Rural social enterprise: an exploration of hybridity and engagement with place

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van Twuijver, Mara Willemijn
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University College Cork
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Rural social enterprises throughout Europe are found to fulfil needs of rural communities that are not met otherwise (van Twuijver et al., 2020). Previous research shows that rural social enterprises are strongly embedded within their local communities, while at the same time connecting these to external actors and network (Richter, 2019). Furthermore, previous research shows that rural social enterprises operate from a wide and diverse resource base (O’Shaughnessy and O’Hara, 2016b). In this study, this resource base is understood as a hybrid resource base, given that resources from the private, public and third sector are combined (Doherty, Haugh and Lyon, 2014). In recent decades there is growing interest from policy, practice and academia in the role that rural social enterprises can play in realizing rural development (TFSSE, 2014; Richter et al., 2020). Against this backdrop, this study set out to deepen our understanding of the way in which rural social enterprises operate within a rural context. Hitherto, empirical research into this has been scarce, leaving gaps in our understanding of how and through which mechanisms rural social enterprises are able to realize meaningful contributions to the places and communities they serve. In order to investigate this, two research questions have been formulated. The first question is focused on investigating which capabilities rural social enterprises develop in order to manage their hybrid resource base. The second research question is focused on how rural social enterprises engage with the rural context in which they operate. A conceptual framework has been constructed that utilizes insights from Resource Orchestration Theory (ROT) and the human geographic concept of place. In combining the two theoretical perspectives, a framework emerged in which place is understood as a unique configuration of (potential) resources that rural social enterprises engage with as part of their hybrid resource portfolio. This framework has been utilized to conduct an in-depth qualitative case analysis of two rural social enterprises in Ireland. Data has been collected through semi-structured interviews, participant observations and archival document analysis. The data has been analysed using abductive analysis, anchored in a realist ontology. The findings of this study outline five capabilities developed by rural social enterprises that support the orchestration of a hybrid resource portfolio, namely institutional connectivity, community connectivity, market connectivity, managing paradoxes and organisational adaptability, and describe the practices that underly each of these capabilities. Furthermore, the findings outline six forms of engagement with place, namely harnessing locational aspects for marketable activities; fostering a collective sense of place; (re)invigorating social connections; enhancing institutional relations; building on local human capital; and improving local material settings. The findings evidence that rural social enterprises do not only utilize economic means to fulfil their organisational objectives but show the importance of integrating these means with resources deriving from institutional and community sources. In describing five capabilities utilized to manage the hybrid resource portfolio, this study provides insight into the organisational processes and routines that enable the mobilization and integration of different resources in a rural setting. Moreover, the described capabilities support engagement with place because they provide the rural social enterprises with different approaches to access and mobilize elements of place as organisational resources. By utilizing elements of place as organisational resources, the rural social enterprises are found to alter/enhance these elements, and hence are not only influenced by, but also influence the rural context in which they operate. It is concluded that there is a mutually reinforcing link between the ability to manage a hybrid resource portfolio and engagement with place. Additionally, it is concluded that productively hybridizing resources originating from the private, public and third sector supports the ability of rural social enterprises to function in a rural context. Practically, the findings of this study show that a better understanding of the complex character of rural social enterprises is needed to fully realize their potential as a link in the chain of rural development.
Place , Social enterprise , Rural development , Resource orchestration
van Twuijver, M. W. 2021. Rural social enterprise: an exploration of hybridity and engagement with place. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.