A variety of life-spheres and academic disciplines have taken on board the concept of social innovation. To begin with, social innovation is a hot topic in business administration where it refers to two new foci. The first one gives more attention to the social character of the firm: the firm as a network of social relations and as a community in which technological and administrative changes are just one part of the innovation picture, the institutional and social being of at least equal importance. To put it more strongly: the business administration literature increasingly stresses how many technological innovations fail if they are not integrated into a broader perspective in which changes in social relations within, but also embedding, the firm play a key role. If this sounds like the ultimate form of capitalism, that is, the commodification of all social relations within and across firms, it also refers to a second concern, which is to let firms play a more active social role in society – discursive or real. This sought-for social role often reflects a pure marketing strategy in the sense of ‘make the firm look more socially responsible so as to sell better’; but it can also stand for a real alternative, ranging from a diversity of ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ initiatives to the establishment of new units or subsidiaries that are fully active in the social economy, or/and have resolutely opted for ecologically and socially sustainable outputs and production models (Moulaert and Nussbaumer 2008). But social innovation is not only back on stage in business administration, it is the driving
force of many NGOs, a structuring principle of social economy organizations, a bridge between emancipating collective arts initiatives and the transformation of social relations in human communities.