Social Entrepreneurship as Institutional-Change Work : A Corpus Linguistics Analysis

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-46
Journal / PublicationJournal of Social Entrepreneurship
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2017


How do social entrepreneurs employ language to bring about a change in the structure of society and institutions? Drawing on discourse as the main epistemology in institutional theory, this research applies corpus linguistics (CL)–a relatively new approach in studying discourse–to identify the institutional-change work performed by social entrepreneurs. By applying CL on a small, specialized corpus of a Chinese social enterprise (SE) that offers taxi services to a specialty market–elders and physically disabled residents–and has institutionalized wheelchair accessible transportation in Hong Kong (China), this research found 17 discourse orientations (i.e., problem, difficulty, empowerment, beneficiary, altruistic, social process, economic, opportunity, sustainability, partnership, resource, solution, government-as-enabler, social business identity, change-making, mission, and impact) that can be aggregated into five meta discourses: problematization, empowerment, marketization, resource mobilization, and publicness. It also reveals the influence of collaborative efforts performed by volunteers, media, educational institutions and the State in institutionalizing and legitimizing wheelchair accessible public transport and social enterprises. This study also uncovers the influence of prior institutional context on the institutionalization of SE. This research suggests new avenues to better integrate social work, public administration, and sustainability research–cognate disciplines at the fringes of SE–to inform future SE research. Finally, this study articulates the promise of corpus linguistics as a primary or supplementary method for future SE discourse research.

Research Area(s)

  • Chinese, Corpus linguistics, discourse, Hong Kong, institution, social enterprise