Decency’s Challenges: Relations, Navigations and Horizons in Social Enterprises


The empirical foundation in this anthropological study is field work in six social enterprises located in a municipality in the south of Denmark. All enterprises employ socially vulnerable citizens struggling with mental or physical disability, long-term unemployment or drug abuse.

The ethnographic methods consist of participant observation, semi-structured interviews and focus group interviews. Additionally, officials employed in municipal positions and local politicians have been interviewed.
A number of trends and patterns as daily practice routines, structures and value systems are prominent. This provides a framework for understanding local knowledges and negotiations among participants and how they reflect and navigate in specific social settings and contexts.

In a dynamic understanding of culture there is an emphasis on participants’ ability to act and navigate through reflective participation. Cultural aspects are in this perspective common features which are constantly negotiated.
Several participants use the word decency to express relations where shared responsibility, participation and mutual trust are significant. These human ideals characterise the social enterprises as alternatives and counter-actions to experiences of the municipality’s documentism and systemistic elements in which the employees must navigate.

A balance between the social and profit dimensions in the social enterprises is a means to the goal, which is to develop social skills and competences. However, there is a risk that expectations to the social enterprises will change because of demands for increased revenue and visibility.
Social enterprises have socially sustainable purposes as basic conditions, but each social enterprise must be defined and viewed in its own context as applies to any social arena. Because social enterprises are plural phenomena, this study thus maintains a critique of epochal analyses and typologies.

In a rapidly changing world, social sustainability is a necessary part of development as well as of national and supranational policy decisions. Increasing awareness of social enterprises therefore often leads to politicised agendas, not least in the discussion of welfare societies.
Effective start/end date22/08/201101/03/2017


  • social enterprise, social innovation, welfare state, vulnerable citizens, bureaucracy