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Finding that grit makes a pearl: A critical re‐reading of research into social enterprise

Tim Curtis (Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, Said Business School, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK)

International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research

ISSN: 1355-2554

Article publication date: 1 August 2008




The paper seeks to explore the implications of a critical approach to theory and method in the study of social enterprises and social entrepreneurship.


The paper presents a re‐reading of the findings in a major case‐study based research programme. The author reflexively re‐evaluates the findings and compares them to different theoretical traditions to identify whether these theoretical lenses shed further insight on the raw findings.


The analysis indicates that the theoretical perspectives of “contractualism”, “managerialism” and “agencification” are good explanatory frameworks for the data produced in the research but so too are “militant decency”, “social movements” and “post‐liberal” theories. As well as illustrating the limits of knowledge, the exercise also indicates that the apparent weakness and failure identified in the case studies are evidence of a “recalcitrance and resistance” that is essential to the emerging identity of the social enterprises.

Practical implications

The paper highlights the importance of being honest to the complexity and ambiguity of data produced in field research and that some important findings can be missed when “outlier” data are ignored. The re‐evaluation of data on this basis also indicates that weakness and failure in social enterprises should not be avoided and worked out of the system. Rather, operating in the context of weakness, failure, recalcitrance and passivity are the grit in the pearl that make social enterprise so valuable.


The paper contributes, in its critical theory approach, to method and analysis in the field of social enterprise research. The paper indicates that no single theoretical structure fully explains social enterprise and that existing critical management theories shed significant new light on the field. The paper, in applying an experimental approach to theory, also highlights the small amount of work that has been done in the field on failure, doubt, weakness and humility.



Curtis, T. (2008), "Finding that grit makes a pearl: A critical re‐reading of research into social enterprise", International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research, Vol. 14 No. 5, pp. 276-290.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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