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Social Innovation: Beyond a Buzzword

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(We welcome proposals, in French or English, until February 28, 2019.)

The newly founded Research Centre on Social Innovation and Transformation (Centre de recherche sur les innovations et les transformations sociales, or CRITS) is issuing a call for participation to its first annual conference. Along with the Élisabeth Bruyère School of Social Innovation and the Mauril Bélanger Social Innovation Workshop (The Atelier), CRITS forms a think tank, training hub, and operational base that considers social innovation through a social justice lens. It also strives to ensure that various collective action projects converge into the community spaces it creates.

You are invited to join us for a two-day conference. The format will allow theorists and practitioners to come together and address a set of questions that we believe are crucial to ensuring that social innovation is not, or ceases to be, the exclusive domain of neoliberal trajectories.

For its inaugural conference, CRITS would like to create a meeting space to collectively think through and launch a mobilization and lasting commitment to understanding social innovation through a social justice lens. The event hopes to advance CRITS’ own research agenda while fostering the initiation of collaborative projects marked by the CRITS perspective. We approach the issue following four lines of inquiry:

  1. emancipatory thought;
  2. the action of social movements in the face of systemic power structures;
  3. democratic governance; and
  4. engaged practices in teaching and research.



Given that the concept of social innovation is widely mobilized by the state, the business world, and grassroots communities initiatives that invest it with various (and sometimes incompatible) definitions, we assert that the flow between innovation and transformation can be activated through an emancipatory approach that offers a critique of current systems in order to develop alternatives. We therefore have a much broader understanding of social innovation actors, or “social enterprises,” than what can usually be found in social innovation literature. In fact, we work to cover citizen initiatives, activist groups as well as public institutions and/or businesses that engage in innovative and emancipatory practices.

Given the current state of publications and social practices related to the multifaceted notion of social innovation, we believe we urgently need to take the issue into consideration. The discussion will, on the one hand, ensure we accurately assess the risks of neoliberal drift associated with the spread of social innovation through universities and, on the other hand, measure its potential as a radically emancipatory educational project. For this purpose, we wish  to call into question the emerging practices taking root in hubs, coworking spaces, incubators, accelerators, etc., currently appearing and expanding throughout the world.

We are concerned with the spread of methods and techniques fully in line with neoliberalism that are passed on and reinforced through these emerging practices:

  • adapting to job insecurity;
  • embracing alienating management practices;
  • monitoring, controlling, and surveilling disguised as efficiency-enhancing measures, etc.

Hence, we question the very principles that preside over the vigour of these emerging practices. Our position is that though they demonstrate a strong organizational potential, they stifle the potential for systemic change of the collective work they are meant to foster. It does not need to be this way: we can do things differently.

Most of the field’s literature focuses on solving concrete problems and monitoring practices, e.g., designing indicators to measure impact or evaluating business model effectiveness. It thus shies away from tackling head on the design and elaboration of a radically critical and emancipatory social innovation project. That it exactly what the CRITS research agenda aims to take on: subjecting social innovation research and practices to radical critical thinking and taking part in imagining, designing, and teaching emancipatory models.

To achieve our goal, we would like to invite you to take part in the Centre’s first annual conference. We wish to foster the dissemination of knowledge through theory and practice as well as collaboration between researchers and practitioners. To do so, we would like to make room for a variety of ways of thinking and the presentation of ideas. Starting with your proposals, we will put together a program that will allow us to move from the in-depth presentation of research results to semi-structured exchanges in roundtables; from hands-on workshops to standard papers organized into panels. We are also interested in visual formats such as poster presentations, whether classic or revamped: drawings, charts, conceptual maps, etc.



As part of the conference, we would like to work from the following questions:

For three one-hour in-depth lecture-discussions:

  • Social innovation: emancipation or self-exploitation?
  • What needs to be decolonized in the social and solidarity economy?
  • Breaking free from capitalism, but to go where?

For roundtables and hands-on workshops, three burning questions:

  • Does engaged pedagogy produce engaged students?
  • Does democratic governance hate leaders?
  • How can social movements fund themselves without losing their souls?

For a panel of four papers, a question to engage with from each of the four CRITS lines of inquiry:

  • Is social innovation the offspring of neoliberalism?

We welcome your proposals, be they in English or in French, up until 28 February 2019.

Please indicate:

  1. the format in which you would like to present (a one-hour talk, a 20-minute paper, a workshop, or a graphic presentation);
  2. the CRITS line of inquiry that best fits your work (see detailed descriptions above);
  3. the question you would like to answer.

Dates: May 29-30, 2019
Location: Mauril Bélanger Social Innovation Workshop (The Atelier), Saint Paul University.
Wheelchair accessible venue, gender-neutral washrooms.
Tell us about any accessibility needs you might have so we can plan ahead.
We plan to provide whisper translation into English and French.

Please send your proposals to:
Julie Chateauvert, PhD

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