The Italian Social Innovation of Consumer Purchasing Groups: An Empirical Evaluation of Its Social Impact
Stemming from a theoretical model that has as its main reference the capability approach (Sen, 1985; 1987; 1992; 1998; 1999; 2009), the 7th Framework EU project CRESSI (www.sbs.ox.ac.uk/faculty-research/research-projects/cressi) has investigated the experience of Consumer Purchasing Groups in Italy and their role in reducing the marginalization of small and micro farms in the country. It has analysed the impact of social innovation within six different life dimensions (related to nature-technology-culture-economy-security-politics). These dimensions are meant to be relevant for the construction and maintenance of 'social power' (Mann 1986, 1993, 2012a, 2912b; Heiskala, 2014). Further, the theoretical framework includes the investigation of socio-structural factors, which in economic sociology have been deemed to be 'irreducible' (Beckert, 2010) for the study of changing and innovative societies. We focus on actor networks, institutions and cognitive frames and how they interrelate with the social innovation process. The study provides new insights on consumer purchasing groups. These have so far been widely studied with reference to their capacity to empower consumers in terms of political and economical participation. Our focus on suppliers, instead, provides new evidence on the social impact that this Italian social innovation is producing.
The paper will present preliminary results, stemming from 30 semi-structured interviews with social innovators and a survey with beneficiaries in Italy (about 2000 interviews).