PhD Project: Social Entrepreneurship Discourse(s) in Germany

Philipp Kenel
Supervisors: Angela McRobbie, Simon Griffiths, Nick Taylor (Goldsmiths, University of London), Claudia Gather, Sigrid Betzelt (HWR Berlin)


‘Social entrepreneurship’ (SE) is an umbrella term for a variety of economic and social practices, which is becoming increasingly popular around the world. However, because it is such a heterogeneous phenomenon, interpretations of the meaning(s) of social entrepreneurship differ greatly, and the SE discourse is intertwined with diverging narratives of what makes a ‘good’ economy and society. These interpretations may differ to the extent that, for some, social entrepreneurship manifests itself as a neoliberal practice, transforming the social and welfare sectors, while for others, it represents an alternative to the (neoliberal) capitalist economic and social model. In this doctoral thesis, I argue that these interpretations of social entrepreneurship are often oblivious to specific geographical or historical contexts. Based on this premise, I investigate the contested space of meaning(s) of social entrepreneurship in a specific context: namely in Germany in the late 2010s. Germany is an interesting case, because (unlike e.g. in the UK, where first the Labour and then the Conservative government have significantly shaped the SE sector) SE has not (yet) attracted the interest or involvement of policymakers.

This is changing in the late 2010s, also due to the lobbying activities of some new support agencies for SE that are promoting the SE concept and shaping the SE discourse. Drawing on the research frameworks of ‘discourse’ and ‘discourse analysis’, in particular Fairclough’s approach to’ Critical Discourse Analysis’, my empirical research focuses primarily on the media discourse of SE in Germany. The results of the thesis will help to understand how different meanings of social entrepreneurship are negotiated (in discourse), how understandings and interpretations of SE are developing in Germany and, ultimately, what impact the niche phenomenon of SE might have on wider social and economic thought.