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Researcher subjectivity in social entrepreneurship ethnographies: The entanglement of stories in a co-working cooperative for social innovation

Eeva Houtbeckers (Department of Design, Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland)

Social Enterprise Journal

ISSN: 1750-8614

Article publication date: 2 May 2017




The purpose of this paper is to discuss researcher subjectivity in social entrepreneurship ethnographies. Previous research has highlighted a need for alternatives to the heroic representations of social entrepreneurship. Ethnographic methods have been mentioned as a relevant direction to create such emerging understandings.


This paper shows what followed from a decision of a researcher to do an ethnography of a co-working cooperative established for social innovation. Based on the notion of “working the hyphens” in previous research, further developed by other scholars as “working within hyphen-spaces”, the position of the researcher shifted during the research process between a distant outsider and an engaged insider. In addition, a new hyphen-space of hopefulness – hopelessness emerged based on fieldwork.


The shifting positions are manifested in the entanglement of stories of the researcher and the people met during the fieldwork in the hyphen-spaces of insiderness – outsiderness, engagement – distance and hopefulness – hopelessness. The stories reveal how for some the co-working space was a place for hope while for others it caused distress and even burnout.


The ethnographic understanding of social enterprises go beyond heroic representations, which affects how the phenomenon is represented in academic and public discussions.


This study concludes that despite its failure in the form of a bankruptcy, the co-working cooperative succeeded in enabling “social innovation” in the form of hope and personal development – also for the researcher.


This study contributes to the social entrepreneurship literature in showing how ethnographic fieldwork and acknowledging researcher subjectivity bring up alternative representations of social entrepreneurship. The entangled stories of participants and researchers can be a powerful way to reveal situated understandings.



I am grateful for the Practice Theories Learning Circle in Aalto University for assisting me in giving birth to the entangled stories. I thank Inkeri Aula for commenting the manuscript in the early phases. Finally, I thank the two anonymous reviewers and the special issue editors for their great comments.


Houtbeckers, E. (2017), "Researcher subjectivity in social entrepreneurship ethnographies: The entanglement of stories in a co-working cooperative for social innovation", Social Enterprise Journal, Vol. 13 No. 02, pp. 128-143.



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