Social InnovationKATARSIS

Social Innovation


Growing Inequality and Social Innovation: Alternative Knowledge and Practice in Overcoming Social Exclusion in Europe

KATARSIS brought together theorists, researchers and practitioners interested in the causes and consequences of inequality, giving particular emphasis to the (collective and individual) strategies through which people respond to social exclusion. Social innovation was the central binding concept for KATARSIS‘ work, arguing that although innovation has long been a key objective of economic policy in the EU, its implementation has tended to focus on competitive technology- and market-based solutions, particularly under the model of the Knowledge-Based Society (KBS). Challenging this model, innovation was considered to be directed first and foremost at meeting human needs – and, in conditions of inequality or exclusion, innovating in social relations, not just in markets.

KATARSIS drew upon different research traditions from a range of disciplines – sociology, geography, economics, political science, anthropology, urban and regional planning, community development, policy analysis, and public health, among others – and also upon the experiences and practices of actors working against social exclusion in a range of sectors (non-government, public and private) and fields (employment, education, health, housing, environment, youth, arts, governance, and so on). The focus was to:

  • identify and share information about existing socially creative strategies (SCS);
  • share approaches to researching and analysing SCS;
  • tease out commonalities and differences between these SCS, and between the research strategies used to explore them;
  • connect these commonalities and differences to broader theoretical and methodological debates in the social sciences;
  • work towards an integrated methodological framework for further research into SCS, drawing upon the strengths of practitioners‘ work as well as those of various academic approaches; and,
  • develop and disseminate the findings, and the concept of social innovation, as positive practical antidotes to market-oriented innovation and development policy.


The work programme towards these objectives involved four main steps:

  1. Literature surveys and cross-disciplinary conversations to establish the State of the Art of research into SCS across five ‘existential fields‘ (that is, fields of experience where groups have reacted to exclusion in creative ways): Labour Market and Social Economy; Education and Training; Housing and Neighbourhood; Health and Environment; Governance and Democracy.
  2. Integration of the findings from Step (i) with broader scientific and practical perspectives on the study of SCS, organised around three themes: Bottom-up Creativity (especially in arts and culture); Governance; and the theoretical concept of Social Innovation. This step involved opening the network up wide at a week-long workshop where, scholars, activists and policy makers from all over the world were able to share practical experiences, case studies, thoughts about the effects of spatial and institutional contexts, theoretical and epistemological positions, and research methodologies.
  3. Development of an integrated approach to future multidisciplinary research about social exclusion in general, and socially creative strategies in particular. This step was shaped by the extraordinary richness of the work surveyed and analysed in Steps (i) and (ii). Rather than attempting to reconcile fundamental epistemological differences, the project placed various research approaches in dialogue with each other around some methodological considerations which have emerged as crucial to the integrity of social innovation research: theoretical framing; learning from lived experience; conversation across case studies; collaboration with practitioners oriented to action or change; consideration of marginalised or excluded groups; and, acknowledgement of research heritage.
  4. Dissemination of the project’s findings in scientific, policy and practitioner realms.