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Towards a TSI theory : a relational framework and 12 propositions (TRANSIT working paper ; 16, December 2017)

Authors: Haxeltine, Alex, Pel, Bonno; Dumitru, Adina; Avelino, Flor; Kemp, René; Bauler, Tom; Kunze, Iris; Dorland, Jens; Wittmayer, Julia and Jørgensen, Michael Søgaard
Publication date: 2017
Keywords: middle-range theory, process theory, relational theory, social innovation, Transformative Social Innovation

This paper makes a contribution to the identified need for conceptual clarity and new theory on social innovation. Specifically it addresses transformative social innovation (TSI), defined as the process of challenging, altering, or replacing the dominance of existing institutions in a specific social and material context. Social innovation initiatives and networks are understood as the key collective actors that instigate TSI processes. They do not all start out with transformative ambitions however. Of those that do, only a few eventually achieve transformative impacts; indeed there are many risks of capture and co-option along the way. A relational framing is presented as the most suitable way to theorise the emergent and multiply embedded nature of SI initiatives interacting with changing institutions, where organizational and institutional boundaries are often fluid and under negotiation. To develop middle-range theoretical insights on TSI, we conducted an empirical study of 20 transnational social innovation networks and about 100 associated social innovation initiatives over a four-year period. The resulting contribution towards the solidification of a theory of TSI, consists of three layers: firstly, the research design and methodology employed; secondly, a relational framework for TSI that articulates four key ‘clusters’ of (inter)relations in TSI processes; and, thirdly, a solidifying and iteratively developed set of theoretical propositions on TSI processes. These propositions articulate the complex and intertwined process-relations of TSI, based on our study of the empirics. The paper ends with an assessment of the contribution of this TSI-theorising, and a discussion of the challenge of further developing TSI theory.


Haxeltine, A., Pel, B., Dumitru, A., Avelino, F., Kemp, R., F., Bauler, T., Kunze, I., Dorland, J., Wittmayer, J., and Jørgensen, M. S. (2017) Towards a TSI theory : a relational framework and 12 propositions, (TRANSIT working paper ; 16, December 2017), TRANSIT: EU SSH.2013.3.2-1 Grant agreement no: 613169.

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