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A systematic literature review on the notion of sustainability in social enterprise research


Given the noteworthy contribution to the global socio-economic development, research on social enterprises (SE) has gained prominence in extant business literature over the past two decades. Making a clear departure from their for-profit counterparts, the core purpose of SEs is to deliver a social mission while at the same time staying financially viable and as a consequence, “sustainability” is strongly embedded in their core drive of existence. Rapidly sprouting body of literature on social enterprise posits that “sustainability” is intensely coincided with “social enterprises”. Although “sustainability” has been a buzz word in the context of social enterprise research, lacking of systematization and categorization of knowledge hinders the advancement of SE context specific research. Consequently, the primary objective of this paper is systematization and categorization of the extant knowledge on sustainability in social enterprise research context. The study carried-out a systematic literature survey and here, published papers were downloaded from well reputed databases such as Scopus, Social Science Citation Index and Science Direct. After removing the repetitions, a total of 108 papers published on sustainability in social enterprise research context was compiled and used for final analysis. The analytical approach was twofold: First, a citation analysis was performed in order to evaluate the prominent, emerging and popular sustainability-based research areas in the extant body of knowledge in the field. Second, a thematic analysis was performed to analyze and interpret explicit themes on which sustainability concept has been investigated in social enterprise research context. Thematic analysis was also used to observe specific patterns of sustainability research in SE context. The paper discovered six themes that the sustainability concept has been researched in SE context through significant research popularity disparities can be witnessed among the discovered themes. Since this paper identifies several research gaps and inconsistencies in the field, it noticeably sets path for future research on the concept of sustainability in SE research context.

Keywords: Sustainability, social enterprises, systematic literature review, citation analysis, thematic analysis.