Hybridity stems first from biology, but it’s come to be known in postcolonial theory as having to do with the fusion between identity and culture.
Yesterday’s Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) webinar focused on the “Hybrid Ideal,” as it were. The first featured presenter was Julie Battilana, Associate Professor of Business Administration, Organizational Behavior Unit at the Harvard Business School. “Hybrids transcend the boundaries between typical for-profit and notfor-profit organizations, she said at the get-go. “They pursue a social mission while engaging in commercial activities in order to generate revenues.”
Indian critical theorist Homi K. Bhabha’s concept of hybridity, which centers on it as a site of subversive resistance, can shed light on the possibilities of hybrid organizations such as social enterprise. For Bhabha, as he writes in The Location of Culture, in-betweenness produces a “moment of aesthetic distance that provides the narrative with a double edge, which like the coloured South African subject, represents a hybridity, a difference ‘within,’ a subject that inhabits the rim of an ‘in-between’ reality.” Similarly, Françoise Lionnet uses the French word “métissage” in order to illuminate the strength and subtleties in being on the edge of two (or three, or four) things. In Autobiographical Voices: Race, Gender and Self-Portraiture, she contends that métissage is considered “the site of undecidability and indeterminacy, where solidarity becomes the fundamental principle of action.”
Hybrid organizations allow for a sense of assertive criticality; there’s a space for a fuller kind of business that doesn’t rely on A or B but melds A, B and C. The SSIR webinar as a whole emphasized that the lines between for-profit and non-profit are being obscured. While many purists consider true social businesses as being completely revenue-generating, Battilana pulled from examples that showed the mix between gaining an independent income and relying on donations. In order to differentiate a spectrum, Battilana used the concept of “integration,” that is, “the extent to which an organization pursues both social and financial goals through the same set of activities.”
Rather than looking at hybridity as a liminal state, it can exist on its own, as its own—but this doesn’t deny the necessity for organizations to adjust, imagine, transform and even revert. In postcolonial theory, hybridity creates a space for addressing and struggling against oppression and the same goes for social enterprise.
By breaking through conventional notions of wholeness, social entrepreneurship can thrive through productive—and disruptive—initiatives.