Research in social entrepreneurship: from historical roots to future routes




Journal Title

Journal ISSN


Volume Title


Edward Elgar Publishing


Book chapter

Peer reviewed



The social entrepreneurship literature has emerged as a coherent body of knowledge in recent years and is growing at a tremendous pace. As noted by many authors, despite being a nascent field, research in social entrepreneurship has demonstrated great enthusiasm for and the potential to tackle many open issues in the theoretical (Nicholls, 2010) and societal domains (Mair and Marti, 2006; Mair et al., 2012). Earlier reviews have provided the theoretical and methodological topography of the field and have noted the field’s highly fragmented nature across disciplines (Short et al., 2009; Dacin et al., 2010; Nicholls, 2010; Dacin et al., 2011). In this review, I use a ‘structuration’ approach to take stock of the knowledge developed within the management and business scholarships on social entrepreneurship. To this end, I reviewed the articles retrieved from the top 100 management and business journals indexed in the ISI Web of Knowledge Database (see Appendix 1). After reviewing this core literature, I added other literature cited by the authors around the core themes that emerge. In total my review draws from about a hundred and fifty articles. I find that the fundamental questions related to the rationale of social entrepreneurship and the ones that concern the definitional aspects of the social entrepreneurship are still very much in a work in progress. Thus, as one of the earlier literature review authors put it (Johnson, 2003), ‘I also acknowledge that to provide a clear definition of social entrepreneurship or to draw its conceptual and operational borders are still very challenging tasks.’ I anticipate that the main characteristics emerging from the current literature review might exemplify such complexity. Therefore, this chapter focuses in detail on the rationale of the social entrepreneurship field, its opportunities and limitations. Reconciling the elements and terms embraced within the studies has not been a straightforward task since earlier attempts towards consolidating the research findings are rare. Therefore, I have broadly classified the topics and notions that emerge and yet have tried to stay within the recognized topical boundaries, such as they are in the literature. The review starts with collecting and examining the arguments revolving around the definitional and conceptual aspects of social entrepreneurship. My review yields over forty definitions, which may indicate the diverse and heterogeneous characteristics of social entrepreneurship as well as the tautological and uncritical expressions currently prevailing in the field. In order to further our understanding of social entrepreneurship, the third section in this review moves beyond the conceptual discussions and aims to provide a historical perspective that traces the roots and complex patterns of relationships involved in the intellectual development of the field. In this part of the review, I bring in the core discussions, as well as innovative perspectives that I hope will lead to an inclusive and comprehensive review. Here, I am inspired by the models proposed by Davidsson (2005) and Ucbasaran et al. (2006), which I simplify to fit the social entrepreneurship literature. Originally, the authors laid out important elements of entrepreneurial practice based on five building blocks: individual, organization, environment, process and outcome. In my model, I propose three building blocks: antecedent, process and outcome (of social entrepreneurship). Each block is based on a relevant level of analysis that emerges from the review. My review ends with an analysis of the relationships between these three building blocks and levels of analyses to map possible future directions that scholarly effort may take.



social entrepreneurship, literature review


Aygören, H. (2014) Research in social entrepreneurship: from historical roots to future routes. In: Nordqvist, M., Bacq, S., Phan, P., Kickul, J. (eds.) Theory and Empirical research in Social Entrepreneurship , Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, pp. 11-73.


Research Institute