In our recent book Constructing Organizational Life, we propose a new way of understanding and analyzing the social world that we believe is particularly relevant to understanding social innovation.
Our focus in the book is on the efforts of interested actors who work to shape the social world around them. Rather than examining social structures and processes as is common in social science, we believe in the value of a perspective that highlights the actors and actions that produce, transform, and maintain those structures and processes. We call this activity social-symbolic work.
We argue that by focusing on the intentional efforts of people and groups to shape the social world, we can come to a richer understanding of how it came to be the way that it is, how it is held in place, how it changes, and who makes all these things happen – questions that are central to the study and practice of social innovation. In this article, we provide some introductory ideas from the book before sharing an excerpt that focuses directly on social innovation.
Social-symbolic work focuses on social-symbolic objects – meaningful patterns in social systems that are generally pragmatic and often associated with political contests over their meaning and evaluation. These include, for instance, people’s identities, organizational practices, and product categories. Social-symbolic work, then, is the purposeful, reflexive efforts of individuals, collective actors, and networks of actors to shape social-symbolic objects.
We believe that social innovation is fundamentally about social-symbolic work and that our perspective is therefore highly relevant to anyone with an interest in social innovation.
Read the full article about social-symbolic work by Thomas B. Lawrence and Nelson Phillips at Stanford Social Innovation Review.
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