed to freely compete they can take up the challenge to invent new and better things.
Competition, in this respect, is conceived more as a consequence of freedom then a rule of the
market. Within the regime of truth of social entrepreneurship, competition is the dynamic
constructed by individuals who are free to organise and manage their resources and come up
with new solutions, and test them. Given the inscrutability of the common good, the success or
failure of an idea to improve the social will be determined by its application. Then, everyone
will have to be allowed to try, i.e. to compete, in a social process in which everybody is
allowed to try and see what he can do as Hayek put it.

Foucault individuates in the form of entrepreneurship the building block of a competitive

environment, so the regulation and organisation of a society that is able to produce the
successful condition for the competitive market to function finds in the enterprise its basic
unit. Indeed, according to Foucault analysis, the effects of political economy are to be judged
against the market, which then acts as a litmus test of governments efficiency. Foucault
argues that since the mercantilistic era, the marked became the site of veridiction, of
verification, of the action of a government. Of course, then, it is the understanding of the
market, of its ontological substance, to determine the shift in governmentality. Therefore:

The society regulated by reference to the market that the neo-liberals are thinking about is a society in
which the regulatory principle should not be so much the exchange of commodities as the mechanisms
of competition. It is these mechanisms that should have the greatest possible surface and depth and
should also occupy the greatest possible volume in society. This means that what is sought is not a
society subject to the commodity- effect, but a society subject to the dynamic of competition. Not a
super-market society, but an enterprise society. [] What is involved is the generalization of forms of
enterprise by diffusing and multiplying them as much as possible, enterprises which must not be
focused on the form of big national or international enterprises or the type of big enterprises of a state.
I think this multiplication of the enterprise form within the social body is what is at stake in neo-
liberal policy. It is a matter of making the market, competition, and so the enterprise, into what could
be called the formative power of society. [Foucault, 2010: 144-148]

It is highly interesting that Foucault, already in the mid-seventies, individuates in the

enterprise the neo-liberal instrument to form society. The line of reasoning he proposed is
eminently logical: if governementality has to be judged and limited according to the
functioning of the market, and if the market substantial principle is competition, then
governmentality will have to deploy a set of dispositves to produce competition. Competition
is based on the manufacturing of freedom, a particular type of freedom, that is, the freedom to
organise and manage resources so as to be well equipped to partake in the formal game of
inequalities. Such a freedom is an entrepreneurial freedom, is the liberty to acquire the
capabilities of using resources so as to actualise projects in an autonomous and financially
sustainable way.

Therefore, social entrepreneurship can be thought of as a dispositive for the production

of a competitive civil society. But this is not enough. Actually, social entrepreneurship is a
form of political economy that aims at creating the condition for everyone to be able to
dispose of the available resources so as to take care of social issues. It is a discoursive as well
as technical dispositive for the formation of a regime of truth which sees opportunities in
problems, and which applies a managerial mentality to the organisation of the social.
The Ambiguity of the Entrepreneurial Form

It has to be noticed, however, that the notion of enterprise presents an ambiguity. For it is not
only the unit for the cold mechanism of competition to function, but also a form that involves
the active participation of the human being, of the very individual in his or her peculiar traits.
In this respect, a social politics based on the application of the notion of enterprise is
dispensed of the alienating traits of an adhesion to the market that sees individuals as
interchangeable and atomised actors. According to Foucault, the ordoliberal notion of
enterprise society articulates this ambiguity for it was both for and against the market, in so
far as it had the function of compensating for what is cold, impassive, calculating, rational and
mechanical in the strictly economic game of competition (Ibid., 242) Here it is worth going
back to Schumpeter and remind that the notion of enterprise, since its earliest formulations,
has represented a move away from a conception of the market as an abstract system
independent from the social, and of the economic actor as a purely rational subject.
Entrepreneurship implies human agency, and thus it puts the individual in its singularity in a
relevant position within the political, the social and the economical. In this respect it might
well function as a schema for anchoring the individual to its environment. (Ibid, 242).
Indeed, entrepreneurship implies ownership, exactly the opposite of alienation (at least in

I believe this ambiguity of entrepreneurship as both a form that puts the singularity of
the human being at the centre of the social and the economical, and a mode that reduces the
first to the latter, fully emerges in the Foucauldian discussion of Gary Becker notion of human
capital, in which he sees the most exhaustive disclosure of neoliberal philosophy. In this
respect, I slightly depart from Foucaults argument, in that he claims that American neo-
liberalism, which finds in the concept of human capital one its most comprehensive
articulations, overcomes the ambiguity of the German ordoliberals since it enacts an absolute
generalization of the form of the market (Ibid., 243). I would specify that probably the
difference relies in the way in which the German ordoliberal and the American neoliberal
conceive of their social policy: for the first the enterprise society had to counterbalance the
coldness of the market, for the latter there is no more such a gap between the social and the
economic. However, the ambiguity, or the ambivalence, of the entrepreneurial configuration is
even more evident in the American case, for it is precisely what permits such a reduction to
happen. In this respect, the form of entrepreneurship acts almost as a Kantian a
transcendental schema, connecting two different domains (in Kant, the sensible impressions
and the intellectual categories), or, more precisely, allowing one domain to be subsumed into
another. Therefore, it remains a very ambiguous form, in the Latin meaning of ambigere: to
conduct to two or more sides.

I believe the Foucauldian analysis of the notion of human capital can be read exactly as
the description of the mode of the enterprise as a transcendental schema to connect the social
and the human to the economical.

Foucault traces the origin of the idea of human capital starting form the analysis of
labour. Classical economists, as well as Marxists, he claims, have never fully taken labour into
the analysis, rather they have tried to neutralize it by reducing it exclusively to the factor of
time. Also for Keynes, labour was just a factor of production (Ibid., 220). Consequently,
labour had always been considered as an abstract variable, quantitatively measurable by
means of time. What the idea of human capital implies is to look at labour from the part of the
worker. What is labour for the worker? Firstly, it is an activity in which s/he engages as an
active economic subject. Then, which kind of activity is it? It is an activity in which the worker
engages using some means to an end. This end is ultimately a wage, which from the viewpoint
of the worker is an income, so a return on capital. The capital at stake is composed by the set
of skills and resources the worker puts to work, a set of abilities manual and cognitive,
technical and creative which are inseparable form the human being who possesses them. In
approaching his/her job, the individual has then to manage in a profitable way his/her
resources, and in so doing s/he becomes a sort of enterprise (Ibid., 224-25) Individuals life
itself becomes then deciphered as a form of permanent and multiple enterprise (Ibid., 241)16.

The Homo Economicus of neo-liberalism then, is the entrepreneur of the self. This way,
the notion of enterprise becomes like a double-headed Janus, or a schema, which can connect
the human and the social to the economical.

What are the consequences of this? Foucault argues that what is at stake is the

16 The becoming of the individuals life as a sort of multiple enterprise has been highly criticised by cultural
scholars, critical theorists and contemporary philosphers. Post Operaists thinkers, for instance Maurizio
Lazzarato (1996), Paolo Virno (2003) and Franco Berardi (2009), drawing on Negris interpretation of Marxs
Grundrisse (Negri, 1991), interpret the involvement of the whole subject in the activity of labour as a sign of the
real subsumption of capital for it is the whole of the individual that gets exploited for the capital production of
value. Cultural scholars such as Angela McRobbie (1997, 2001, 2002) unveils the dynamics of self-exploitation
and depoliticisation at stake within a culture of work that is rooted on the blurred barriers between a wage
earning activity and the actualisation of individuals identity. From a more philosophical perspective, Bernard
Stiegler (2010) deciphers the political economy of culture industries as rooted on a process of proletarianisation.
Overall, these arguments highlight though in different ways - the capital co-optation of potentially pathogen
agents that has been formulated by Deleuze and Guattari (2009).
redefinition of the domain of the social into the form of the economical, the possibility of
giving a strictly economic interpretation of a whole domain previously thought to be non-
economic. (Ibid., 221)

Such critical line can be reasonably applied to the contemporary discourses on social
entrepreneurship, and a few authors have done it indeed. For instance, Daniel Hjorth claims
that the dominant discourse on social entrepreneurship and innovation prioritizes an
extension of the market into new areas of society in order to represent social problems as
economic and make them targets for new public management (Hjorth, in Fayolle and Matlay
(eds) 2010: 311). In this way, social entrepreneurship produces the social merely as
something needing to be fixed (Hjorth and Bjerke, 2006: 117). On the contrary he proposes
to consider social entrepreneurship as a complex social-creative process that influences,
multiplies, transforms, re-imagines and alters the outlook of the space of society in which it is
at once grounded and contextualized (Hijort and Steyaert, 2006: 2).

Albert Cho moves a similar critique and states that the current definitions of social
entrepreneurship leave the social undefined, and in so doing they elude the political question
about what has to be considered the social good (Cho, in Mair et Al.(eds) 2010: 34-56).

I would argue that while Hjorth critique is appropriate, his proposal has a strong
performative character, in the sense that it aims at changing reality by means of constructing
a discourse. In regard to Chos insight, I believe it touches a very crucial point, and I will dwell
on that later in this thesis.

Before approaching the matter directly, however, I believe it is necessary to analyse how
is that the common good and the economic form has been brought to coincide.

Of course many thinkers, such as McNay and Lazzarato, drawing on Foucault, have
argued for the unattainability of such a coincidence, standing for the impossibility of social
solidarity in the entrepreneurial society.

Lazzarato claims that the entrepreneurialisation of the self will have a destructive impact
on social bonds, undermining the conditions for social cohesion (Lazzarato, 2009: 111).
McNay (2009) concludes that the organisation of the self and society in the form of
entrepreneurship ultimately corresponds to a co-optation of instances of freedom and
autonomy within a mechanism of discipline and control.
The remodelling of the subjective experience of the self around an economic notion of
enterprise subtly alters and depoliticises conventional notions of individual autonomy. Individual
autonomy becomes not the opposite of, or limit to, neoliberal governance, rather it lies at the hearth of
disciplinary control. This inevitably challenges conception of resistance, freedom and political
opposition, which often invoke a notion of individual autonomy as an absolute block or challenge to
the working of power (McNay, 2009: 62).

Hence, if the entrepreneurialised self and society are the results of an exercise of power, a
conduct of conduct, it follows that counter-conducts are defined as those that enable one to
escape the hold of enterprise society (Lazzarato, 2009: 111).

According to this line of thought, the antithesis between entrepreneurship and not-
egoistic action cannot be solved. In other words, and to use a Foucauldian parlance,
considering the irreducibility of the subject of interests to the subject of rights (Foucault,
2010: 274-5), and assuming that the entrepreneurial form is the form of a private endeavour
aimed at the creation of profit and rooted on the individualistic mechanism of competition,
every kind of social solidarity, is automatically removed from the realm of possibilities.

However, I argue social entrepreneurship discourses and practices challenge these

assumptions, or at least complicates the matter, for they establish economic means to be
functional for solving social issues. As it has been shown, social entrepreneurs claim is
precisely to use entrepreneurship as a technique to solve social problems.

Therefore, before dismissing this possibility it is fundamental to reflect on the particular

regime of truth that this very claim establishes. In other words, it has to be asked what shifts
in the understanding of the relationship between the social and the economical are necessary
for building the social entrepreneurship discourse? What kind of rationale underpins it?

Social Entrepreneurships Regime of Truth

Lazzarato and McNay, drawing on Foucault, state the impossibility for the enterprise
society to produce social justice and solidarity. In a sense, the entrepreneurial society
becomes the negation of an idea of society based on affective bounds and altruistic attitude.
The logic of this argument is quite clear: if the enterprise is the form of the competitive
market, based on the pursuing of individual interest, how can it be possible for an
entrepreneurial society to overcome the individual wealth to reach the collective welfare?
In the latest pages of The Birth of Biopolitics Foucault claims that
[] with the subject of interest there is a mechanism which is completely different form the
dialectic of the subject of right, since it is an egoistic mechanism, a directly multiplying mechanism
without any transcendence in which the will of each harmonizes spontaneously and as it were
involuntarily with the will and interest of others (Foucault, 2010: 275-76)

Therefore, an entrepreneurial society will be characterised by the complex matrix of

irreducible subjects of interests pursuing their own good. As it has been explained, the
common good will be considered invisible, and the market will be nurtured so that to produce
the common wealth (or the wealth of the more competitive and innovative entrepreneurs of
the self).

Neoliberal governmentality then, according to Foucault (2010), finds its object in the civil
society, a transactional reality, between the competitive market and the benevolence that
bounds communities of individuals. An entrepreneurialised civil society can thus be seen as a
technique of government that allows individuals to feel bounded to their families,
communities, jobs etc and at the same time to compete in the market. These logics, of the
market and civil society, are still heterogeneous and marked by a constant tension that is
negotiated through dynamics of power.

I argue the regime of truth of social entrepreneurship can be thought of as an attempt to

overcome this heterogeneity. For with social entrepreneurship it is exactly the mechanism of
the market to be conceived as instrumental to achieve a kind of common good that does not
coincide entirely with common wealth. I will dwell on what is the common good implied and
pursued by social entrepreneurship discourses and practices later in the thesis, for now it is
enough to highlight that it is not reducible to economic growth but rather includes ethical
values such as sustainability, equality, social justice etc

Unlike the commercial and capitalistic economy, which is narrowly concerned with meeting strictly
financial objectives, social entrepreneurship promotes a logic of solidarity that favours social cohesion
and welfare. (Fayolle and Matlay 2010: 1)

Such idea of common good based on social cohesion, welfare, social justice is still quite
vague indeed, and will be explored in the following chapters, yet it is clear that is course not
that of the subject of right, it is not pursued by a renunciation to some rights to become part of
the social contract. Also, it is not thought to be foreseeable and achievable by means of a
shared plan. In this respect the neoliberal invisibility of the common good is maintained by
the logic of social entrepreneurship. However, the local actions of social entrepreneurs are
thought to be part of a wider mechanism that will eventually bring to a better society, in
some case to a quite hyperbolic change of the whole world. The introduction of Nicholls book,
which includes essays from the more prominent voices of the field (e.g. Drayton, Skoll, Yunus,
Leadbeater and Dees amogst others), perfectly articulate this idea, presenting social
entrepreneurship as a global omnicomprehensive solution:

The rapid industrial and technological advancements of the last century have led to many
breakthroughs, but they have also left us to confront an uncertain future. With real threats of
environmental and economic collapse, terrible diseases, over-population, war, terrorism and
menacing new forms of weaponry, we have much to overcome. Efforts by our governments and
institutions have proven insufficient to reverse these destructive trends. Our best hope for the future
of humanity lies in the power and effectiveness of socially motivated, highly empowered, individuals
to fight for changes in the way we live, think, and behave. Those four sentences perfectly capture the
case for social entrepreneurship (Nicholls, 2006: 1).

Then, as I argued, social entrepreneurship emerges as an all-encompassing technique to

solve all those issues that have not been solved yet. The social-entrepreneurial technique
relies on an economic logic, and the many local actions of social entrepreneurs are conceived
to be part of a wider network. Such wider network is governed by the entrepreneurial logic of
the market, but its objective is not the common wealth, neither the multiplication of individual
interests. Therefore, the economic mechanism of entrepreneurship appear as not directed
only to economic growth, but also and mainly to the bettering of the social condition of
humanity. I would argue, then, that in this respect the regime of truth of social
entrepreneurship decouples the logic of the market and the ethic of profit. Therefore the
market comes to be seen as an efficient instrument, a neutral means to be deployed for the
achievement of a variety of objectives. (In the case of social entrepreneurship the objective is
the social well-being, the welfare indeed). This implies a vision of the economic mechanism
that is dispensed from an inherent ethic. The market, the economy, are seen as ethically
neutrally, thus usable to the pursuing of different goals.
Therefore, the political economy that resonates with social entrepreneurship is based
neither on interventionism nor on Laissez Faire, and it is not even just the rationale of a
neoliberal govermentality that shapes the social according to the need of the market. In fact,
what is involved is the attempt on the part of individuals who do not see themselves as
belonging neither to corporate capitalism, nor to the state, to use the means of the market for
the pursuing of its own ethical values. In other words, social entrepreneurship represents an
exploration of the possibility of an ethical economy, of an economy in which the concept of
value is not merely quantitative and monetised, but also ethical 17.

In this chapter I have argued that contemporary social entrepreneurship can be understood
as a technique to act in the social sphere. This action is autonomous in character and aimed at
resolving social problems of various kinds. In this respect, the status of a technique allows
social entrepreneurship to be considered as an all-encompassing method to solve a variety of
social issues: from global poverty to sustainability, from education to employment, from
climate change to war.
The social-entrepreneurial technique can be thought of as part of a neoliberal political
economy that is aimed at shaping the social according to the form of the enterprise.
However, I have argued what is at stake in the regime of truth of social entrepreneurship is a
re-definition of the market, or, better, of the economic logic, as a neutral means to be deployed
for different objectives. The objective of social entrepreneurship is exquisitely ethical, if not
moral, as it is the pursuing of the well being of the majority of people. Furthermore, it is
rooted on the fact that individuals will act altruistically for the amelioration of the conditions
of the others. In this regard, social entreprenerus are well removed from the narrowly self
concerned subject of interest, as well from the capitalist entrepreneur who looks for the
maximisation of profit. Social entrepreneurs are conceived rather as moral actors. Each
individual action of social entrepreneurs is to be though of as part of a universal objective (the
utopia of a world without inequalities, injustices, discriminations etc). In a sense, they are
almost Kantian moral actors, for they are supposed to act in a way that their action can
become universal: Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will
that it should become a universal law without contradiction (Kant, 1993).

17 Arvidsson and Peitersen (2013) have put forward an argument about the emergence of an ethical economy in
their last book The Ethical Economy: Rebuilding Value After the Crisis. I will dwell on the re-definition of value
enacted by the social entrepreneurship culture later in the thesis. For now it is enough to underline that the
concept of value deployed by social entrepreneurs and innovators exceeds the economical dimension. Debates
on impact value and social value are indeed very diffused in the field.
Therefore, if entrepreneurship becomes a technique for the amelioration of the social that
deploys an economic logic for the pursuing of ethical objectives, a few important questions
arise. Firstly, it has to be asked what kind of ethical conduct is at stake, precisely: how
entrepreneurial means affect the ethical dimension. In fact, even though social
entrepreneurship culture conceptualises entrepreneurial tools as neutral, it is hard to
maintain that any instrument can be actually deprived of a particular agency, so also of an
ethical impact. Furthermore, it indicates an important shift in the culture and significance of
work, for work acquires the significance of a set of practices, a technique, to positively
interfere in the social sphere. In this regard, work becomes a truly political action, that
involves not only the talent and passion of the workers (as it was the case in the culture
industry) but also their values and virtues. Work becomes a form of ethical conduct, a political
dispositve to act within neoliberal, networked and entrepreneurialsed societies.

Carolina Bandinelli is a doctoral candidate at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Her
doctoral thesis is a socio-cultural analysis of the social entrepreneurship scene in Italy and the
UK. In particular, it focuses on the genealogy of social entrepreneurs subjectivities, and on the
ethical, political and economical regimes of truth embedded in and emerging from social
entrepreneurship discourses and practices. She teaches at Goldsmiths University of London
and the University of Milano.

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