This paper aims to deal with the history and main features of social enterprises in South Korea, where a specific legal framework was enacted in 2006.
The analysis emphasises an economic sociological approach mixing economic considerations, political features and social aspects. The mobilised information comes from previous works realised by the authors on that topic as well as from updated statistics and data about policies, laws and regulations.
The study underlines that the emergence of social enterprises in South Korea was rooted in civil society and citizens' movements before it became a priority on the government's agenda. The result is the co‐existence of several forms of social enterprise with distinctive features: social enterprises certified by the official label, on the one hand, and de facto social enterprises, defined as such because of their practices, goals and values, on the other hand. Such a situation generates a growing tension between the priorities and values emphasised by the political sphere and by the civil society.
Social enterprise is an emerging field of interest and a recent phenomenon, constantly in progress; consequently, systematic data on the field are still lacking, and researchers do not have enough hindsight to learn definitive lessons and draw broad conclusions of statistical significance.
The paper sheds light on a phenomenon that is multi‐dimensional and is rapidly evolving. It provides a better comprehension of South Korean political choices and socio‐economic changes and can help to anticipate future evolutions and to shape related policies to deal with work integration and the promotion of welfare‐mix in the field of social services provision. It also brings information and learning for cross‐country comparative studies.
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