Guest editorial

Roberta Comunian (Culture, Media and Creative Industries, King’s College London, London, UK)
Denderah Rickmers (Culture, Media and Creative Industries, King’s College London, London, UK)
Andrea Nanetti (School of Art, Design and Media, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Singapore)

Social Enterprise Journal

ISSN: 1750-8614

Article publication date: 21 May 2020

Issue publication date: 5 May 2020



Comunian, R., Rickmers, D. and Nanetti, A. (2020), "Guest editorial", Social Enterprise Journal, Vol. 16 No. 2, pp. 101-119.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

The creative economy is dead – long live the creative-social economies

Introduction: defining the field

In this paper, we discuss the possible evolution from the creative industries (CIs) and creative economy (CE) towards creative-social economies (CSE). However, before explaining why we believe there is an increasing overlap between these two areas of research and policy intervention, it is crucial to define the two areas separately and consider the definition and critical aspects of each field of research.

Creative industries and creative economies.

In the past 20 years, we have read widely around the role of the CE and CIs in economic development discourses and agendas for growth globally (UNESCO and UNDP, 2013; De Beukelaer, 2014; Sternberg, 2017). Directing attention towards CIs for the specific role they might play in economic development started to build up from the first Australian Creative Nation report (Radbourne, 1997) and the globally acclaimed and replicated definition provided by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in 1998. Gross (2020) has undertaken an historical review of how the term CIs firstly developed in the UK within the newly elected Labour government in 1997. In the new definition the emphasis was put from the very start on the potential for these industries to create wealth:

[…] those activities which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have the potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property” (DCMS, 1998).

The definition – and associated measures of the economic contribution of these sectors towards national GDP, employment and exports – pushed towards their complete separation from the arts and cultural field, supposedly to be more socially and community-oriented. This separation has caused a rift in the understanding how creativity works favouring two different business models (CIs as private/for-profit industries and arts and culture as made up by not for profit/public companies) rather than an ecological complexity perspective (Comunian, 2011, 2019). Even if within those initial discussions and in the words of the then Minister of Culture Chris Smith the two were profoundly intertwined and connected:

Five principal reasons for the state subsidy of the arts in the modern world: to ensure excellence; to protect innovation; to assist access for as many people as possible, both to create and appreciate; to help provide the seedbed for the CE; to assist in the regeneration of areas of deprivation” (Smith, 1998, p. 19).

Taking a broader look at the CIs, others (Higgs et al., 2008) have argued for a more “inclusive” perspective with the term “CE”. The aspect of inclusivity here is mainly limited to employment. The new framework would allow for inclusion not only of the economic contribution of CIs but also of other creative occupations outside of the CIs making the overall impact and contribution of the sector in financial terms even larger. Therefore, with the term CIs policymakers and analysts have often restricted their view to consider creativity as mainly applied to a commercial activity, making persuasive arguments of how it outperformed many other economic sectors in terms of annual growth rates (DCMS, 2001; Potts, 2009) fuelling arguments around the industry as a new attractive source of jobs and exports for post-industrial economies worldwide (Henry and De Bruin, 2011).

However, others, such as UNESCO (2013) use the term CE to capture a broader range of industries and sub-sector and states that the CE:

[…] is simultaneously linked to the public, the not-for-profit and the informal sectors in ways that make it a complex hybrid. Moreover, only one aspect of the creative economy is expressed in price information and income. At the same time, other critical parameters of its success are more bound up with intrinsic values and identities (p. 25).

Therefore, alongside providing various ways in which the term can be used and helping quantify the work of a range of industries and institutions, it acknowledges that the CE “is not a single superhighway, but a multitude of different local trajectories, found in cities and regions in developing countries” (p. 12). Despite the overall positive rhetoric around the economic impact and growth of the CIs and CE, many academics have pointed to the shortfalls of the association between CIs and CE and a neoliberal agenda. These scholars consider the limited understanding of the value held by CIs practitioners (Walmsley, 2012; Comunian, 2009) and the negative impacts on careers and social welfare (Dent, 2019; Conor et al., 2015), as well as the impact of the sector on cities and gentrification dynamics (Comunian and Mould, 2014; Mould, 2015). More recently, other academics (Wilson et al., 2020) address concerns around the prevailing accounts about the ideas of “economic success” and “growth” that surround policy and academic discourses on the CE and consider the importance of interconnecting this research with three other discourses, which markedly each have a very clear social dimension: human development, cultural development and care. Similarly, the EU-Horizon-2020-funded initiative named Developing Inclusive and Sustainable Creative Economies (DISCE) makes an argument for exploring creative economies (with emphasis on the plural), highlighting the plurality of our understanding of what the CE is but also the opportunity that a plurality of thought might lead to, in terms of issues such as sustainability and inclusivity (

Social innovation, social entrepreneurship/enterprise and the social economy.

Amin et al. (2002) highlight how the term social economy (SE) did not emerge in English-speaking academic and policy discourses until the 1990s. They trace its emergence to the connection with the social issues and urban exclusion resulting from the collapse of Fordist society and the rise of deindustrialisation and consequent increase in unemployment and job insecurity. Previously these social and urban issues were addressed in the context of “non-profit” “voluntary” or community organisations, that dealt with small social problems because the main ones where organised by the state or the private sector. These activities were not seen (and did not need to be seen) as part of the economy. However, the rise of New Labour in the 1990s and vision for a “third way” bridging capitalism and socialism, paves the way to a new understanding of the SE consisting of:

[…] non-profit activities designed to combat social exclusion through socially useful goods sold in the market and which are not provided for by the state or the private sector. The social economy generates jobs and entrepreneurship by meeting social needs and very often by deploying the socially excluded (Amin et al., 2002, p. vii).

In line with this timeline, the broad SE development and the trajectory of research on social enterprise/entrepreneurship (SEE) and social innovation (SI) have been expanding since the late 1990s. Others highlight that the interest in SEE and SI further increased due to the perceived failure of the capitalist for-profit model that emerged with the Global Financial Crisis (GFC):

[…] prolonged recession and the pressure on the public purse has resulted in a smaller public sector and the desire for some of the activities previously supported by the state to be supported through social entrepreneurship and social innovation (Phillips et al., 2014, p. 431).

Despite the common understanding that the drive for SEE is the creation of forms of social value instead of personal or shareholder benefits, others consider that SEE are entrepreneurs/enterprises first, with the added dimension of social objectives (Dees, 1998; Martin and Osberg, 2007). Hence, a clear connection can be drawn on a baseline level of relevant external factors such as resources and capital, market demand, competition and unique selling proposition, for instance, in the form of innovation, independently of the goals being different. It is important to consider critical aspects included in many SEE definitions as each of them highlights a different dimension of the phenomena and business model as well.

There are many definitions of social entrepreneur and/or social entrepreneurship. Dees (1998, p. 4) broadly suggests that “social entrepreneurs play the role of change agents in the social sector”. We can add an additional dimension to how they play this role. They are moved by social value and social wealth (Zahra et al., 2009) and seek opportunities to achieve their mission (Dees, 1998), adopt business practice to maximise resources they have or can have (Dees, 1998; Zahra et al., 2009); seek high level of accountability and engagement with their stakeholders/constituencies. To achieve these goals, they pursue processes of innovation, learning and adaption (Zahra et al., 2009).

This approach, of course, leads to a secure connection between research on SEE and SI. The latter is defined as “a novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable or just than existing solutions and for which the value created accrues primarily to society” (Phills et al., 2008, p. 36). While SI is defined as “innovative activities and services that are motivated by the goal of meeting a social need” (Mulgan, 2006, p. 146).

Therefore, in this paper, we aim to explore the overlap between creative (CE and CIs) and social (SEE, SI and SE) research. After defining the terms individually in this section, we provide a brief literature review of their interconnections, exploring also some of the reasons why the distance between these two areas of research and policy has reduced overtime and how external pressures have bought them closer together. We then pose our main research question: is the creative SE a newly emerging area of research in academia? We use a systematic literature review (SLR) to try and answer this question, and explain the methodology in detail in section three. The key findings that follow reflect three key dynamics: the emergence of creative – social economies as an area of research overtime; the geography of this emerging area; the recent dynamism in research outputs. We then introduce the special issue – connecting it with our findings. In the conclusion, we discuss the implications of this paper and future research and policy agendas that might take further this initial work.

Literature review: from sociality in the creative industries to creative-social economies

In this literature review, we discussed qualitatively – before the quantitative analysis offered by our SLR – some of the dynamics within the field of research that have brought closer the research on the social (innovation/entrepreneurship/economy) with the creative area. Figure 1 summarises the oscillation in consideration of CIs and CE as contributors to the economy versus the valuing of their social and community contribution. We argue that the two conceptual and research areas were initially more connected, especially historically with the development of community arts and community filmmaking in the 1970s and 1980s (Goldbard, 1993; Wetherell, 2013; Malik et al., 2017). However, the development of CIs policy framework (DCMS, 1998) and the rise of the digital era repurposed and refocused creativity towards the commercial economic sector (Garnham, 2005). We argue that beyond a reflection on the social networks and sociality, little research during the decade 1998-2008 period looks at the SE (entrepreneurship/innovation) dynamics in the sector. However, the GFC of 2008 has repositioned some of the focus and has brought closer together the creative and the social. Due to the resulting collapse of some of the arts, the public has engaged in broader discussions about the value of the creative sector in society (Felton et al., 2010; Gupta and Gupta, 2019). Finally, we argue a more recent shift – possibly also connected with the global climate emergency and public debate – might again move the two areas of research and policy even closer together in the next decade (Carayannis et al., 2012).

Firstly, we can consider the new connections drawn in the literature between CIs and social dynamics and networks (Figure 2), all of this research takes mainly into consideration the period 1998-2008, before the GFC. It is important to recognise that from the emergence of CIs as a field of research many researchers – especially ones concerned with geographical contexts where the presence of arts and creativity did not necessarily overlap with huge leaps in economic development – have not considered the economic dimension and value of the CIs and CE as necessarily the most important to be researched or promoted by policy makers (Comunian et al., 2010a, Comunian, 2009; Montgomery, 2005; Oakley, 2004). Alongside this, others have more broadly highlighted the social nature of creative work (Brennan-Horley, 2010; Spinuzzi, 2012) and Cis, in general, (Kong, 2005; Comunian, 2011) and focussed on how they rely on collaboration and shared spaces and projects to develop sustainable livelihoods and businesses. A subsequent step in the research was further recognition of the importance of social networks within the development of markets and audiences for creative products and industries (Potts et al., 2008). In all of these early reflections, emerging new technologies and new online social media and networks also played an increasingly important role (Flew and Cunningham, 2013). In a period of overall global growth, the interest towards other values or impacts of CIs beyond the one of economic growth and prosperity was, in general, less exciting or less researched.

However, the focus and orientation towards the social and specifically social value and social impact of CIs and CE is more evident following the GFC of 2008 and the subsequent recession period, as also found in the results of the SLR. The crisis, in fact, had a range of impacts on the creative sector and associated practices. However, it also connected with a broader critique of creativity being much more than a set of industries and instead being part of our social fabric (Wilson, 2010) and the opening up future debates around cultural democracy (Gross and Wilson, 2018). As also highlighted by McQuilten (2020) in this special edition, it triggered a general critique towards neoliberal capitalism and an interest in how it could be reformed and “made fit” (Crouch, 2013) for society to improve issues created by income inequality. We argue this is also connected with a re-vamping of new alternative business models, from social enterprises to cooperative or community of interest companies, trying to re-adjust the balance between economic and social/cultural interventions, as well as reflecting more broadly on corporate social responsibility (Kemper and Martin, 2010). However, the re-vamping of alternative business models – specifically connected with arts and cultural objectives – became also a necessity for many practitioners working in the public arts and creative sector in response to wide funding cuts to the arts internationally as the economic crisis pushed many national economies and public services provision into recession (Grodach and Seman, 2013).

In the most recent period, we argue the connection between arts, culture and more broadly the CE with research on the society has become certainly more prominent. This prominence can be seen in three areas of current academic research. Firstly, new business models for arts and CIs organisation but more broadly a re-thinking of public services and how they could be delivered in alternative ways or with alternative forms of finance, including access to market capital, debt or equity (Monclus, 2015). Therefore, the impact of the GFC also resulted in a convergence of economic and creative agendas, where creative endeavours suddenly were expressed and assessed in financial terms. Projects applying for funding needed to account for a potential return on investment and other KPIs in economies which were struck by the GFC, such as the USA (Creative Vitality Suite, 2017). Hence, creative projects and enterprises were also placed in comparison to other potential areas of public spending and thus ranked in their socio-cultural importance. Similarly, we argue funders placed more attention and funded organisations that are able to marry the creative and social agenda (British Council, 2018). Secondly, increased awareness towards ethical (and un-ethical) practices within the CIs and CE sector. This was particularly in regard to equality/inequality of access to creative work (Dent, 2019), the issue of labour precarity (De Peuter, 2011), poor livelihood outcomes (Comunian et al., 2010b), as well as the role that policy might play in providing frameworks for more socially sustainable careers in the sector (Comunian and Conor, 2017). Finally, attention for well-being, access and care (Wilson et al., 2020), which stretches from creative and cultural producers and the CE to their audiences. This attention connects explicitly with the development of an ecological approach and complexity thinking (Comunian, 2019), towards understanding the role that CIs and CE can play in a place and opportunities for participation and cultural democracy for the benefit of societies (Brokalaki and Comunian, 2020).


In the introduction, we acknowledge that in the past two decades a lot of research has been developed in relation to both the CIs and the CE, as well as the emerging areas of SEE, SI and overarching SE. However, it is challenging to capture how these two areas of research have become interconnected and intertwined. To address this question, we propose to undertake a SLR on the overlap between these concepts and research ideas. The purpose of an SLR is to critically integrate a large body of research to systematically investigate the state of the knowledge in one area, identify where gaps exist and offer either a new theorisation of the field or new avenues for future research (Pettigrew and Roberts, 2006). In this respect, an SLR provides a different perspective from a traditional literature review (LR) attempted in our previous section, as it allows large volumes of literature and sources to be brought together around a specific theme. The foundation and strength of a “systematic” versus traditional LR lies in the fact that it adopts “explicit, rigorous and accountable methods” (Gough et al., 2017, p. 5). In practical terms this means: firstly, considering what will be included and excluded from the SLR; secondly, outlining what kind of search strategy will be adopted, including specific criteria used; finally, reflecting on what criteria and aspects will be taken forward in the analysis of the literature that has been selected for inclusion.

For this specific SLR, we recognise the importance of investigating the area of intersection between the creative (industries and economy) and the social (innovation/entrepreneurship/economy) in consideration of:

  • including a range of disciplinary fields, to reflect the multidisciplinary nature of this field of work and research;

  • including both practices that contribute to discussion empirically and theoretically;

  • including work from a range of geographies and geographical scales; and

  • including work from a sufficient time to account for longitudinal comparisons.

Currently, there have not been many studies that have used SLR about CIs and CE. However, many authors have provided a critical definition of the sector, and recently Gross (2020) has also offered a history of the birth of the term “creative industries” starting from the 1998 DCMS definition. A notable exception has been the work of Chapain and Sagot-Duvauroux (2018), who undertook a SLR of the concept of cultural and creative clusters.

Their findings, more specifically, look at how terminology and approaches to the study of these clusters could be unified or operationalised more consistently. Nonetheless, they also notice the importance of geography in our understanding of the variety of terms used. In line with some of our reflections here, they close their paper citing Mathews (2010, p. 673), who states that “it is critical that future research explores the art world beyond its economic measures”. These considerations suggest that the social dimension might be an emerging theme also in the cultural and creative clusters’ research.

On the other side, we can find a few works that use SLR in relation to social entrepreneurship (Conway Dato-on and Kalakay, 2016) and other essential contributions aim to clarify the distinction between SI and social entrepreneurship (Cunha et al., 2015), as well as the work of Littlewood and Khan (2018) mapping the connection between social enterprise and research on networks.

Therefore, building on previous individual SLR of the two fields, we propose here to investigate this overlapping area of research as the “creative social economy” (CSE).

Search strategy and boundaries.

To capture all relevant academic literature, we decided to use Scopus as our data source. Scopus is a “source-neutral” bibliographic database, that is curated by a board of “independent subject matter experts” (Scopus, 2019), hence limiting or self-equalising its research bias to a certain degree. It is a subsidiary of Dutch publishing company Elsevier Inc., but markedly representative of global past and on-going scientific content publications. It holds more than 75+ million records and 24,600 active titles, of which 23,500 are peer-reviewed-journals. As Chapain and Sagot-Duvauroux (2018, p. 3) also argued, the choice of this database relies on the relevant fact that Scopus “is more representative of the European and Asian literature, in addition to the North American one”. In the review of the Scopus database, we then sought to identify only material which included both references to the creative field and the social field. Taking into account the varied vocabulary in the creative research fields (Chapain and Sagot-Duvauroux, 2018; Gross, 2020), we decided to specify creative to “creative industr*” and “creative econom*” and due to their interchangeable use in our search chose to combine the two to one search item, thus “Creative industr*” OR “creative econom*”. We then searched the references for any combination of this combined search term with the established terms “social enterpri*” or “social entrepreneu*” or “social innovation” or “social economy” in the abstract, title and/or the full body of all relevant publications.

As evident from the selected language, this SLR is purposely interested in a high-level investigation of the overlap of the creative and social fields and thus does not go into detail in either specific CIs, such as design or visual and performing arts or any other social research terminology other than the terms identified and defined.

Table 1 below indicates the terms used and the four resulting search combinations.

As was to be expected, more than one of the four searches (i.e. term combinations) applied to multiple publications in the database, leading to duplicates in the dataset when looking at the individual search combinations in sum. Therefore, each search combination was carried out individually, as well as in an overall query combining all four combinations. All five search results were then collated and matched to create a robust baseline dataset for the subsequent data analysis. Additionally, following the research questions and objectives, the search criteria were further refined, making critical decisions to aligned with the research strategy. Firstly, we decided to include only contributions published between 1998 and 2018. 1998 is the year when the first official definition of the CIs was published by the DCMS (1998), and 2018 is the last complete year series in the database. Secondly, with regard to subject areas, we decided to specifically narrow the focus to the following four areas as defined and assigned on Scopus: arts and humanities; business, management and accounting; economics, econometrics and finance; social sciences. In each, we included both materials available via open access and not as both had relevance in our search. While there were results in other subject areas, such as computer science, after probing some of the results we deduced that the four selected subject areas provided the most relevant information for the core of our investigation, reinforcing this initial choice. Numerous publications of our database were included in various subject areas. However, this did not affect the analysis of our results other than signifying relative importance of some publications across different subject areas, which we then also accounted for in our review.

Further, we limited the search results to exclude document types listed as “undefined” and documents published in any language other than English. Notably, this defines our SLR study in ecosystem of the scholars that use English as a lingua franca. This limitative choice was deemed necessary to ensure that all researchers could conjointly analyse the dataset. Table 2 below indicates all defined research criteria and their respective Scopus coding.

Defining the data set.

Based on the identified search terms, their combinations and the SLR criteria, we then undertook a systematic database search in December 2019.

This led to a bibliographic reference database set for this paper of 659 documents. Of which 371 are articles (56%), 124 are books (19%), 121 are book chapters (18%), 23 are reviews (3%), 11 are conference papers (1%) and 9 are editorials (1%). From a subject area perspective, of the 659 publications, 388 belonged to the social sciences (38%), 334 to business, management and accounting (32%), 229 to economics, econometrics and finance (22%) and 99 to arts and humanities (9%). Notably, in sum economics and management/business studies account for 54% of publications in the database set, while humanities and social sciences account for 46% of the identified publications.

This data illustrates a relatively even spread across the two overarching research disciplines, and thus, points towards mutual recognition of the value that lies within the social-creative space by both disciplines.

Limitations of the methodology and research.

Methodologically, we acknowledge that SLR as a method also presents limitations. As Conway Dato-on and Kalakay (2016) recognise in their study, it is time-limited and offers a specific snapshot of the area of research. As discussed in the conclusion, the study should be taken forward to include further developments. We restricted the search to specific disciplinary fields – which again might be counterintuitive considering the multidisciplinary nature of this area of research. However, this was important to facilitate a feasible and focussed analysis.


In the following analysis, the bibliographic data set of 659 documents was considered, chronicling the origin and dissemination of the overlap of the creative and social fields as an emerging area of research across different geographic regions, subject areas and publications over time.

Individual search results and data set development.

Beyond acknowledging that 659 documents were included in our data set, it is important to consider the relative weight of each of the four searches individually that preceded the cumulative data set once it was adjusted for duplicates. Table 3 below highlights that with 329 associated publications Search 4, the intersection between the SE and the CIs/CE, by far accounts for the most research outputs when looked at in singularity. This potentially attests to the fact that “discussion of culture in the social sciences, including economics, has increased in recent decades” (Einarsson, 2016, p. 14). As is implicit in the table, 176[1] duplicates of the sum of 835 publications of the individual searches combined were removed from the dataset when a combinatory search of all four individual search strings was done, resulting in a dataset of 659.

The geographic roots of the terminology.

Research on the social-creative overlap originated in 68 countries over the past 20 years. More than 52% of the publications originated in Western Europe. This is followed by North America (16%), Australia and New Zealand (12%), Asia (9%), Central and Eastern Europe (8%), Africa and the Middle East (2%) and Latin America (1%). Significantly, 20% of all publications originated in the UK alone. Thus, potentially indicating a strong connection between the origins of the terminology of the CIs, its application and contextualisation with other fields of research.

Figure 3 below indicates the 30 countries with the highest number of research origination, accounting for 90% of the published works in the dataset. With 165 publications the UK far exceeds all other geographic areas. It is followed by the USA (91%), Australia (71%), Canada (39%), The Netherlands (38%), Italy (37%), Sweden (27%), Spain (26%), New Zealand (25%), Denmark (24%) and Germany (23%).

However, beyond the overall geography, we are also interested in exploring whether the attention towards CSE in different geographical areas is connected with a focus on specific aspects of the social (namely, enterprise, entrepreneurship, innovation or economy) as identified by our four search combinations. Figure 4 below highlights the usage of the terms across the different regions for each of the searches undertaken. As becomes evident, Search 1 has the lowest number of relative mentions, yet is relatively evenly spread across all regions. Except in the Middle East and Africa, whereas Search 2 has disproportionally higher mentions with 53%. This might indicate that while social enterprise as a business model is not established in the region, social entrepreneurship as a concept is. Search 2 and Search 3 are relatively evenly spread across all regions, although Central and Eastern Europe stands out in Search 3. It would be interesting to do further research to understand, for instance, to what extent this can be associated with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and subsequent social and cultural innovation, new order and renewed identification with cultural heritage of specific regions. Search 4 has the highest relative number of publications across all regions except for Search 2 in the Middle East and Africa. Notably, publications from Latin America with 54% and Asia with 47% in absolute terms seem to focus on the SE aspect of the social-creative economies in their research efforts. This is interesting as those continents are not naturally associated with, for example, strong social welfare states, which are frequently connected to discussions of social economics in a CIs context.

Creative-social economies research overtime.

Notably in this research, although the research frame for this SLR was purposely set to 1998, based on the publication of the initial DCMS (1998) CIs Mapping Document in the UK, the first publication using the concept of CIs in a social context as defined for the purposes of this research, were only published in 2002. One of the three articles, for instance, was published in Sweden (Power, 2002) aiming to place the CIs in the broader Swedish economy. Consecutively, (Figure 5) research around the CSE remained nascent from 2003 until 2007 and only reached ten publications per year in 2008. Ninety-four per cent of the research has been carried out in the past decade, even more notably 56% since 2016 and astoundingly 34% in 2017 and 2018 alone. This seems to highlight a timely nature of this research but also the recent importance that this area of research has acquired. Beyond reflecting the importance of research on the creative and the social fields, it also indicates a contemporaneous development of both research fields alongside each other, and we argue the development of CSE as research area in its own right.

Beyond looking at the overall time development, it is interesting to explore in more detail how the different searches developed overtime and how interest in those sub-areas has emerged. As indicated in Figure 6 below all four searches saw a steady and continuous rise in number of research publications from 2002 onwards and developed relatively concurrently. Notably, Search 4 peaked in its number of publications in 2012 while the other three searches did not. Further research into this would be fascinating. As has previously been mentioned, 2017 and 2018 saw a disproportionally high number of publications across all four search combinations.

Social-creative economies: moving forward.

The 659 publications in the dataset was spread across 160 publications, including books.

The 20 journals with the most references account for more than 36% of the publications in the dataset, pointing towards a concentrated research output. Three journals have more than ten references each, European Planning Studies (16%), City Culture and Society (13%) and Cities (12%), these three alone account for more than 11% of the research output. Notably, these publications all have reliable place-based research context. Table 4 below lists the 20 most referenced publications and their relative contribution to the data set.

Connecting to the four most cited journals, it would be interesting to investigate further whether this topical alignment to physical spaces, places and communities stems more from the CIs/CE aspect of this research or the social component of our search term combinations. Based on our analysis, the three-factor dynamic of the social, the creative and the economic proves a dynamic and mutually engaging research field across disciplines and geographies. Then although filled with inherent tensions, such as social policies through the means of the CIs (Oakley, 2006) or a misguided innovation paradigm overriding other forms of social and economic development (Pfotenhauer et al., 2019), it holds a lot of potential for further research and a joint effort to describe and foster positive impact based in the emerging area of CSE, of which we only captured a fraction with the above analysis.

Special issue’s overview

In this special issue of the Social Enterprise Journal, we bring together a series of articles contributing to further expanding our knowledge and understanding of the creative-social economy under the heading “social enterprises (SEs), SI and the CE”.

In the first article, McQuilten (2020) explores the literature on SEs and their specific policy context in Australia. She considers explicitly arts-based social enterprises (ASEs) working with disadvantaged youth. The research is based in Australia and builds on qualitative interviews with 12 organisations working as ASEs, balancing the complexities and tensions of goals stretching across creative practice, economic activity and social purpose. It considers the perspectives and strategies adopted by organisations. The paper addresses their organisational aims and structures, creativity and social impact; conceptualisations of youth disadvantage and marginalisation and navigation of commercial imperatives. The paper explores how ASEs have been seen as offering a positive model of social engagement. Their hybridity, connecting entrepreneurial skills and creative activity, is a key feature. However, the multiple and conflicting goals of these organisations present enormous challenges for managers and staff involved, both at organisational and personal levels. McQuilten also considers why many of the organisations interviewed were reluctant to define themselves as social enterprises although they used some of these terms to opportunistically appeal to multiple funding channels and adopted a language that was expected of them. There was also resistance towards “the language of enterprise” as potentially conflicting with the political values of the artists and arts organisations.

In the second article, Carter (2020) discusses the creative business model Canvas, a reinterpretation of Osterwalder and Pigneur’s Business Model Canvas (BMC) (2010) and reimagines it for visual artists and ASEs organisations, considering how the notion of value and their overall business objectives might need to be articulated differently. Her work highlights that when using the original BMC in the context of creative arts practice, it is vital to re-articulate the “value proposition block”. Carter proposes here to modify this to include the artists’ artistic identity as a central component of the value proposition. This new creative BMC uses the same framework but specifically addresses the nuances of creative practice by focusing more attention on how the artistic identity adds value to the creative business and also by considering that the financial returns that might be central to other BMC may not be central to the creative one. She argues that the artist’s professional goals, as well as their personal values and their need to remain “authentic”, are essential ingredients of how they create value. Carter’s creative BMC has potential impact and application to be used by ASEs to assist them in developing sustainable arts-based business practices.

In the third article, England (2020) also considers the context of CSE and how they manage to balance creative, social and economic goals. However, she specifically focuses on open access studios – with the case study of Turning Earth in London – to reflect on the way tensions arise from the negotiation of multiple organisational values alongside members’ motivations. England provides an in-depth reflection on the literature around CIs and social enterprise. In particular, she explores the limited understanding of CSE in the broader CIs literature, despite a more extensive acknowledgement that art and creativity are deeply intertwined in cultural, economic and social systems and that they can drive both economic development and potentially foster social inclusion. She highlights how the combination of creative and social goals with economic ones are often seen in the literature as being in a binary opposition or paradox. This has somewhat limited the research into opportunities to value management practices and dynamics within CSE, which her paper makes a substantial contribution to addressing. England presents the case of Turning Earth, an open access ceramic studio, to consider these management struggles and negotiations of values. Despite the acknowledged limitation of a single case study, England concludes with a reflection on the potential of the research to encourage more collective models of creative production, questioning whether this might also have implication in facilitating the development of more sustainable (economically and environmentally) models for the CE, as well as more shared collective approaches to creative production.

In the fourth paper, Toscher et al. (2020) present an empirical comparative study of the motivations for engaging in business by focussing on three diverse cohorts of entrepreneurs active in three fields technology, youth and arts. The paper highlights the lack of knowledge we still currently have around the reasons why individuals start a business, beyond the idea of profit. The paper answers a call for more research to delve deeper into the diversity of entrepreneurship and especially how different motivations might move different individuals. The study uses a grounded theory approach, coding observations from 776 individual entrepreneurs using a web-based digital test environment. The authors articulate their findings around four categories of entrepreneurs based on their motivations: GET - GIVE - MAKE - LIVE. They find that in general most of the 776 entrepreneurs have more than one type of objective or motivation behind their entrepreneurial behaviours and ideas. However, Toscher et al. (2020) also find that arts entrepreneurs tend to use entrepreneurship to “LIVE” while tech entrepreneurs are more oriented towards “GET”. More broadly, all cohorts wanted to “MAKE”. Furthermore, the authors reflect on whether the entrepreneurs defined their business primarily driven by their core competence or mainly driven by their key market/contribution. The arts entrepreneur, aligning with the “LIVE” objective as their purpose for entrepreneurship, prioritised their “Core Competence” rather than “Key Market/Distinction”, which were favoured by tech entrepreneurs. Toscher et al. (2020) discussion also includes a reflection on the implication that this might have for educators and entrepreneurship education across different types of sectors and groups.

In the final paper, Cockshut et al. (2020) articulate the role higher education institutions (HEIs) can play in supporting and engaging creative micro, small- and medium-size enterprises (mSME) towards a SI agenda. In particular, they look at their contribution across rural/semi-urban spaces, which are often marginalised in the CE literature, in the context of the North East of England. Using an action research approach and qualitative interviews, Cockshut et al. report how HEIs benefit from being seen as trusted innovation-oriented institutions with long-term ties to their territory and their creative business environment. They argue that this trust is sometimes met with short-termism in the way that research and impact funding are managed and engagement is delivered. However, HEIs have the ability through participation and a flexible action research approach to create impact on creative mSMEs and help them articulate needs and shape their SI strategies and outputs. Cockshut et al. conclude by calling for more research in this area but also for more active engagement of HEIs in SI as they are best placed to have a transformative role in their local creative economies.


The results of our SLR, as well as the in-depth discussion in each of the papers of this special issue, certainly support the idea that the fields of CIs and CE studies are moving towards closer connections and a research focus to the socio-cultural and socio-economic. Specifically, the findings from the SLR highlight that the emergence of CSE as an area of research is quite recent and potentially developed following the GFC and a realignment of values around CIs and CE but also a reconsideration of business models for the sector. It shows that it is an area of work with global reach, although research in the UK and Europe is more present in this database.

We argue this growing interest offers the opportunity to bring back the attention on the social and cultural value of CIs and CE and refocus the previous agenda which has tended to be solely attentive to their economic value rather than a broader contribution to society. This also has the potential to open up further conversation about access, inclusivity and care (Wilson, 2010; Wilson et al., 2020). Through the notion of CSE, rather than pitching the social and economic against one and other, we argue there is an opportunity to reflect on their co-existence in our research, as well as in the everyday practice of creative practitioners and entrepreneurs (Comunian, 2009).

We acknowledge that some policy bodies have recently been more focused on this agenda – perhaps against the mainstream economic focus. It is interesting to note the difference in their approaches in the mutual field of CSEs. While, for instance, the UNESCO (2013) has tried to acknowledge the community and development value of CIs and CE, the British Council (2018) addresses the development of creative and social enterprises at the levels of policy, institutions and individuals. Meanwhile, governments of interventionist and innovation-driven countries such as Singapore foster entrepreneurship and a creative class and clusters as a source of socio-economic development (Pereira, 2007) while nations such as the USA start to implement longitudinal economic measures towards socio-cultural endeavours (Creative Vitality Suite, 2017). We argue there is scope for broader engagement of policy internationally towards a better understanding of the sector and how it could further thrive.

While we acknowledge the limitation of the SLR, we would like to point to how this initial work could be taken further with different methods and new future research. Firstly, more research is needed that looks beyond best practices and case studies (Diesis, 2018) and systematises our understanding of the connections across actors and networks across the CSE. One way to approach this on a national level might be to integrate socio-economic components into systematic analysis, for example, National Innovation Systems (NIS), which are situated at the socio-economic overlap yet currently mainly focus on “flows of technology and information among people, enterprises and institutions” (OECD, 1997, p. 4), as opposed to aiming to account for components such as actors engaged in developing creative output or the social ecosystem of a nation. In particular, we argue it would be valuable to think about how national networks and entrepreneurial system allow space for CSE to work and be supported, avoiding pigeon-holing organisations. Instead allowing for fluid collaboration and development to happen across the creative and social agenda. Secondly, a better understanding of how creative and social objectives and missions can be balanced and intertwined is needed. In particular, considering how new business models and policy frameworks might facilitate their co-existence, specifically in the area of social finance (Albertson et al., 2018; Monclus, 2015; Trapp, 2017). Finally, we expect CSE research will expand further in relation to the global climate emergency and the opportunity for CIs and CE to contribute further to the discussion and action for climate change through CSE.


Social vs economic focus on CIs and CE research and policy overtime (authors’ elaboration)

Figure 1.

Social vs economic focus on CIs and CE research and policy overtime (authors’ elaboration)

Early connections between CIs and social dynamics/networks research

Figure 2.

Early connections between CIs and social dynamics/networks research

Geographical spread of the overall research on CSE

Figure 3.

Geographical spread of the overall research on CSE

Geographical spread individual search combinations relative to each other

Figure 4.

Geographical spread individual search combinations relative to each other

Number of publications per year between 2002 and 2018

Figure 5.

Number of publications per year between 2002 and 2018

Number of publications of the different searches over time (2002-2018)

Figure 6.

Number of publications of the different searches over time (2002-2018)

Combination of terms for Search 1, Search 2, Search 3 and Search 4

Social enterpris* Social entrepreneu* SI SE
“Creative industr*” OR “creative econom*” AND Search 1 Search 2 Search 3 Search 4

Scopus search criteria and coding

Temporal frame Subject areas Document types Languages
Included Publications published in/after 1998 and in/before 2018 Arts and humanities; Business, Management and accounting; Economics, econometrics and finance; Social sciences All document types other than undefined English

Sum of individual searches, individual searches combined and combinatory search

Social enterpris* Social entrepreneu* SI SE Sum of individual searches Data set after revised for duplicates
“Creative industr*” OR “creative econom*” AND 147 187 174 329 835 659

20 most referenced publications and their relative contribution to the dataset

Publication title No. of publications Relative contribution to overall dataset (%)
European Planning Studies 16 4.5
City Culture and Society 13 3.7
Cities 12 3.4
Geoforum 8 2.3
International Journal of Cultural Policy 8 2.3
Journal of Enterprising Communities 8 2.3
Creativity and Innovation Management 7 2.0
International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal 6 1.7
International Journal of Social Economics 6 1.7
Industry and Higher Education 5 1.4
International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour and Research 5 1.4
Cultural Trends 4 1.1
Entrepreneurship and Regional Development 4 1.1
Entrepreneurship and The Creative Economy Process Practice and Policy 4 1.1
International Journal of Entrepreneurial Venturing 4 1.1
International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 4 1.1
Journal of Arts Management Law and Society 4 1.1
Journal of Business Research 4 1.1
Sustainable City and Creativity Promoting Creative Urban Initiatives 4 1.1



835 publications (sum of all individual searches) – 659 publications (dataset of overall combined search) = 176.


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Further reading

Anderson, C. (2012), Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, London, Random House Business.

Cohen, M.J. (2016), The Future of Consumer Society: Prospects for Sustainability in the New Economy, Oxford University Press.

Osterwalder, A. and Pigneur, Y. (2010), Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers, John Wiley and Sons.

Smith, A. (2017), “Social innovation, democracy and makerspaces”.

Unesco and Undp (2013), Creative Economy Report 2013–Special Edition: Widening Local Development Pathways, New York, NY: United Nations Development Programme.


The special issue builds on the discussion and papers that were presented during an event entitled “SE, SI and the CE: current knowledge and shared research” which was hosted in the framework of the three-day workshop on “Dancing over Ideas of Research for a Responsible Innovation” (19–21 November 2018) co-organised and co-funded by King’s College London (UK), Nanyang Technological University Singapore (NTU-King’s College London M0600H0013, NTU-NISTH, NTU School of Art, Design and media and NTU-ADM Centre for Asian Art and Design) and the University of Applied Arts (Vienna). For information and updates on this special issue’s event, link to The considerations in this editorial also build on current reflections and research being developed by Dr Roberta Comunian and colleagues at King’s College London within the H2020 Eu funded project DISCE (Developing Inclusive and Sustainable Creative Economies) We would like to specially thank to Dr Sue Lewis for providing comments on earlier drafts of this editorial.

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