Table of Contents

The International Handbook on Social Innovation

The International Handbook on Social Innovation

Collective Action, Social Learning and Transdisciplinary Research

Elgar original reference

Edited by Frank Moulaert, Diana MacCallum, Abid Mehmood and Abdelillah Hamdouch

The contributors provide an overview of theoretical perspectives, methodologies and instructive experiences from all continents, as well as implications for collective action and policy. They argue strongly for social innovation as a key to human development. The Handbook defines social innovation as innovation in social relations within both micro and macro spheres, with the purpose of satisfying unmet or new human needs across different layers of society. It connects social innovation to empowerment dynamics, thus giving a political character to social movements and bottom-up governance initiatives. Together these should lay the foundations for a fairer, more democratic society for all.

Chapter 33: Holistic research methodology and pragmatic collective action

Frank Moulaert and Abid Mehmood

Subjects: business and management, social entrepreneurship, development studies, development studies, geography, human geography, innovation and technology, innovation policy, politics and public policy, public policy, social policy and sociology, comparative social policy, sociology and sociological theory, urban and regional studies, regional studies, urban studies


One of the privileged methods in social innovation analysis, especially when studying social innovation to address social exclusion in different but still comparable situations, is holism (Moulaert 2000). Holism as a method of research was developed in the 1920s, and has popped up periodically since then for use in comparative analysis. It has natural links with pragmatism as a social philosophy and a scientific approach (Ramstad 1986). In general terms, holism refers to a methodological perspective that gives special attention to parts-whole interactions. This makes it of particular interest to comparative case-study analysis, an essential part of social innovation research which connects collective action to the analysis of the situational and institutional conditions in which it occurs. This chapter consists of four sections following this introduction. First we briefly explain the links between collective action and holistic analysis. In the second section we explain holism as theoretically structured comparative case study analysis. Different theories can be used to select themes eligible for analysis in holism and to identify the relations (pattern models) between them.

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