Sub-theme 3.4. Gender and social enterprises

Sub-theme 3.4. Gender and social enterprises

Our research project will concentrate its analytical efforts on the organizational level (meso-level). The project will test the global hypothesis of the organizational “efficiency of reciprocity” of social enterprises in terms of gender equality.

Based on this Polanyian framework, social enterprises could be defined through the twofold dimension—both economic and political—which constitutes their specificity. The economic dimension first insists on the prevalence of the reciprocal impulse in the emergence of these practices. The latter are not based on a contractual agreement motivated by profit; they rather aim at an inter-subjective experience. Their consolidation is then sought through mixing resources with redistributive public resources and market resources. The political dimension is rooted in this reciprocity and the construction of public spaces allowing a debate among the stakeholders (user, volunteer, worker…) on the goals pursued and the means implemented hereto. These organizations offer therefore a “public proximity space”, an intermediary between public and private realms. As such, these organizations assume three main functions: one of a justice of proximity (through informing people about their rights and helping exercising them), one of a collective space of deliberation (giving legitimacy to claims and opening up the participation in institutional change and social dialogue) and one of a redefinition of the articulation of family, public authorities, market and civil society through the development of concrete services. Following Guérin (2003), our first hypothesis is that social enterprises offer important opportunities for women to achieve equality in their daily lives.

Our second hypothesis is that, under this multiple stakeholder type of governance (see TL 4), social enterprises can enhance the audibility of women’s claims—as user, volunteer and employee—in both public and private spheres and, eventually, influence their participation in institutional change. Indeed, according to Laville (2006), the capacity to generate social changes depends on the link established between, on the one hand, exercising this positive freedom of association and, on the other hand, a public action which is the only one able to promulgate the rights and to define the norms of an inequality-reducing redistribution.

Qualitative studies will be conducted in social enterprises active in a field where women have historically played an important role and where economic service activities are carried out (personal services, with two specific subfields: care and the prevention of violence against women). We propose to set up a qualitative research procedure that will explore the resources on which each organization depends (two different organizations in each sector), the different activities that they allow (both on the economic and political level). In depth interviews conducted with employees, volunteers and users, as well as a gathering of relevant documents from the “grey literature” (reports, internal documents) will constitute our empirical material.