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Durham University

Research & business

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Publication details

Hudson, R. (2009). Life on the edge: navigating the competitive tensions between the 'social' and the 'economic' in the social economy and in its relations to the mainstream. Journal of Economic Geography 9(4): 493-510

Author(s) from Durham


Drawing on detailed empirical research in the UK, in this article I explore the motivations that lie behind the formation of social economy organisations (SEOs) and the multiple trajectories that these can then follow and the tensions to which this can give rise as the ‘social’ runs up against the ‘economic’. This can, and often does, involve competition between SEOs in limited local markets and in search of state grant income. For those that seek to transcend these limits, the tensions between the ‘economic’ and the ‘social’ can become acute, especially in those that seek to become self-consciously near-market social ‘enterprises’, with a growing focus upon their economic role and contribution and trading as the route to growth. This typically leads them into competition with firms in the mainstream capitalist economy, engendering tensions between the need to survive in competitive markets and the ethical and social motivations that informed their original formation. I then consider broader questions as to imaginaries about the social economy and of how the social economy is seen in the policy and academic literatures in terms of its socio-economic role. Finally, I offer some reflective comments as to the future for SEOs and the social economy and their contribution to social and economic life