Global Grammars of Entrepreneurship


As I have tried to argue in my two previous blog posts, the principle that is operating in many EU and Spanish policies, both for young people and collectives (social enterprises), is that, to achieve a certain type of “success”, then individuals and groups need to imagine themselves as enterprises-businesses, and to do so from within market driven rationales. This is a trend that was identified by Foucault in the late 1970s (2008), and which has been developed further by other authors, including Lazzarato, (2012), Kelly, (2013), Lorey (2015) and Bröckling (2016). To develop this discussion further we are proposing the metaphor of grammar to better understand the usage rules, the norms and regulations, of this concept of entrepreneurship. In this blog post my aim will be to, first, sketch the circuits through which this grammar is expanded and reproduced and, second, I will break down this grammar by briefly describing its main components. I want to stress at the beginning that even though there are connections, this entry will be more focused on the global grammars of self-entrepreneurship than on the global grammars of social-enterprises.


Global Entrepreneurship Index 2015 somehow reproduces the notion of grammar I´m sketching.  Image retrieved from European Confederation of Junior Enterprises (JADE):

Local and Global Circuits of the Grammar

As a number of the blog posts here have identified, the measures implemented in different parts of Europe, and here in Victoria, that aim to foster social enterprises and youth entrepreneurship respectively can be understood as parts of an apparatus that put into on circulation or re-signifies concepts in a way that, far from being neutral are, in part, inherently moral. As we have shown, one of the most important producers and distributors of this grammar are agencies and institutions of government. These different agencies give shape to a political, juridical and administrative field of plausibility (lets say reality), where some possibilities are promoted, and others not so much. More specifically, significant policies and funding projects about entrepreneurship have enabled and fostered the emergence of a complex network of public and private institutions and agencies that aim to produce, support, accompany or guide different kinds of entrepreneurial projects.

Spanish (and Basque) government scientific policies, as with many other European countries that follow the Research Horizon 2020 European Union Program, defines entrepreneurship as a priority area for research in its R&D National Plan, and presents multiple, on-going calls. One way or another, these scientific policies have made ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘youth’ a significant ‘research niche’, where youth enterprise becomes an artefact of expertise (Kelly, 2000) in which all kind of academic and intellectual resources have been invested (and in which I am included*). As it happens with the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) on a global scale, the local research and scientific fields, through a massive production of data about entrepreneurship, helps to performatively give shape and reality to the phenomenon (Latour, 2005, p.173 and ff.).

[*it is important to stress that academia is not exempt from the logic of entrepreneurialism. Platforms such as and are good examples of how we have become, in the context of cognitive capitalism, the commercialisation and marketization of knowledge, intellectual brands or academic-self-enterprises (Duffy and Pooley, 2017)].

In this particular framework, where the production of knowledge and the knowledge about capitalism overlap, the notion of cultural circuits of capitalism developed by Nigel Thrift (2005) is really helpful to understand the semantic and material expansion of the grammar of entrepreneurship (Kelly 2013, p.20). At the risk of simplifying, the main source from which the knowledge and truths about entrepreneurship emerges is management studies, a field that has proved to be especially receptive to various ‘schools of thought’ including post-structuralist social theory and complexity theories (Boltanski and Chiapello, 2005). Thrift (2005, p.75) argues that the main producers of this discourse have been, since the 60s, the business schools (through the marketing of their MBA degrees), management consultants and management gurus (drawing on methods and technologies such as seminars, training programs, New Age philosophies and distribution tools). The business schools produce and stabilise knowledge; the gurus embody and perform successful examples; and management consultants have played a crucial role in the distribution and spreading of this knowledge. Over the last three decades these players in these cultural circuits have been able to process, package and place management knowledge in all kind of fields by providing versatile formulas, which can be applied in many diverse situations. As Sergio Bologna (2006, p.11) argues, the self-employment field has been specially shaped by this knowledge, and in last decades, when it should be questionable if all these formulas actually fit well to the figure of the ‘freelancer’ or the ‘autonomous worker’.

These mobile, stable and combinable packages of knowledge, technologies, methods and their equations can be easily detected (within the vocabulary of efficiency and productivity) not only in private corporations, but also in state and public institutions, Third Sector Organisations, Not-for-Profits, NGOs and social enterprises. And of course, individuals (from productivity apps to fitness trackers devices and so on).

With regard to the governmental programs on entrepreneurship I have talked about, it is easy to identify institutionalised cultural circuits of capitalism where a) the links between the academic production of knowledge, b) its distribution through consultancies, c) the development of policies of entrepreneurship, and d) the concretization of entrepreneurial projects becomes more clear. The 2020 Entrepreneurship Plan of the Basque Country, for example, offers a good example of these circuits, and the mirroring games that takes place between different western states and regions through the idea of “exemplary cases”.

Global Grammars

Map of international reference practices in entrepreneurship made by the Basque Government. Source: The 2020 Entrepreneurship Plan of the Basque Country (p.12).



This mirroring game, based on the idea of “replicability” of specific formulas and exemplary projects (as a way of spreading them horizontally), also plays an important role in a ‘scale-up’ logic that seeks to expand these ideas both vertically and horizontally (making them bigger and spreading them).

Doubt emerges when we realise that these kind of concepts, measurement systems and reports are not produced in a vacuum, and that, indeed, they are grounded and written from somewhere – most often by middle class, western academics, in western “developed” countries. If we take as an example the last GEM report on Social Entrepreneurship, successful and exemplary cases come from countries such as US and Australia, countries that are shaped by neoliberal policies. In addition, the European western countries, where the welfare state is being shrunk in quite violent ways, are identified as proper “ecosystems” for social enterprises. In thinking about the moral economies of social enterprise, we might then ask why other states and regions around the globe have to follow those grammars, these suggestions to behave in similar ways?


Non-State, Enterprise Actants

Beyond these more direct measures and their effects, there are also a myriad of agents that work in parallel to the political and legislative discourse of entrepreneurship, that reinforce this grammar.

Bruno Latour’s (2005) work allows us to identify how this grammar not only circulates at an institutional-policy level in the form of various reports, but through many other different spaces, circuits and actants. The production and circulation of all kind of inscriptions (reports, journal articles, research programs, laws, excel pages, apps, etc.) comprises a significant part of the non-human actors that give shape and continuity to this grammar. The framework of the Actor-Network-Theory (ANT) enables us to detect how this circulation of knowledge produces semiotic and material assemblages where non-humans become active actors in the local stabilisations and embodiments of the grammar of entrepreneurship.

Actor-Network-Theory stresses the importance to the materiality and capacity of the action of objects —as non-human actants– for in shaping the social. For example, this advertisement from an Uber campaign in Ghana, as a part of a, let’s say cynical, understanding of the “democratization” of entrepreneurship, represents how the car can become a mediator through which this grammar of enterprise is embodied. However, it should be stressed that the most important articulator (Latour, 2005, p.193) of this grammar would be, overall, the smart-phone.


Image retrieved from: :

Alongside the multitude of webpages, YouTube channels and blogs, the call to become entrepreneurial can be found in school curricula and financial institutions products, but also in entertainment industries, advertising, even in toys.

In 2014, for example, Mattel Toys released its Barbie Entrepreneur doll for young girls aged 3 and up (you can never start to soon imagining yourself as an entrepreneur!). In selling this doll to its demographic, and the parents of this demographic, Mattel tells them that as:

An independent professional, Barbie® Entrepreneur doll is ready for the next big pitch in a sleek pink and black dress. Her “smartphone,” tablet and briefcase are always by her side. Sophisticated details, like a statement necklace, chunky black handbag, belt, shoes and earrings keep her looking stylishly in charge


Image retrieved from:


These comments about the general structure of the global grammars of entrepreneurship enable me to move to a brief review of certain, more specific elements of this “vocabulary”. Most of these elements that structure the grammars of entrepreneurship are quite familiar to us and we all, possibly, have an idea of what they mean. However, reviewing them from critical points of view (Kelly, 2013; Bröckling, 2016) reveals elements that have been naturalised and are taken for granted, and, in addition, it helps to understand how the grammar of entrepreneurship is spread, and becomes such a normalised element of discourses about young people, education, training and work. My intention here is to sketch some concepts that, selected from constellations composed by other related notions, stand out as useful analysis categories.

The Self as Project

Extending Beck’s (1992) work, both Kelly (2013, p.53) and Bröckling (2016, p.5) argue that the “project” is a specific way of producing contemporary subjectivities. As a form of experimental configuration for the counter-cultural movements of ’68, and later, institutionalised in the managerial knowledge centres, the concept is nowadays far beyond the frame of labour and covers almost every kind of activity. “Project” is a way of organising reality through certain objectives, closed time periods, check points and feed-backs. As a process of rationalisation, it is a technology through which we relate to ourselves and to others. In this sense, currently all of us have to have a life-project composed of several on-going projects, which makes self-identity itself become a reflexive enterprise (Kelly, 2013, p.14; Rose, 2002 in Bröckling, 2016, p.189). Or posing it in the other way around, being without any kind of project is understood as a form of personal deficit, a failure. That is to say, having a project is equated with desire(s), having no project is close to the depressive mood (Han, 2015). In this sense, the entrepreneurial project is a technique of self-management, and project management a sort of lifestyle (Kelly, 2013, p.137). Continually and simultaneously establishing different projects has become “the proper form” of conducting oneself in a disciplined way. The self-entrepreneur is the epitome of this subjectification process, and the engagement of the participants in social enterprises in their on-going projects is an ‘ideal’ way of relating to work. Bröckling identifies in the counter-cultural movement’s experiments, an unexpected contribution to the contemporary forms of enterprise management (and social enterprises):

“such anti-capitalist social experiments involuntarily provided learning material for the entrepreneurial spirit. Their endless consultation and debates, their experiments with rotating task allocation, all the while riding on the edge of financial collapse —this all makes business start-up seminars look amateur and derivative. Operating under such precarious, under-capitalized, self-exploitative conditions, these alternative projects had to either turn professional, stay marginal or give up. Many self-organized groups mutated into innovative enterprises, which were all the more successful for their long years of practice in communication, harnessing collective energies and self-motivation.” (Bröckling, 2016, p.177)

So, overall, we could say that the notion of project has been reshaped in such a way that nowadays it plays a structuring role as a working frame both for self-enterpreneurs and social enterprises.


As it articulates such things as desires, personal will, freedom, etc., self-fulfilment is inherently linked to the dominant psychological representation of the individual in western societies. As such, it plays a crucial role in the expansion and circulation of the grammars of entrepreneurship. In that regard, the slogan of the Barbie entrepreneur doll – “If you can dream it you can be it” – condenses the promises made to young people by this grammar through educational institutions and vocational training markets (Morgan and Nelligan, 2018, p.149).

Among other aspects, Kelly (2013) has analysed thoroughly the time and spatial changes of certain types of “exemplary” works and their subjectification effects; how vocation is presented as something feasible to everyone; and the ways in which passion is posed as an individual inner capacity that has to be self-cultivated by the person who aspires to achieve some kind of professional-life success (Kelly and Harrison, 2009). As Dardot and Laval have observed:

“The unitary subject is thus the subject of total self-involvement. The target of the new power is the desire to realize oneself, the project one wishes to pursue, the motivation that inspires the “collaborator” of the enterprise, and, ultimately, desire by whatever name one chooses to call it.” (2013, p.288)

If we consider that the “democratisation of the search of self-fulfilment” through work is relatively new (Dardot and Laval, 2013), and its expansion has much to do with being a ‘role model’ for Richard Florida’s creative class or Isabell Lorey’s cultural producers (2015), its actual function as a normalised/ing imperative becomes clearer:

Perhaps those who work creatively, these precarious cultural producers by design, are subjects that can be exploited so easily because they seem to bear their living and working conditions eternally due to the belief in their own freedom and autonomy, due to self-realization fantasies. In a neoliberal context they are exploitable to such an extreme that the State even presents them as role models (Lorey, 2006, p.6)

Individualization processes (Bauman, 2001) and the emergence of post-materialist values (Inglehart, 1989), together with a deep (and materialistic) precarization of labour markets after the GFC, seems to have fostered more intensively the desire for self-fulfilment and for self-determination that the omnipresent expression of “I want to be my own boss” synthesises. In other words, in a context where working conditions are increasingly tough, the self-fulfilment and self-determination promise that is central to the grammar of entrepreneurship seems to become a way of reproducing an individual’s ‘unique value proposition’, or the call to ‘be different’ (Bröckling, 2016, p.196). Angela MacRobbie (2010) observes that, given the precariousness of waged labour, “choosing” to become a self-entrepreneur, even with the same ranges of precariousness, would at least meet the desire of self-fulfilment or fulfil the “inner”-vocation.


One of the most important but elusive elements regarding self/social entrepreneurship has to with the notion of creativity understood as a “productive energy”. As George Morgan and Pariece Nelligan (2018) argue in their recently published book The Creativity Hoax, while workers’ creativity was by little considered in Fordist capitalism (even ‘frowned upon’ in standardises, routinized labour process), nowadays the notion is one of the core elements of the new working (and living) regimes. Since it was “re-discovered” as an almost endless source of profit (by adding value to commodities, transforming the forms of designing, producing and distributing goods faster and more efficiently, etc.), fostering it has become the obsession for corporations and public institutions (so we should all be intra-preneurs). Here, ‘creativity’ can be traced back to a semantic displacement: from an anthropological-romantic understanding of it as an instituent force that generates something new or disruptive (not necessarily productive or good in economic and moral terms respectively), to an institutionalized and rationalised set of techniques that seek to produce, standardize and make it profitable (Morgan and Nelligan, 2018, p.3). From the perspective of the grammars of entrepreneurship, creativity is re-framed mostly as the ability to imagine, identify and/or produce/solve a gap (called necessity, service, etc.) in the “normal order of things” in order make an economic profit. The more contemporary term of ‘innovation’ would point to those changes where the constructivist understandings of creativity, and the psychological knowledge produced about it, have made it measurable (Morgan and Nelligan, 2018, p.9) and translatable to managerial techniques (Bröckling, 2016, p.111). As the contemporary imperative of being creative (Morgan and Nelligan, 2018, p.15) overlaps with the need for acting in an entrepreneurial way, we can talk about a renewed economization and marketization of the ability of human and non-human actors/materials generating unforeseen combinations and relations (in other words, agency).


The need to be flexible is another core characteristic of grammars of entrepreneurship. In a ‘positive’ sense, flexibility is generally understood as a cognitive skill that enable the person to adapt and adjust to the different conditions of a new context. In this way, it is a personal attitude that enables the person to ‘best’ navigate unpredictable and uncertain environments. Masterfully portrayed by Richard Sennett (1998, 2006), this call to be flexible can be understood as the individualisation and subjectification of the changes in the organization of corporations towards structures that are more adaptable to the fluctuations of the markets. The movement, the transition from rigid, bureaucratic, ‘Fordist’ structures in the last 40 years to more fluid and agile networks must now be reflected in the subjectivity of the young entrepreneur:

Cutting-edge firms and flexible organizations need people who can learn new skills rather than cling to old competencies. The dynamic organization emphasizes the ability to process and interpret changing bodies of information and practice. (Sennet, 2006, p.115)

Management knowledges, and psychology of work, have paved the way for establishing and stabilising the ‘truths’ of flexibility for young entrepreneurs (Boltanski and Chiapello, 2005; Rose, 1999). In work policies in EU, for example, the emergence of terms such as flexicurity attempt to gather and balance the securities related to Fordist working regimes with the uncertainties of the current ones (Keune and Serrano, 2014). ‘Flexibility’ represents an uninterrupted appeal to the responsibility of individuals for maintaining their ability to adapt to the determinations of the new knowledge economy (Zimmermann, 2014). It has come to mean that a flexible person is the one who is dynamic, open to change and reflexive. Flexibility operates as a moral category because it gestures away from the volatile, inconsistent or fickle person. In its latest iteration, these ideas of ‘flexibility’ articulate to powerful, omnipresent psychological understandings of resilience, which also goes hand in hand with the category of self-responsibility (Rose and Lentzos, 2017).

Flexibility and resilience impel the self-entrepreneur to, somehow, remain competitive. Given the consensus on the impossibility of changing the uncertain, precarious character of contemporary labour markets, we have little choice but to “go with the flow” and follow the markets inertia by cultivating, unceasingly, our own flexibility and resilience in order to overcame the next, more than likely, crisis.


Closer to the pragmatist rationale determined by the “real” frame of the market, the viability of the entrepreneurial project emerges as a compulsory checkpoint for its development. The ‘business plan’ of any kind of project, following Latour (2007), is an ‘inscription device’ that, subject to economic evaluation, will circulate in the cultural circuits of capitalism, especially in its financial-funding section. The business plan is a stabilisation of an expectation of the productivity that prescribes a program through which the economical profitability of the project is defined. In other terms, it measures the predictability of the project in an uncertain context (Thrift, 2005, p.40). As a technology developed by the management knowledge centres and the business schools, it is unimaginable to conceive any self- or social-enterprise project without its itemised, prioritised, justified business plan (Bologna, 2006, p.101). Related to the notion of project, but closer to the economic dimension, viability emerges as a compulsory checkpoint for its development and its financialization. And, it should be apparent, that management knowledge, management consultants, and financial institutions will play a central role in helping to give shape to it.


Risk-taking is the notion that links and reframes most of the concepts sketched up to this point. Peter Sloterdijk (2013a), the German philosopher, explains the development of capitalist globalization through colonialism, mercantilism and the birth of the modern state. At the same time, he also traces back the primary forms of self-entrepreneurs to the explorers and discoverers of the 16th and 17th centuries. With the discovery and conquest of America, a growing desire for mobility and personal enrichment is triggered throughout Europe. New actors willing to risk appear in order to obtain profits and pay off investment credit debts (2013a, p.71). Taking risk within the horizon of uncertainty would be the “new” subjective disposition and the pragmatic foundation of the modern culture of expanding and reaching out. “Discovery” —fuelled by self-fulfilment and triggered by creativity, organized by the project and judged feasible through the business plan— becomes a special case of an investing phenomenon, which situates the debtor and the financial sector in the front of the stage. Here, risk-taking makes reference to the productive moment of grammars of enterprise. That moment, that space when all sorts of investments that the self-enterpreneur makes in/of herself in a context of uncertainty, pushes her to “go beyond herself” in order to cope with that situation of uncertainty (or the debt contracted). Ironically, beyond the indebtedness that education and training implies nowadays, the case of the self-enterpreneur who gets a mortgage to fund her project shows an auto-referential loop where she is paying, again, for having a work or developing a fulfilling career.

Examples of this rationale abound. In the example below the National Australia Bank (NA), one of Australia’s ‘big 4’ banks/financial institutions that provide the ‘pillars’ for successive Australian governments to build national financial/banking policy on, uses this grammar of entrepreneurship to call for intensifying an ascetic self-introspection and self-surveillance in order to go beyond your current situation – by identifying your “true” desire(s).

Sin títuloImage retrieved from: NAB (@NAB) | Twitter.

The grammars of entrepreneurship as an anthropotechnic

Lastly, following Sloterdijk’s (2013b) work —interestingly titled “You must change your life”—, given the biopolitical character and the links with the care of the self that implies the grammar of entrepreneurship, it could be also posed as an anthropotechnic. Departing from Foucault’s (1988) analyses on the technologies of the self, Sloterdijk defines the anthropotechnics as self-immunization exercises and “training programs” with origins in the Ancient Greece that seek both the betterment of oneself and the immunisation of certain social groups. The contemporary ascetic practices of modernity have abandoned the ideal of the contemplative life to become techniques oriented towards dis-inhibition and constant experimentation (“Talk to yourself more about you really want”). Contemporary anthropotechics no longer seek to “immunize” (Lorey, 2015) the subjects but to expel them “outside” their primary spheres to an exteriority where risk dominates, making them a sort of “discoverers”. The imperative of “universal mobilization”; the commitment to limitlessness implied by grammars of entrepreneurship, through the will of going beyond oneself, the desire to increase one’s own abilities and to improve the performance of oneself, can all be framed in the anthropotechnics that seek both the government of others and of the self.

To finish with this long blog entry, some work remains to be done to achieve what I proposed at the beginning. It remains to identify what kind of responses, appropriations, declensions or resistances (as types of individuation and subjectification processes) are producing this grammar of entrepreneurship. Something that I will turn to my next and last blog entry.

In any case, one of the most important ideas to keep in mind is that the ways in which ‘social rights’ and ‘social integration’ mechanisms used to be provided or “guaranteed” by the State (work, education, health, housing, communications, transport, environment, etc.) have, in many contemporary settings, become market orientated fields that promise opportunities of self-employment for self-entrepreneurs, or areas where social enterprises projects “are waiting” to be developed. In other words, in the ruins of the most institutionalised western forms of solidarity, the script we are encouraged to follow is the entrepreneurial one. Indeed, we see here the clear outlines of a ‘moral economy’ of enterprise – self and/or social.



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Grammars of Entrepreneurship

Let me introduce myself, I’m Diego Carbajo, a postdoctoral researcher of the University of the Basque Country (Spain) who is in Melbourne since last year. Currently I’m developing a research project titled The Grammars of Self-entrepreneurship in the Basque Country from an International Perspective in the School of Education at RMIT under the supervision of Professor Peter Kelly. Beyond the specificity of this study case, and based in works such as Peter’s The Self as Enterprise (2013) my project develops the hypothesis of the emergence and stabilisation of a “Grammar of Self-Entrepreneurship” on a global scale. A global grammar that is not posed as a culture or an ideology, but something closer to a discourse, an apparatus or an assemblage that helps us to understand not only how young people are incited to behave and act in certain ways, but how we are induced to perform a certain type of individuality nowadays.

Image obtained from

Through a number of upcoming posts I will outline the common elements of some governmental policies about self and social enterprises that connect geographically, culturally and politically distant places such as Victoria (AUSTRALIA), Scotland (UK) and the Basque Country (SPAIN). Following the way paved in previous posts, my aim is to sketch an entry point to the Global Grammars of Self/Social Enterprise. So, while this first contribution is focused on an institutional and descriptive level, the second will be more analytical and it will try to establish some connections between my project and this project on arts based social enterprise. Finally, the third one will be focused on defining the core elements that give shape to the global grammar of entrepreneurship. On the whole, I will explore the following research questions:

  • How the concepts of self and social enterprise have been developed and deployed in various governmental spheres?
  • What kind of governmental circuits do they emerge from and are subject to? Do they have a structure and/or obey any rationale?
  • What kind of uses and meanings have they acquired?
  • How are these concepts downloaded? How is that vocabulary framed in local territories?

Of course, this is a big endeavour for some blog entries. So, I will settle for drafting the core ideas and trends that are important here and will develop them in forthcoming conference publications and journal articles (that will be available here).

A note on the global production of entrepreneurs

First of all it is worthy to note that one of the main agents that contributes to giving reality and continuity (Latour and Woolgar, 1986; Law, 2009, p.249) to entrepreneurship as an international phenomenon through a massive production of statistical data (Foucault, 2009, p.274) is the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM). Founded in 1999, this international agency operates as a global census of entrepreneurship and produces and circulates a range of indicators of entrepreneurship. In addition, it provides regional analyses, international comparatives and different state rankings that contribute to making entrepreneurship a standardised and measurable global phenomenon (Osborne & Rose, 1999). Its work is not limited to conventional understandings of entrepreneurship and in the last decade its area of action has been expanding quite significantly. For instance, its latest report on social enterprises it shows an evolving sophistication of its measuring tools. Overall, this agency is taken as a trustworthy data source by academics, journalists and diverse agencies, but more importantly, it is taken as a reference by policy makers, states and organisations such as the OECD and the European Union that need to measure quantitatively, and to some extent, performatively produce and standardise, entrepreneurship (Law, 2009, p.248). My intention here is not to go into great detail about GEM, but to take it into account as an international agent in the production of academic, social and political representations of entrepreneurship.

The EU and Enterprise: European policies on entrepreneurship

Although there are differences in its member countries, the European Union (EU) establishes the foundations and the directives for the employment, entrepreneurship and social enterprise policies implemented by member states. It would take too long to index and explain here all the complex network of policies that have been developed since the 1997 Amsterdam Treaty, but it is important to note that the current programmes are a continuation of that established by the 2000 Lisbon European Council (Ginesta, 2013).

On the one hand, regarding entrepreneurship, the Lisbon council proposed active incentive mechanisms for entrepreneurship —including private economic initiatives— as drivers of European economic long-term growth. As Ginesta (2013, p.60) shows, the early 2003 Green Paper on Entrepreneurship in Europe highlighted the need to develop comprehensive programs to promote entrepreneurship on an individual, business and society level. The results and measures taken after those initiatives can be seen in different action plans but above all, in the Small Business Act approved in 2008 and reviewed in 2011. Both Acts are the foundations of the current Entrepreneurship 2020 Action plan: Reigniting the entrepreneurial spirit in Europe, which presents three main objectives:

  1. Developing entrepreneurial education and training
  2. Creating the right business environment (ecosystem)
  3. Identifying and promoting role models and reaching out to specific groups (—unemployed— young people women, seniors, immigrants, etc).

All of them seek, among other things, a far-reaching cultural change to make entrepreneurship the engine of economic growth in Europe (Op. Cit. p.4). It is apparent that these policies are based on a strong market oriented rationale where entrepreneurship is directly associated to job-rich recovery and prosperity —assumption that is becoming as arguable as the one that states that economic growth automatically creates jobs. Indeed, as all of these objectives are aimed at individual entrepreneurs, and at Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), they create a sense, often ambiguous, that an enterprise as an institutional product is both a personal quality of (initiative), and/or that individuals contain the qualities of an enterprise (Armstrong, 2005, p.6). The logic that articulates the “grammar” I want to refer to is evident in the European Commission Website:

Europe’s economic growth and jobs depend on its ability to support the growth of enterprises. Entrepreneurship creates new companies, opens up new markets, and nurtures new skills. The most important sources of employment in the EU are Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs). The Commission’s objective is to encourage people to become entrepreneurs and also make it easier for them to set up and grow their businesses.(Op. cit.)

As an early blog post also suggested, the understanding of entrepreneurship that this Act establishes is close to an attitude, a skill and to a moral disposition:

Entrepreneurship is an individual’s ability to turn ideas into action. It includes creativity, innovation, risk taking, ability to plan and manage projects in order to achieve objectives. (Op. cit. European Commission Website)

But more importantly, this definition is wide and ambiguous enough to include in it those self-employees, social enterprises and all kind of collectives (especially young people) who, after the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) are defined by various EU agencies as a priority vulnerable group that require urgent intervention.

On the other hand, with regard to Social Enterprises, even though policies oriented to the ‘Third Sector’ go back to the late 1980s, the core document, where most of the current European policies are located, is the Social Business Initiative published in 2011. For our purposes, it is interesting to note how social enterprises are defined in the web page of the European Commission and how the adjective of entrepreneurial enables us to situate both entrepreneurship (as a disposition, but also as a particular type of person) and social enterprises in the same analytical framework:

A social enterprise is an operator in the social economy whose main objective is to have a social impact rather than make a profit for their owners or shareholders. It operates by providing goods and services for the market in an entrepreneurial and innovative fashion and uses its profits primarily to achieve social objectives. (Op. cit.)

The call for persons to be, or to become entrepreneurial is a crosscutting issue in all the different political programs regarding employment (Keune & Serrano, 2014), and gives shape to an apparatus (Foucault, 1980, p.194-195) that has been analysed in several works (Kelly, 2013; Bröckling, 2016). This notion of apparatus is specially evident if we take into account the wide range of measures, materials, activities, experts and good practice guides, that can be found the European Commission website section dedicated to social enterprises —to be analysed in my next post.

In this frame, youth becomes a paradigmatic case of these governmental processes [close to a biopolitical program (Foucault, 2008)] when we identify arguments that suggest that entrepreneurial learning promises the most significant and important solution to improve young people’s employability (Serrano & Martín, 2017). As posed in the Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan: Reigniting the entrepreneurial spirit in Europe:

Whether or not they go on to found businesses or social enterprises, young people who benefit from entrepreneurial learning, develop business knowledge and essential skills and attitudes including creativity, initiative, tenacity, teamwork, understanding of risk and a sense of responsibility. This is the entrepreneurial mind-set that helps entrepreneurs transform ideas into action and also significantly increases employability. (Op. cit. p.6)

It is important to keep in mind that even though the notion of entrepreneurship has a trajectory of at least twenty years in the architecture of the employment policies of the European Union (Bröckling, 2015, p.11), it was not until the GFC that the concepts of self-entrepreneurship and social enterprises were definitively fostered as a solution to the high unemployment rates among European young people. The way in which the introductory paragraph of the previously quoted Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan defines the GFC —as a catalyst, even an accelerator— provides further evidence of this ‘governmental investment’ in particular understandings of entrepreneurship:

Before the on-going economic and financial crisis, the European economy faced structural challenges to its competitiveness and growth, and obstacles to entrepreneurship. Many of these persist, but the crisis has also been a catalyst for deep change and restructuring. (Op. Cit. p.3)

In other words, the concepts, the core ideas and the objectives of these policies were already evident before the GFC happened, but it seems that they couldn’t have been fully developed and implemented until the GFC and subsequent EU sanctioned austerity measures definitively altered the previous labour market regulations or shrunk the functions of the Welfare State —I´ll develop this ideas further in the next post. A closer look to how the notions of self-entrepreneur and social-enterprises have landed in the Basque Country might help to ground these reflections.

Forced Landings of concepts and measures: The Basque Country and Entrepreneurship

Two of the multiple problems that the EU is facing are continuing high unemployment rates, and employment precarity among young people. In the case of Spain, these indicators were scandalously high during the GFC that began in 2008, especially for the young (Eurofound, 2015).

Youth (15-29) unemployment rates (%) evolution by country. Compilation based on Eurostat (2017) and Basque Youth Observatory (2017).

According to Eurostat (2017), the rate of youth unemployment (in the 15 to 29 age range) in Spain reached its peak of 42.4% in 2013. In 2016, the youth unemployment rate of 33.3% was, along with other Mediterranean countries, still one of the highest in Europe, over twice that of the EU-28 average. In the case of the Basque Country, these rates were lower. According to the Basque Youth Observatory, while the peak of youth unemployment was reached in 2014 with a rate of 29.5%, in 2017 it dropped to 15.1%. It is also worth noting that even though the unemployment rates in Spain’s are lower nowadays, the temporary employment rate in 2016 stood at 57.4%, the highest in Europe, in contrast to the EU-28 average of 32.5% (Eurostat, 2017).

The Spanish government transferred responsibility for policies affecting young people or employment matters to the Autonomous Communities —including the Basque Country and Catalonia— but the central government still acts as a coordinator and proponent of the EU employment public policy initiatives, especially in terms of active employment policies. Nevertheless, in regions such as the Basque Country it is quite easy to find how the local policies and programs about entrepreneurship and social enterprises closely align with the directives of the European Union without any mediation of the state government. The Basque Country Government’s general plan, based in its own Law for the Support of Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses, has been recently updated until 2020 with a budget of 295 million euros. The determination of the Government with regard to the broad notion of entrepreneurship we have previously mentioned is clear, even though, according to GEM, in 2016 the Basque Country had one of the worst TEA (Total Entrepreneurial Activity) scores of the last decades at 3.3% (Hoyos et al. 2017).

The low rate of entrepreneurs in Basque Country contrasts with the massive competitions for different positions in the Basque Government Institutions as officials and civil servants. Bilbao Exhibition Centre, photography by Alfredo Aldai/EFE.

The Basque Government seems to be concerned and aware both of such ‘resistances’, and that it is competing with other European regions for this niche —and the resulting European funding. As a result, the last update for the entrepreneurship program has been presented with the main goal of positioning Basque Country as a privileged place to create and develop all kinds of new entrepreneurial initiatives.

The current program involves most of the local administrative institutions and a wide range of public and private agents. It includes, among others; A) conventional economic measures focused on facilitating the access to the market, to financing and to investments; B) more flexible taxation and regulations; and C), a wide range of support programs, services and infrastructures. However, is worth noting that in regard to the non-economic measures, special effort is made in all educational and training institutions (implying young people) on fostering a positive attitude towards entrepreneurs and the values of entrepreneurship. Overall, and in line with the European directives, the main intention of these policies is to ‘recover, generate and reinforce an entrepreneurial culture through generating an ‘entrepreneurial ecosystem’. In this sense, it is interesting just how the memorandum of the current law builds a narrative that forces an essentialist notion of (Basque) identity to fit with the contemporary values and characteristics of entrepreneurship:

The Basque Country has always been a land of enterprising people. The most outstanding values of these have been the desire for innovation, the creation of added value and openness to the world. With their ambition they managed to make the Basque Country one of the most prosperous areas of the State and of Europe. Entrepreneurs have been present in the history of the Basque Country since historiography exists. Since the Middle Ages, Basques and Basques have demonstrated their entrepreneurial spirit in sectors such as iron-works, mechanics and international trade, among others. [Translated from the Law for the Support of Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses]

In this frame, and mainly focused on enterprise generation, social entrepreneurship appears as a variation of entrepreneurship linked to the notion of social innovation. Even though the earlier Basque Government program partially reproduces the European Commission one, a lower level in the Basque administration structure gives some hints about how it is understood and applied. A quick reference to the Provincial Council of Bizkaia 2017 call for funding innovative and social enterprises, shows that all of them have to acquire, if not the form, at least the outcomes and ‘attitudes’ of a conventional enterprise. Some of the limitations of this sort of approach have been sketched elsewhere in this blog. But I would like to stress that beyond the social values that some social-enterprises might look for (justice, equality, integration, sustainability, etc.), they are mainly valued and judged by the ‘survival’ criteria settled by the market. Or if not, they will be evaluated as potential substitutes or externalized ‘resources’ of the Welfare State. For instance, one of the indicators to measure the social impact of the social enterprises in a call of the Provincial Council of Bizkaia 2017 is quite clear in this regard:

“Administration savings for the employment created in people at risk of exclusion” (translated from Op. cit)

In this sense, in a very explicit way, we see particular dimensions of the moral economies of social enterprise come into view – something that the team wrote about in a previous blog post. We see both the moral obligation that governments create for young people to be and become entrepreneurial. And, alongside this, we see an ‘investment’ in the promise of social enterprise framed by a sense that social enterprises, in taking on these responsibilities, will enable ‘savings’ in the State’s obligations to develop and administer labour market programs and welfare payments. I will return to some of these concerns in my next post.


ARMSTRONG, P. 2005. Critique of entrepreneurship : people and policy, New York, Palgrave Macmillan.

BRÖCKLING, U. 2016. The Entrepreneurial Self. Fabricating a New Type of Subject, London, SAGE.

EUROFOUND. 2015. Youth entrepreneurship in Europe: Values, attitudes, policies, Luxembourg, Publications Office of the European Union.

EUROSTAT. 2017. ‘Youth unemployment rate by sex, age and country of birth’, accessed at Eurostat on March 30, 2018.

FOUCAULT, M. 1980. Power/Knowledge. Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977, New York, Pantheon Books.

FOUCAULT, M. 2008. The Birth of Biopolitics. Lectures at the Collége de France, 1978-79, New-York, Palgrave-Macmillan.

FOUCAULT, M. 2009. Security, Territory, Population. Lectures at the Collège de France, 1977-78, London, Palgarve-MacMilllan.

SAIZ, M., HOYOS, J., GONZÁLEZ-PERNÍA, J., PEÑA, I., GONZÁLEZ, N., GUERRERO, M. & URBANO, D. 2017. Global Entrepreneurship Monitor. Comunidad Autónoma del País Vasco. Informe Ejecutivo 2016, Bilbao, Publicaciones de la Universidad de Deusto.

KELLY, P. 2013. The Self as Enterprise: Foucault and the Spirit of 21st Century Capitalism, Surrey, Ashgate/Grower.

KEUNE, M., & SERRANO, A. 2014. Deconstructing Flexicurity and Developing Alternative Approaches, London, Routledge.

LATOUR, B. & WOOLGAR, S. 1986. Laboratory life : the construction of scientific facts, Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press.

LAW, J. 2009. Seeing Like a Survey. Cultural Sociology, 3, 239-256.

OSBORNE, T. & ROSE, N. 1999. Do the social sciences create phenomena?: the example of public opinion research. The British Journal of Sociology, 50, 367-396.

SERRANO, A. & MARTÍN, P. 2017. From ‘Employab-ility’ to ‘Entrepreneurial-ity’ in Spain: youth in the spotlight in times of crisis. Journal of Youth Studies, 20, 798-821.

Situational Analysis – Part 1

Getty images

We never write on a blank page, but always one that has been written on (de Certeau cited in Lather 2001b: 477-478).

Throughout our project we will use situational analysis to take into account the different ways in which social enterprise organisations are shaped and shape themselves, the environment in which this occurs and how structures, systems and people play different roles in this process. This approach will also enable us to account for the ways in which programs for young people are formed.

So, what is situational analysis? Clarke (2005) tells us that situational analysis is a research tool which enables us to further understand the context in which we live our lives, how we are shaped and shape our selves and our social environment. It is a form of mapping that helps us to look beyond individual and collective human actors to take into account nonhuman material cultural objects. As Clarke (2005: 146) says, it’s necessary in qualitative research…

… Because we and the people and things we choose to study are all routinely both producing and awash in seas of discourses, analyzing only individual and collective human actors no longer suffices for many qualitative projects. Increasingly, historical, visual, narrative, and other discourse materials and nonhuman material cultural objects of all kinds must be included as elements of our research and subjected to analysis because they are increasingly understood/interpreted as both constitutive of and consequential for the phenomena we study.

The idea is that as researchers we are able to better account for the different locations our information comes from and the different forms it takes (documents, media, televisual material, interviews). This means that we can use situational analysis to understand different forms of information – for example, historical, social, geographical, digital information – in one study. This would be a ‘multisite’ study or research project. The idea is that situational analysis can help qualitative researchers to develop new methods, across the sciences, humanities and professional fields (Clarke, 2005: 146).

Clarke (2005: 146) calls this ‘qualitative analysis after the postmodern turn’, in which postmodernism is understood as the historical, theoretical shift towards understanding people, their experiences and their social environment through the lens of discourse analysis and relationships of power. Discourse analysis allows us to imagine that, as human beings  we are already and always will be engaged in an ongoing, complex, often contradictory process of becoming who we are, and this occurs in relation to other people, social institutions, social rules and regulations, constructs of gender, class, ethnicity, race and other personal and the professional power relationships we are involved in.

Understanding these different influences and elements is the work of bricoleurs:

Bricoleurs assemble project-appropriate tool kits from a broad repertoire of available concepts and approaches—selecting what they believe are “the right tools for the job.” We need to keep in mind, of course, that the “tools,” the “job,” and the “rightness” are all constructions, always already emergent and changing (Clarke, 2005: 147).

In the context of our project situational analysis will allow us to use diverse approaches and analytical tools, and take into account different types of discourse – particularly policy discourse, (i.e the Victorian Social Enterprise Strategy) academic discourse (i.e. ‘moral economies’) and social enterprise discourse.

Grounded theory 

Clarke uses the terms ‘situational analysis’ and ‘grounded theory’ together to describe her approach. This is because situational analysis builds on grounded theory. Grounded theory involves the construction of theory from rigorous data analysis. It sounds and is quite complicated but it’s aim is to help close the gap between theory and empirical research or the things, people and stories researchers encounter in real life.

The goal of grounded theorists is to develop theory which is more than just description (Goulding, 2002: 42). Goulding adapts the theory of management and business practices, and says it should:

1. Enable prediction and explanation of behaviour

2. Be useful in theoretical advances in sociology 

3. Be applicable in practice 

4. Provide a perspective on behaviour 

5. Guide and provide a style for research on particular areas of behaviour 

6. Provide clear enough categories and hypothesis so that crucial ones can be verified in present and future research (Goulding, 2002: 43).

It is the combination of the groundedness of interpretation with the systematic handling of data that makes grounded theory and situational analysis robust approaches in qualitative research (Clarke, 2011: 147).

To clarify, this formulation of theory shouldn’t be interpreted as discovering some pre-existing ‘reality’, rather we can understand truths as ‘enacted’ and ‘theories’ as interpretations.

… interpretations are temporarily constraint. They should always be seen as provisional and subject to future elaboration, and it should be recognised that they are limited in time; they may become outdated or in need of qualification (Goulding, 2011: 43).

These research methodologies are about keeping an open mind and taking into account the many different elements of our environment when trying to understand particular things. As we attempt to understand how social enterprise organisations support the well-being, education and training and work opportunities of marginalised young people we will need to take into account:

  • the social and geographical location of the social enterprise organisation;
  • the history and structure of the organisation;
  • what role arts-based programs play, and are intended to play, in young peoples transitions;
  • how stakeholders and young people understand the organisation and their role;
  • what type of artistic practice these programs engage;
  • the role non-human material cultural objects play for the people involved;
  • the affective environment that is generated by the organisation and those involved.


Clarke, A. (2005) Situational Analysis: Grounded Theory After the Postmodern Turn, Sage: California.

Goulding, C. (2002) Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide for Management, Business and Market Researchers, Sage: London.

Call for participants: Australian Social Enterprise Project, RMIT and Melbourne University

Are you a stakeholder/manager/coordinator/teacher in an Australian Social Enterprise? Do you run programs that have an arts (fashion, dance, visual arts, creative writing, crafts, drama) component? We invite you to participate in our research project funded by the Australian Research Council.

Participation will involve a one-on-one interview of approximately 1 hour  (or less) in length with a member of the project team (listed in the above flyer).

The purpose of the research is to understand how social enterprises engaged in arts activities manage education, training and work transitions, and support the health and well-being of young people.

Please contact Perri Campbell for further information at



Call for US participants: supporting young people’s transitions through community engagement program

The purpose of this research is to understand how Social Enterprises and Community Organisations build social justice/community concerns into their education and employment programs for young people, and how young people shape future career aspirations with their community in mind.

We are looking for people located on the West Coast of the US to participate in our research project.

If you part of a social enterprise or community organization that offers programs to young people or you are participating in a program and are interested in sharing your experiences, or would like more information please email

Participation will involve a one-on-one interview of approximately 1 hour (or less) in length with Dr Perri Campbell (RMIT University, Australia), Visiting Scholar at the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues (ISSI), the University of California Berkeley, between the 1st of October and 30th of November, 2017.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions.


Research Fellow

ARC Discovery Project: Arts Based Social Enterprise and Marginalised Young People’s Transitions, School of Education.

Twitter: @Perri_Campbell and Social Enterprise Project @YouthASE


Finding arts based social enterprises in Australia

QArt Studio

Many social enterprises (SEs) in Australia have been cataloged by Social Traders (est. 2008) who are a social enterprise development organisation. Social Traders describe themselves as:

Australia’s leading social enterprise development organisation, we work to break the cycle of disadvantage and build resilience in Australian communities.  We believe business can do good and that social enterprise generates benefit by creating employment, providing access to services and strengthening local communities.  Using our expert knowledge and partnerships we help organisations of all shapes and sizes find better ways to achieve and contribute to sustainable social impact and change.

Our vision is a world where the market is used to deliver sustainable social outcomes. We achieve this by empowering social enterprises to transform communities throughout Australia.

Social Traders have participated in large scale research projects with Professor Jo Barraket, including the Finding Australia’s Social Enterprise Sector (FASES) project (2010) – the first CENSUS of social enterprise in Australia. They recently released FASES 2016.

In 2009 Social Traders partnered with the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies (ACPNS) at Queensland University of Technology to define social enterprise and, for the first time in Australia, to identify and map the social enterprise sector: its scope, its variety of forms, its reasons for trading, its financial dimensions, and the individuals and communities social enterprises aim to benefit.

Led by Associate Professor Jo Barraket, Australia’s leading social enterprise academic, FASES produced its first report in June 2010. Since then the findings of this research have been downloaded over 15,000 times, and have played a critical role in supporting social enterprise development in Australia.

Social Traders’ online directory of almost 5,000 Australian SEs is called the ‘Social Enterprise Finder’. The aim of the SE finder is to connect buyers with SEs:

… The Finder enables consumers and procurement officers to easily locate and support businesses that benefit the community.

For social enterprise operators, The Finder is the gateway for entering the buyer markets that Social Traders is actively developing in the consumer, corporate and government sectors. It is also a free resource for raising awareness and increasing sales.

Upon registration, social enterprises are certified, which verifies that they exist for a social purpose, they earn the majority of their income through trade and they reinvest the majority of their profit in their social mission.

Certified social enterprises may be entered onto the Finder and subsequently invited to become part of Social Traders’ supplier network.

Using the Social Traders ‘Social Enterprise Finder’ we have compiled a list of arts based social enterprises that offer programs to young people in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. The data base allows you to search each State by specific categories. We searched 5 different categories including: Arts and Culture; Clothing and Personal Services; Education and Training; Employment; Media and Communications; Printing and Publishing. SEs relevant to our project showed up mainly in the two first search categories: Arts and Culture; Clothing and Personal Services. The SEs we identified in these categories also showed up again in other category searches, particularly Education and Training, and Employment.

Throughout our search we found that:

  • Across the three States the Media and Communications search category showed many radio stations offering volunteering opportunities, but this was not necessarily linked to education and training. There were community organisations in this category, but none had a youth/arts focus with an attached training or educational program. 
  • We identified many social enterprise service organisations and businesses that aim to secure funding for SEs and assist with branding and advertising opportunities (see for instance, Futurekind). These are Social Enterprise intermediaries and don’t necessarily run training/education/work programs.


  • Victoria had the most Arts Based Social Enterprises, followed by Sydney then Queensland. This fits with FASES findings which shows a strong concentration of SEs in Victoria:

    ‘Social enterprise locations’ (Barraket et al, 2016: 14).
  • The Arts and Culture category revealed the most ABSEs (8), while the Education and Training category showed 5 ABSEs.
  • Within the Printing and Publishing category the only ABSE was a creativity and literacy organisation called 100 Story Building. The rest were either commercial or charitable organisations that do not run training and education programs but donate proceeds to different causes, or develop their product in sustainable conditions.

New South Wales:

  • No ABSEs with training and education programs showed up in the Employment search category.
  • The Media and Communications category showed mostly radio stations along with a couple of universities (i.e. University of Newcastle). Some radio stations considered themselves community organisations and offered opportunities for volunteers.
  • Employment and training programs offered business skills training and skills thought to increase individuals ‘employability’, for instance processing mail and operating machinery.


  • A search of the Employment category showed no arts based youth programs, but lots of hospitality training programs and employment/workforce service providers, service programs for differently abled people, and community organisations.
  • There were no ABSEs in the Media and Communications or Printing and Publishing categories.
  • Once again, Printing and Publishing showed mostly commercial or charitable organisations that do not run programs but donate proceeds to different causes, or their product in manufactured sustainably.

Although many ABSEs were categorised under ‘Arts’ this does not necessarily mean that they involve participation in creative processes. A SE may be thought of as creative if it is selling art products which have been sourced from countries around the world.

Many social enterprises stated that their mission was to turn people’s lives around whether this was through the program they offered or the business they operated. Many SEs do not offer particular education and training programs but train people on the job, this is the case for stores that stock ethically produced products (i.e. Just Earth) or recycled clothing. Or, for instance, Fitted for Work (via the Conscious Closet Organisation) train women to work in their shop and sell clothes, while offering the service of preparing women for work with mentoring and work appropriate clothes (and more…).

Many SEs are hopeful that their business model will become the norm in the years to come, and that their participation in the SE sector will alter the way people think about the production and consumption of goods and services. This logic of being a ‘change maker’ is expressed differently by different SEs – some focus on making a change in people’s lives, others focus on the broader project of social change. (In coming posts we will discuss the logic of SEs with the ideas of program logic and theory of change).

As we’ve mentioned in earlier posts  SE strategy documents produced recently by Victoria and Scotland strongly support the idea of growing SEs and pushing business toward ‘doing good’ or being good global citizens. The Social Enterprise Finder shows many Social Enterprises using different models to achieve their social missions, from dance and art studios offering programs and opportunities to perform and sell art works, to community radio stations and shops selling hand made ethical and fairtrade products.

Since the creation of the Social Enterprise Finder Barraket et al (2016) have identified 20,000 SEs in Australia. The recent report ‘Finding Australia’s Social Enterprise Sector’ is  joint authored by Jo Barraket, Chris Mason and Blake Blain (Swinburne University) and Social Traders. The report identifies major constraints on the development of the SE field, including:

A number of issues related to public policy and regulation were cited as barriers to
social enterprises growing and/or fulfilling their potential. Local government was
viewed as having a particular role to play in market development for social enterprise, and state and federal governments in providing enabling regulation, supporting organisational development, and stimulating innovation in policy design (2016b: 13).

We will pick up on these issues in our next post when we discuss the FASES 2016 report and analysis documents.


Barraket, J., M. O. Collyer,  and Anderson, H. (2010) ‘Finding Australia’s Social
Enterprise Sector: Final Report’, Social Traders and the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies June, 2010. Available from:

Barraket, J., Mason, C., and Blain, B. (2016) ‘Finding Australia’s Social Enterprise
Sector 2016: Final Report’, Social Traders and the Centre for Social Impact Swinburne June, 2016. Available from:




PhD position open – RMIT Arts Scholarship


The project: ‘Art based social enterprises and marginalised young people’s transitions’

The project is examining how art-based social enterprise organisations manage education, training and work transitions, and develop the health and well-being of marginalised young people. In particular, the project is exploring the specific education and employment outcomes achieved for young people situated in these alternative learning settings. Social enterprises are a rapidly expanding sector of the Australian economy with 20,000 programs currently operating. Using a longitudinal, critical case methodology the project will provide sector stakeholders with a strong evidence base to develop long-term strategy for innovative policy and engagement practice.

The role: PhD Candidate 2018 – 2020

The PhD candidate will be supported with an RMIT scholarship and will be based at RMIT University in the Centre for Art, Society and Transformation (CAST), under the primary supervision of Dr Grace McQuilten.

The PhD candidate will be supported to develop a related project – that may employ creative methods to engage young people in case study fieldwork while also expanding and diversifying the ways in which the results of the study can be communicated.

The candidate will work with case study organisations and program participants to develop, create and publish a series of creative works specific to each enterprise, including; photography, video, sound and textiles. The PhD project will contribute valuable insight into the impact of creative activity on young people’s experiences in social enterprise programs.

The PhD student will commence in the first semester of 2018.

The Social Studio


Formal application process

To be assessed for eligibility for our research programs applicants must submit a formal application to RMIT School of Art through the School of Graduate Studies at RMIT. The PhD Candidate should nominate Grace McQuilten and Peter Kelly as supervisors for the project in the application form. They should also submit a research proposal with examples of their creative and written work.

The research proposal should respond to the project brief and demonstrate how it will add value to the research project. This is a funded PhD place with scholarship that contributes to an ARC research project. Proposals that indicate the candidate will continue their existing practice or start an independent project will not be considered appropriate.

Please refer to the School of Art admissions information booklet: PhD-Candidate-SoA admissions for information on the PhD program and how to write your research proposal.
How to prepare your proposal:


Entry requirements

RMIT admits applicants on the basis of their demonstrated capacity to conduct independent research.

All applicants must meet the minimum entry requirements:

International applicants must also meet the minimum English language requirement:

Places are competitive and subject to suitability of proposed research.

As it can take a number of months for a program application to be assessed, we strongly recommend you submit your application as soon as possible.


The next application round – for 2018 scholarship places – will be open from July to October 2017. For updates on the application process and key dates please consult the Research Scholarships website

How to Apply


Extra info!

Social Enterprises (SEs) are hybrid organisations situated between the public and private sector that combine enterprise activity with the generation of social benefits. It is claimed that the SE model promotes economic capacity, social inclusion and social innovation (Bielfeld, 2009; Campbell, 2011). The Social Enterprise based model (including a significant number of Art Based Social Enterprises [ASEs]) of education, training and employment pathways for marginalised young people promises to ‘break the cycle of youth unemployment’ (Lynn 2014). ASEs, in particular, are considered to be highly effective at engaging marginalised young people (McQuilten, 2015). In the post-mining boom Australian economy over 20,000 Social Enterprises contribute 2-3 per cent of national GDP (Barraket 2010). Despite these claims, and the sheer scale of the sector, the complexities and dynamics of young people’s education, training, work and health and well-being continue to pose significant policy and business challenges for governments, businesses, Third Sector Organisations (TSOs) and communities.

The project aims to document and analyse the challenges and opportunities faced by Art Based Social Enterprises (ASE) working with marginalised young people. The project will:

a) provide new empirical insights into marginalised young people’s education, training and work transitions, and physical and mental health and well-being in the post-GFC economy;
b) develop an evidence base for government, TSO, arts, business and community stakeholders on which to build a long-term strategy for innovative policy and engagement practice;
c) and make substantial new contributions to critical social entrepreneurship studies.


Our team

The project team consists of:

Professor Peter Kelly, Director Centre for Education, Training and Work in the Asian Century, School of Education, RMIT University,

Dr Grace McQuilten, Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow, Centre for Art, Society and Transformation, School of Art, RMIT University,

Associate Professor Kim Humphery, Design and Social Context, Centre for Applied Social Research, School of Global Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University,

Dr Deborah Warr, Associate Professor and Australian Research Coucil Future Fellow, Centre for Health Equity, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne,

Dr Perri Campbell, ARC Discovery Project Research Fellow, Centre for Education, Training and Work in the Asian Century, School of Education, RMIT University,

We also post updates via Twitter, you can follow us @YouthASE

Scotland’s Social Enterprise Strategy and Moral Economies – Part 2

Good global citizens

… Many social enterprises are already good global citizens, collaborating internationally and supporting our international development efforts (SSES, 2016: 20).

What is a good global citizen? Well according to the SSES (2016) an organisation or a country or a social enterprise can each be a good global citizen. What is required?

Making distinctive contributions in addressing global challenges such as climate change, tackling inequality and promoting human rights, sharing knowledge and skills and technical expertise for global good (SSES, 2016: 19).

The Scottish Social Enterprise Strategy (SSES, 2016: 20) is not only designed to develop a local response to public service, community and global issues, it proposes a long-term commitment to being a better ‘global citizen’. The hope is that Scottish SEs will be designed and will operate in response to global issues, including: climate change, inequality, and human rights issues. This is documented in the International Framework and Internationalising Social Enterprise Strategy.

Global citizens – whether organisation, country or person – collaborate internationally and trade in overseas markets, boost inward investment and educational opportunities. These goals are ultimately working towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SSES, 2016: 20). If the social enterprise sector is visible on the world stage then this  will provide an opportunity to promote policy priorities like fighting climate change.

(Scottish Social Enterprise Strategy, 2016: 19).

The 10 year strategy is Scotland’s Vision for Social Enterprise developed in consultation with the SE community. The plan is that Social Enterprise will be:

  • A growing movement

As it develops the sector will retain its strong community roots, independent orientation, and entrepreneurial character (SSES, 2016: 22).

  • Become the norm

Become widely accepted as a more just, democratic and inclusive way of doing business… inspiring young people who will undertake the change toward the type of society we aspire to (SSES, 2016: 22).

  • Become visible everywhere

Be found delivering goods and services in every economic sector… become seen as the epitome of ethical, transparent and responsible business behaviour (SSES, 2016: 22).

Much like the Victorian SES the Scottish Strategy is informed and framed by particular Priorities that are oriented towards market opportunities and outcomes and stimulating the social enterprise sector:

(Scottish Social Enterprise Strategy, 2016: 25).

This will be done through the points listed above, from 1a to 3c.

  • Priority 1a. Local Development acknowledges that SE often start because ‘active citizens’ are addressing a local need. The plan is to provide greater support for such active citizens in social contexts there is a paucity of skills or knowledge in this area. So the strategy supports: community development; local strategies; support infrastructure; and equality groups.
  • Strategic priority 1b highlights the usefulness and necessity of social entrepreneurs as ‘can-do’ people. Can-do people must be nurtured and to this end the strategy proposes seeding funds, the development of work spaces, and locating Intrapreneurs working in existing institutions like universities and large charities.

Social entrepreneurs – when they emerge – can feel isolated, unrecognised and unsupported. They also find unnecessary objects in their way when trying to get promising ideas off the ground. We must ensure that these can-do people get the encouragement and support they need’ (SSES, 2016; 29).

  • 1c. At schools and universities students will be encouraged to become ‘can-do’ people by adopting an entrepreneurial attitude and imagining that they can affect change in the world through this type of thinking and action (See for instance, the Developing the Young Workforce strategy).
  • One of the greatest ambitions of the SSES is to make social enterprise the norm, this means increasing recognition for SEs as defined in 1d:

We want more decision makers, influencers and supporters (in Scotland and internationally) to understand social enterprise, giving rise to further local action and more social enterprise activity (SSES, 2016: 31).

  • 2a. The strategy regarding funding seeks to further monetise SEs and emphasises capital growth. Where there is investment, there is risk. ‘Responsive Finance’ will offer blended capital which means mixing loans and grants to distribute the financial risk between lender and entrepreneur. The result is that a greater burden will be placed on entrepreneurs to undertake extra training (or ‘Investment-Readiness’ training SSES, 2016:34) to be seen as a viable investment and allieviate the fears of investors.
  • Priority 2b. recognises that business support should be tailored to different forms of business, from community enterprises to social enterprises, and address the needs of minority ethnic communities. This priority articulates a need for an ‘Advisor Network’ which would build links between social enterprise advisors or Intermediaries as they are known in Australia.
  • 2c. focuses on Collaboration and how SEs can work together to benefit from shared resources, reduced costs, and access to new markets. This type of network building is to be facilitated by the development of networks, consortia and collaborative technologies.
  • 2d. Leadership development involves training programs for ‘future leaders, empowered governance and international leadership’ (SSES, 2016: 37).
  • 2e. Workforce development means supporting Work Integration Social Enterprises (WISEs) which:

Improve the employability and employment prospects of people furthest from the labour market

This includes finding creative ways to enable Social Firms to take on employees with higher support needs (including the use of targeted wage incentives) (SSES, 2016: 38).

WISE are similar to Transitional Labour Market Programs (TLMPs) which we discuss at length in this report on Action Learning and Social Enterprise in Australia.

  • 2f. Is concerned with demonstrating the ‘Social Value’ of SEs and building their capability. This will mean measuring the impact of SEs or what they have been able to contribute to the market, the workplace, their supply chain, local economy and community and environment. This might also be a ‘balanced account’ of performance for those small SE organisations. Reporting requirements will be developed with funders, purchasers and regulators.
  • 3a. Sets out goals to engage ‘Public markets’ so that more SEs are delivering a broader range of services through public sector engagement, collaborative commissioning and social procurement.
  • 3b. Social enterprises will be more visible to consumers and tap into ethical consumption habits.

Public awareness and recognition of social enterprise remains low. Social enterprise products and services are not yet widely available or easily accessible to consumers… We will encourage and support the introduction of Buy Social as an internationally recognised third party certification programme to label social enterprise products and services (SSES, 2016: 43).

  • 3c. The business market will be engaged with by tapping into what is viewed as a broader social enterprise community with the aim of increasing trade between SEs and businesses. The Sharing Economy and Corporate Supply Chains will provide models for sharing resources and circulating money within the social economy (SSES, 2016: 44).


Neo-Liberalism – it’s common sense!

The Social Enterprise policy and strategy documents – Victorian and Scottish – lay out a number of rules and regulations for people thinking of starting up a social enterprise and those already operating one. These documents emphasise ‘capital’, ‘the market’, ‘profitability’, ‘finance’, ‘consumption’ and ‘value’. The idea is that what SEs are and what they can become is influenced and shaped by the preferences laid out by the Victorian and Scottish Government. International growth and profit are key goals. The problem is that a focus on growth and economic profit will often contradict SE missions, interfere with SE programs and inhibit the articulation of alternatives to what can be understood as neo-Liberal capitalist business models. The reason why such alternatives are desirable and necessary is a discussion we will pick up on in later posts.

In other spaces we have discussed capitalism, neo-liberalism and the ways in which they shape our everyday lives, from the food we eat and how we eat it to the ways we share in relationships with other people (See Kelly and Pike, 2017: 10-14). Neo-Liberal capitalism:

…signals the emergence, development and deployment of a range of political rationalities and governmental technologies (Rose and Miller 1992) that seek to make the ‘real’ knowable and governable through the behaviours and dispositions of autonomous, rational, choice-making, risk aware, prudent and enterprising individuals (Kelly and Pike, 2017: 12).

Today, the global logics of neo-Liberal capitalism structure our interactions, our working lives, or lives of work. Neo-liberalism shapes and attempts to produce competitive, individualistic, entrepreneurial people. In much of our work we draw on the legacy of Michel Foucault to imagine neo-Liberalism as: ‘an art of government, a mentality of rule. Here neo-Liberalism is much more than economic theory, or political discourse, or public policy’ (Kelly and Pike, 2017: 13). Neo-Liberalism shapes fields of possibilities, that is, the social environment in which we shape our identity, come to know ourselves and others. In our everyday lives we encounter ‘bundles of beliefs’ that appear to be common-sense: ‘ideas beyond question, assumptions so deep that the very fact that they are assumptions is only rarely bought to light’ (Hall, 2013: 8-9). Neo-Liberalism is a bundle of beliefs that rely on the widespread acceptance of ‘the market’, ‘the competitive individual’ (#boss), and the primacy/priority of the ‘private over the public’ (Kelly and Pike, 2017: 14).

There is growing concern with the ways in which a market logic, or neo-Liberal commonsense, has negative consequences for our well-being, our future and our relationships. There is an increasing awareness that, as Hall et al (2013: 14-15) say:

Commercialisation permeates everywhere, trumps everything. Once the imperatives of a “market culture” become entrenched, anything goes. Such is the power of the hegemonic common sense.

For instance, after the US led Global Financial Crisis of 2008 we witnessed mass protests and uprisings around the world (i.e. Occupy, the Indignados and the Arab Spring), which sought to challenge neo-Liberal commonsense that everything can and should be commodified, that the market and profit should be prioritised over all other aspects of life.

… This is where Social Enterprises come in to the picture. In the Victorian and Scottish SE strategies SEs are presented as models of ethical and moral community, social and commercial practice.

Yet, there is some irony here in that having developed such a picture of SEs, the Strategic documents propose a market logic to develop and mould the social enterprise sector. Of course SEs are not immune to the commonsense logic of neo-Liberal capitalism. This is not to say that they are inherently good or bad, but that they are shaped in relation to the prevailing trends of the market, of commercialisation, entrepreneurialism, competitive individiualism.

Moral Economies and Social Enterprise

It is in this context of neo-Liberal capitalism that we introduced the idea of ‘moral economies’ in an earlier blog post. Moral economies refer to the social, political and spatial dimensions of the choices we make, and the ways these spaces frame what it is that we should choose to do.

“Moral economy” is a concept, originally introduced by E P Thompson (1971) in a discussion of food riots in the “premodern” English economy of the eighteenth century, that, in a much wider sense than first imagined by Thompson, suggests a

kind of inquiry focusing on how economic activities of all kinds are influenced by moral dispositions, values and norms, and how in turn these are reinforced, shaped, compromised or overridden by economic pressures (Kelly and Pike, 2017: 18).

Broadly speaking, moral economies underpin the rules and boundaries we live by in our communities and societies.

The theory of moral economy assumes that economic activities are defined and legitimized by moral beliefs, values, and norms… In particular, agrarian communities are said to share a set of normative attitudes concerning the social relations that surround their local economies. Social networks and culturally legitimized dealings tend to prevail over market-efficient behavior, as they promote the survival of the community under the conditions of scarcity (Cieslik, 2016: 12).

Moral economies establish commonly agreed upon moral and ethical norms governing appropriate/preferred behaviour in relation to others – but this does not mean they are inherently just, equitable or fair. Moral economies are made up to assist the smooth functioning of people in groups, in society.

Just what counts as moral, as opposed to immoral, behaviour is contestable; some forms of moral economy, for example, that of the patriarchal household, might be deemed immoral, or as a domain disguised as benevolence and fairness (Sayer, 2004: 2).

Moral economies – and immoral economies – are intricately tied to the ‘ways in wich markets and associated economic phenomena both depend on and influence moral ethical sentiments, norms and behaviours and have ethical implications’ (Sayer, 2004: 2). In this sense, the concept allows us to examine:

  • moral aspects of economic practices – the role of social enterprise ‘missions’;
  • economic influences on morality – why these missions exist and to which fields can they be mapped and traced?;
  • how economic organisation affects human well-being – how is young people’s well-being affected by their participation in social enterprise programs?.

Social enterprises have overt moral codes and undertake social missions which is one of the things that makes them different to other organisations. It is the moral dimensions of social enterprises. and how thses are constructed and communicated that interests us as we attempt to understand how young people participating in SE programs are encouraged to shape a sense of self and carve out a path into the future.

As we said in part one of our discussion of the SSES:

People might be able to imagine themselves as responsible for local community issues which SEs address, but these issues are often tied to broader, even global issues which exist outside the reach of many individuals as they go about their daily lives.

The Strategic documents encourage people to think of themselves as problem solvers, as the active citizens who should take up community and social issues as part of their personal and professional life journey and career (entrepreneurs, Guerrilla selves!). But, they should do it in a way that is financially profitable, that encourages other people to consume products and services (whether they are needed or not). The Strategic documents provide a detailed map of how existing SEs and attached moral economies should take economic factors into consideration, particularly:

  • financial growth;
  • global networking and collaboration;
  • consumer habits;
  • market and financial viability.

The Strategy or plan is to further sculpt social enterprises in the image of profitable business that engage with and sustain the neo-Liberal capitialist economic market. In this sense particular attitudes and dispositions are encouraged and praised, for example:

  • Good global citizens;
  • ‘Can-do’ people;
  • Intrapreneurs;
  • Social entrepreneurs.

Again, we would stress that what our research is interested is in exploring the challenges and opportunities, the limits and possibilities, the intended and unintended consequences of attempts to make individuals, communities, social enterprises morally responsible for being ‘active’, ‘globally oriented’ entrepreneurs/enterprises in relation to problems and challenges that themselves emerge as a consequence of the global, competive logics of a neo-Liberal capitalism that seeks to privatise, commodify and monetise all aspects of our lives and the world in which we conduct our lives.


Cieslik, K. (2016) ‘Moral Economy Meets Social Enterprise Community-Based Green Energy Project in Rural Burundi’, World Development, Volume 83, July 2016, Pages 12–26. Available from:

Hall, S. D, Massey , and M. Rustin, eds. (2014) After neoliberalism? The Kilburn Manifesto, Soundings. London: Lawrence & Wishart.

Kelly, P. and Pike, J. (2017) ‘Is Neo-Liberal Capitalism Eating Itself or Its Young? in Kelly, P. and Pike, J. eds. Neo-Liberalism and Austerity: The Moral Economies of Young People’s Health and Well-being, London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Sayer, A. (2004) Moral Economy. [Accessed 20 January, 2016]. Available from

Scotland’s Social Enterprise Strategy – Part 1

The social enterprise sector in Scotland delivers £1.68 billion to their economy each year, employs 100,000 people and there are plans to increase this number even further. The ‘Scottish Social Enterprise Strategy’ (what we will refer to as ‘SSES, 2016’) provides a long term 10 year plan to develop the sector via 3 year ‘Action Plans’.

The strategy begins by positioning SE as intrinsic to Scottish culture and the economy.

Social enterprise is also an important part of our national identity and international reputation (SSES, 2016: 16).

They say for instance, that more than 5000 SEs are currently operating in the country, three in five of these generate an annual turnover of less than £100,000, and two thirds of all SEs in Scotland sell directly to the public (SSES, 2016: 9).

The strategy is framed by the idea of an uncertain and ambiguous economic future in which, it is thought, SEs can provide sustainable, entrepreneurial solutions. Also on the social enterprise agenda is: fair work, place and regional cohesion, tackling inequality and human rights  as defined in the Fairer Scotland Action Plan (SSES, 2016: 15).

The world is increasingly volatile, complex and ambiguous. In response, the delivery of this long-term strategy must remain agile (SSES, 2016: 10).

Through this logic SEs are seen as agile, flexible and able to adapt to volatile markets which render traditional business models clunky and old fashioned. SEs are packaged as new, caring businesses that are able to address public needs and concerns. You can see below where social enterprise is positioned within Scotlands Economic Strategy as a mode of ‘inclusive growth’, alongside goals like ‘investment’, ‘innovation’ and ‘internationalism’.

The strategy is forward looking in that it identifies a range of political, social, economic and technological future trends which it is thought will influence social enterprise operations and opportunities:

The influences and trends presented have been identified as both relevant and plausible. They have informed our thinking on how best to help the sector adapt to the dynamic and challenging period ahead (SSES, 2016: 10).

Let’s look at these future trends and what they mean for social enterprises …

Technological trends: The SSES claims that as technology enables public scrutiny of SE activities, SEs will be encouraged to collect robust data, show good governance and social impact (pictured left). And as socially responsible products and practices increasingly become more familiar to the public, more hybrid businesses are likely to emerge in the sector. Here, SEs are presented as the ‘business of the people’ – trustworthy, grassroots, accountable, hi-tech, responsible and capable of social and economic impact (SSES, 2016: 12).

These ‘trends’ identified by the strategy can be thought of as framing mechanisms or ways of attributing particular meaning to SEs. SEs are identified as vehicles that can be mobilised to addresss a range of economic and social problems, from local community concerns to uncertain economic markets.

People might be able to imagine themselves as responsible for local community issues which SEs address, but these issues are often tied to broader, even global issues which exist outside the reach of many individuals as they go about their daily lives. This is an idea which we will pick up on in our discussions about ‘moral economies’ and social enterprises in later posts.

Political changes: First, ‘Enabling legislation’ is identified as something that will open up financial and funding possibilities for SEs, particularly in the areas of early learning and childcare, health and social care, land ownership, broadband and transport. SEs are encourged to capitalise on the opportunities that arise in these spaces.

Second, it is predicted that increasingly localised public services will need a personalised response. And this is where it is claimed that SEs can step in to offer these kinds of unique, customised services.

Finally, it is thought that change will come about from high levels of democratic participation:

High levels of democratic participation is likely over time to lead to power being devolved downwards. Locality planning, participatory budgeting, and community empowerment are symbolic of the shifts underway. Further work will be required to ensure services are locally organised, people powered, and enterprising (SSES, 2016: 11).




While Social trends (pictured below left) include: demographic change, persistent inequalities, the influence of young people, and ethical consumption. The responsibility of caring for an aging population and providing innovative solutuons for aging populations is attributed to SEs, as well as the responsibility of fighting entrenched social inequality.

Nothing less than social transformation is the expected impact of social entrepreneurialism and enterprise. The spirit of entrepreneurialism is tied to the ‘younger generation’ who are relied upon for ‘progressive values’ and ‘new expectations anout society, business and life’ (SSES, 2016: 11). And this point is expanded on in relation to schooling a little later in the strategy, where there are plans to develop an education system with entrepreneurship at the core to capitalise on the potential of Scotlands young workforce (SSES, 2016: 16).

Finally, it is thought that our own motivation as consumers to buy ethically produced and responsible products and services, is cited as a driver for social change. Social Enterprises are encouraged to leverage these political and social trends to grow the sector, unite communities and fight against socio-economic injustice (our team member Kim Humphrey is an expert in the dynamics of ‘ethical consumption’).

A desire to live better, more sustainable lives means consumers will increasingly make ethical choices. This may fuel growth of the sector, but only if social enterprises are more visible and able to supply consumer requirements (SSES, 2016: 11).

The Economic trends identified by the SSES provide the final piece of the puzzle (SSES, 2016: 12). Here, entrepreneurialism is something that can balance and revitalise the economy by creating a more diverse business base. And, in the economic trends section we see a reflection of the social trends mentioned above. The idea of ‘business with a purpose’, social impact and ‘collaboration’/partnership taps into social trends of moral or ethical consumption (see Kim Humphrey’s Excess: Anti-Consumerism in the West).

We will pick up on this discussion of business with a purpose in our next post on social enterprises as the ‘good global citizen’, intrapreneurship and mobilising the consumer for market opportunity. In that post we reflect on what these ideas mean if we examine them through the lens of the ‘moral economies of social enterprise’.


Young People and the Moral Economies of Social Enterprise



As part of the development of the work of the larger 3 year project we are interested in exploring particular approaches to understanding the contexts in which social enterprises in general, and arts based social enterprises in particular, work with, and for, young people, and for the promotion of marginalised young people’s transitions and social, economic and physical and mental health and well-being.

A key dimension of these contexts is the different forms of responsibility that different agencies, organisations, departments, businesses, communities, neighbourhoods, and individuals assume, or are allocated, in relation to addressing the significant challenges and opportunities that many young people, marginalised or otherwise, face, and which, increasingly, social enterprises are imagined as providing the solution to.

A key concept here will be the idea of ‘moral economy’. This concept enables us to focus on a number of things, including:

those processes that seek to make social enterprise responsible – by governments, businesses and communities – for managing a range of youth issues and concerns;

to imagine these processes as being inherently ‘moral’ in that they ALWAYS involve making some choices, and not others;

to focus on the different power relations that enable some individuals and organisations to be made responsible, and others not so much;

and to critically analyse the consequences – intended or otherwise – for young people, their families and communities, for the ‘moral economies’ of social enterprises.

This concept has a particular history in social science. It has also been used in a number of ways by project members in earlier projects which introduced this concept into the field of Youth Studies.

These projects are outlined below.

Jo Pike and Peter Kelly (2014) The Moral Geographies of Children, Young People and Food: Beyond Jamie’s School Dinners, Palgrave, London

MORAL GEOGRAPHIES In this book we used the concept of moral geographies to identify and engage with the elements of choice that relate what it is that we should feed ourselves, our families, our children. We suggested that these questions of choice and what we should imagine as food extended to the various, often complex and ambiguous, processes and practices of food production, processing, transportation and preparation. As well as to the array of personal and cultural practices that structure often idealised, always morally inflected, ideas about children, parenting and food, the family meal, the issues of young people’s nutrition, health and well-being, public health ‘crises’ such as obesity, and the array of possible responses and interventions in relation to these issues, these crises.

We were interested in the cultural, economic, social, political and spatial dimensions of these choices; the things that contribute to the shaping and the making of these choices; the normative and non-normative forces and positions that contribute to the naming and framing of what it is that we should choose to do, how we should choose to prepare, present and consume our food, where and when these practices and processes should occur, who should be present, and what relations of authority are implicated in the choosing and the doing.

Peter Kelly and Jo Pike (editors) (2017) Neo-Liberalism and Austerity: The Moral Economies of Young People’s Health and Well-being, Palgrave, London.

Neo-Liberalism and Austerity Building on our work on moral geographies we found Andrew Sayer’s (2000, 2004 a & b) discussions of moral economies to be useful in framing a discussion of Neo-Liberalism and Austerity, and the ways in which economies are always ‘moral’ (which is different to saying that ‘economics’ is always moral!).

For Sayer (2004b), ‘moral economy’ is a concept that suggests a:

kind of inquiry focussing on how economic activities of all kinds are influenced and structured by moral dispositions, values and norms, and how in turn these are reinforced, shaped, compromised or overridden by economic pressures.

It is in this sense, Sayer (2004b) argues, that ‘moral’ and ‘economy’ are ‘best defined broadly’. The ‘moral’ here includes an interest in:

lay norms (informal and formal), conventions, values, dispositions and commitments regarding what is just and what constitutes good behaviour in relation to others, and implies certain broader conceptions of the good or well-being.

Sayer (2004a, p.2) suggests that it can be useful to argue that ‘all economies – not merely pre- or non-capitalist ones – are moral economies’. In doing so he recognises that:

Of course, just what counts as moral, as opposed to immoral, behaviour is contestable; some forms of moral economy, for example, that of the patriarchal household, might be deemed immoral, or as domination disguised as benevolence and fairness.

In his work on moral economies Sayer (2004a, p.2) explores the

ways in which markets and associated economic phenomena both depend on and influence moral/ethical sentiments, norms and behaviours and have ethical implications.

Importantly, given our interests in that book in the array of choices made and not made about young people, their education, training and work, their health and well-being in a post-GFC period of ongoing crises for neo-Liberal capitalism, this broad view of the moral creates a:

space not only for assessing moral aspects of economic practices, and economic influences on morality, but also for the assessment of how economic organisation affects human well-being (Sayers 2004b).

We believe that there are a number of points to explore here in relation to young people and the moral economies of social enterprise. These points are just briefly sketched below, but will be developed in the next few years.

We all makes choices, and have choices to make.

But we don’t all have the same capabilities, backgrounds and resources to bring to bear in making these choices.


Choices always have consequences.

But the consequences of choices made or not made are never the same for different people.


We also don’t, mostly, even often, get to choose the circumstances in which choices emerge, or have to be made.

Many young people, for example, had no influence or impact on the unfolding of the Global Financial Crisis.

Yet many of them now have to make choices about school, further education and training, jobs and work in environments profoundly shaped, still, by those events.

As one example here, governments around the world increasingly pass the cost of further and higher education onto individual young people and their families (in the form of loans, fees and debt) because, it is claimed, governments can no longer ‘afford’ to fund ‘free’ higher education (if they ever did).

In addition, young people are increasingly told that jobs as we know them are disappearing. And, that they need to develop the skills and dispositions that will enable them to make their own jobs, that will enable them to be become enterprising.

This is something that the Foundation for Young Australians has published a number of reports on.

And our own University (RMIT), like many others, seeks to develop in young people what it calls ‘enterprise skills’ to making young people Ready for Life and Work!

These are the elements of the ‘choices’ that young people are increasingly told that they must make, that they are told will shape their future life chances, life courses, life choices.

Of course, this demand to be enterprising – this ‘moral obligation’ to make your own work, or suffer the consequences for education and work, for becoming an autonomous adult, for your health and well-being – is something that, possibly, only a limited number of young people are capable of fulfilling.

And it is those young people who, at a particular time in their lives, are less capable of being this ‘kind of person’ (‘enterprising’) that social enterprises are given responsibility for –  in managing their ‘transitions’; in promoting their health and well-being; in ‘dealing with’ a variety of issues (employment, housing, criminal justice, substance use) that often identify these young people as ‘marginalised’.

In coming blogposts we will also introduce a number of related ideas, such as the self as enterprise, and the guerilla self, to further develop our interest in the ways in which young people and social enterprises are increasingly made responsible for these matters.


SAYER, A. 2000. Moral economy and political economy. Studies in Political Economy. Spring. pp. 79-103.

SAYER, A. 2004a. Moral Economy. [Accessed 20 January, 2016]. Available from

SAYER, A. 2004b. Agendas for Moral Economy. Moral Economy: Agendas for the Future. Workshop held on July 6th 2004, at the Department of Sociology, Lancaster University, Lancaster LA1 4YD, U.K.