The Hygienic Problem of Social Innovation Work: Reversibility and Oscillations Between “the Social” and “the Economic”

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In recent years, social innovation has received attention as a promising solution to societal challenges, not least because of its claims to create a symbiosis between social purposes and economic benefits. The often uneasy relation between social values and economic values is, however, not easily resolved in practice. Based on ethnographic research in the field of social innovation in Denmark, we argue that the relation between “the social” and “the economic,” representing different value logics, is essentially one of reversibility. The two each encompass their apparent opposite within themselves. This reversible relation elicits a number of challenging oscillations when social innovation is enacted in practice. We term this the hygienic problem of social innovation work. Too much or too little of either the social or the economic contaminates and obfuscates the endeavor of social innovation. As a result, people who do social innovation work seek to enact the “right” or “pure” relation between social and economic concerns. We suggest, however, that the potential of social innovation lies not in this search for purity. Rather, the instability of these categories prompts a continual exploration and creative rethinking of how the intersection of society and business may unfold.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAnthropology of Work Review
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)47-56
Publication statusPublished - 2021

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