Conclusion: The Paradox of Social Innovation
Despite the commendable aim of social innovation and associated concepts such as social economies (Amin, Cameron, & Hudson, 2003) and communal alternative economic practices (Mosedale, 2012) to benefit from local knowledge, initiative and engagement, there is a paradox. Neoliberal governments have adopted terms such as ‘social innovation’, ‘social entrepreneurship’ and ‘social enterprise’ in their discourse of individual and communal self-sufficiency (Graefe, 2006). In a first step of neoliberalization, government institutions have generally been rolled back, before new institutions with reduced roles in providing social services have been rolled out (Peck & Tickell, 2002). Governments then rely on societies to assume social responsibility outside of the traditional, formal government institutions representing societies’ interests. In the UK, the concept of the ‘big society’, has been actively promoted by government (Smith, 2010) and much of the responsibility for social services has thus been transferred from government institutions to the consortium of the big society (an eclectic group of non-state actors such as NGOs, social entrepreneurs, local support systems such as family, friends, neighbors etc.): “[The big society] is a guiding philosophy—a society where the leading force for progress is social responsibility, not state control. It includes a whole set of unifying approaches—breaking state monopolies, allowing charities, social enterprises and companies to provide public services, devolving power down to neighborhoods, making government more accountable” (Rt Hon Cameron, 2010).
The discourse and aims of social tourism in Europe analyzed by Minnaert (2016) is an example of the results of a social innovation that has been adopted by neoliberal governments. Initially devised as projects to redistribute wealth across society in the form of access to holidays for disadvantaged groups, social tourism is being promoted by the UK. Not only has there been a general shift in Europe from state provision of social tourism project to non-profit and charitable organizations, but the UK government is strategically promoting social tourism to support declining holiday resorts in the UK by providing tourists in the low season and by creating demand in new target markets (people with jobs but on low income) for cheap, domestic holidays.
Neoliberal governments are thus . .integrating the free market with a theory of social solidarity based on the conservative communitarian principles of order, hierarchy and voluntarism” (Corbett & Walker, 2013: 455). In this context, Hulgard (2010) speaks of a paradoxical relationship between the ideas of social innovation and its neoliberal exploitation as a fill-gap for less government provision of social services. This privatization of responsibility and the resulting gaps filled by wider society represents a changing relationship between states and societies and a “fundamental alteration of the existing framework for social policies” (Hulgard, 2010: 7). The state has mutated from being a provider of social services to being an enabler, to create favorable conditions for the market-oriented provision of social services by private enterprise. In cases where private enterprise has not yet entered the market or where it is unable to offer appropriate services at the right price
(i.e. the endeavor is not profitable enough), big society is expected to fill the gap. Social innovations are then flanking mechanisms to counter the negative results of de- and reregulation and help to stabilize and re-produce the neoliberal project (Mosedale, 2016). Hence, social innovation is embedded within a wider neoliberal strategy of government withdrawal, privatization and a shift of responsibility towards the individual and the ‘big’ society, while at the same time allowing greater local involvement, decision-making powers and thus local solutions. As Cole (2006) has highlighted in a longitudinal case study of community participation in tourism development in Eastern Indonesia, information is key for sustainable development of communities. It is therefore important that social innovation projects in tourism retain control of the discourse both within and outside their collaborative innovation network in order to retain the momentum of community collaboration to address current and future challenges.
In this contribution, we have attempted to provide a conceptual and critical analysis of social innovation. Both social entrepreneurship and social innovation aim to address social challenges and needs and to contribute to sustainable development, yet are two sides of the same coin. When discussing social entrepreneurship in tourism, it is valuable to also consider the process of innovation and the positive effects of collaborative innovation when it comes to sustainable societies.
Technological innovations have implications for social relations and may lead to new social practices, while the reverse is also important: innovative technologies may be dependent on new social approaches for their success (Hochgerner, 2009). At the same time, there is a need for an increased focus on community governance and collaborative innovation at community level. Many avenues for research in social community innovation remain in the context of tourism and hospitality: How can the lessons learnt from studying innovation in enterprises be applied to communities? What are the differences between innovative actions, behaviors and projects in individuals, enterprises, local authorities and communities? How can communities or local authorities become involved in social innovation in order to adapt to current yet long-term challenges? It is time that tourism scholars with their experience in community-based tourism planning engage in the academic and public policy debate on social innovation, while bearing in mind the exploitation of the term by neoliberal thought.