Critical perspectives on social innovation

Stream #02

Chairs: Mike Bull (Manchester Metropolitan University), Tim Curtis (University of Northampton), Janette Hurst (Sheffield Hallam University)

We would like to highlight upfront that the ‘critical’ in the stream title is not intended to be directed at alternatives which social innovation might replace. The rest of the conference has sufficient space for papers critiquing bureaucratic public policy, dependency cultures perpetuated by philanthropy or business as usual. Instead, this stream turns attention towards the social innovation emperor and seeks to critique him (and it is usually him) for wearing no clothes. 

Social Innovation, by (most) definition(s), involves meeting new social needs and/or developing new solutions to social problems. What possible reason(s) could there be to develop a stream focusing on critical perspectives on social innovation for better futures? Well here we offer just three: First, and perhaps most obviously, critical perspectives might focus on the hidden ideas and ideologies underpinning social innovation discourses. That is, not so much what social innovation is for, but rather what it isn’t for. Who pushes social innovation discourses and policies and why? Which alternative approaches to meeting social needs for better futures are ‘squeezed out’ by social innovation? 

Second, critical perspectives might interrogate social innovation less as an outcome and more as a process which involves bringing different groups together to devise new solutions to particular problems. Who are the winners and losers in such a process? Is there any evidence to show such a process ‘works’? 

Thirdly, what are the benefits of returning to sociological understandings of the social – and an economy of enrichment? What are the problems with fictitious commodification? Sentiment versus efficiency? Intimacy versus market? Economizing versus socializing?

Importantly, however, the aim of this stream is not to direct people in how to perform critique. Instead, we seek innovative and thought-provoking papers in any format that challenge popular understandings and taken for granted perspectives of social innovation. A space for the counter and little narratives to “go beyond the present narrative representation […] trying to think what is currently unthinkable inside of or in the centre of the grand narrative” (Dey and Steyaert, 2010, p. 87).