Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to present a detailed analysis of the social enterprises (SE) and social entrepreneurship (SEship) literature that has been published in international journals from 1991 to 2010, determining the intellectual structure of both fields and their maturity as academic fields of study.
Design/methodology/approach – Using a quantitative methodology for literature study, named bibliometric analysis, relevant papers were obtained from three important international databases, and SE and SEship journals. An initial number of 1,343 records were identified and, after applying various filters, a total of 286 papers were studied for bibliometric indicators and epistemological orientation.
Findings – The study identified a significant increase in the scholarly investigation of SE and SEship in recent years, together with greater collaboration and international research. It was demonstrated that some countries are dominating the SE and SEship research area, such as the UK and the USA, whereas institutional and individual research output is spread more equally. Currently, no author or institution dominates the SE and SEship literature. The epistemological orientation suggests that the published literature is largely of a theoretical and descriptive nature in both fields, with only a small number of predictive papers.
Originality/value – This paper provides important contributions. First, it presents an intellectual structure of SE and SEship as a discipline. Second, it determines the current maturity of the field based on its epistemological orientation, concluding that SE and SEship are maturing, with theory development followed by empirical testing and validation generating an increase in consensus on the boundaries of the field.