The International Handbook on Social Innovation
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The International Handbook on Social Innovation

Collective Action, Social Learning and Transdisciplinary Research

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.
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Introduction: social innovation – an idea longing for theory

Collective Action, Social Learning and Transdisciplinary Research

Stijn Oosterlynck


The concept of social innovation has a long and chequered history, going back to the early 19th century and the emergence of socialist experiments like those of Fourier and Saint-Simon (Godin 2012). It started off as a derogatory label to criticize those who proposed ‘schemes’ that ignored the limits imposed on social arrangements by the dynamics of capitalist development. As Godin shows, over the past two centuries the concept of social innovation has been used in a variety of contexts by a range of different authors writing for diverse audiences. However, until recently the concept lacked a clear and univocal definition and proper grounding in a broader theoretical framework. The chapters in this part are testimony to some of the sustained and stimulating attempts of the past several decades to provide social innovation with conceptual clarity and theoretical foundations. The rich variety of perspectives on social innovation and the elaboration of its manifold linkages to related concepts displayed in this part shows how social innovation has been developing into a broad body of knowledge with a strong interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary character.

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