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Keywords:

  • Agency theory;
  • corporate governance code;
  • corporate social responsibility;
  • employees;
  • stakeholders

Concepts of social enterprise have been debated repeatedly, and continue to cause confusion. In this paper, a meta-theoretical framework is developed through discussion of individualist and communitarian philosophy. Philosophers from both traditions build social theories that emphasise either consensus (a unitarist outlook) or diversity (a pluralist outlook). The various discourses in corporate governance reflect these assumptions and create four distinct approaches that impact on the relationship between capital and labour. In rejecting the traditional discourse of private enterprise, social enterprises have adopted other approaches to tackle social exclusion, each derived from different underlying beliefs about the purpose of enterprise and the nature of governance. The theoretical framework offers a way to understand the diversity found within the sector, including the newly constituted Community Interest Company (CIC).