In this article we aim to elaborate and discuss the nature and characters of social enterprise (SE) in its two essential dimensions: entrepreneurship and sociality. Scholars of many disciplines at both national and international levels, in fact, have been nurturing an increasing interest to SE. Research, however, mainly concentrates on the conceptual level - the nature of SE, the many definitions, etc. - while in empirical works a lack of rigorous methodology has been highlighted for many studies, which are often limited to the presentation of selected case studies, whereas SEs are frequently described in laudatory terms, suggesting the idea that this organizational form is intrinsically innovative and socially sounding. Therefore, despite the richness of both analytical and research works on SE, the debate is clearly demanding analytical frameworks that could support rigorous research projects targeted to both quantitative and qualitative analysis of the phenomenon. After a brief presentation of some of the most important works on SE we will outline and discuss a working definition of SE that captures the essence of either national and international literature and Italian regulatory framework on the phenomenon. Its operationalization will lead to the presentation of some specific suggestion for carrying out both quantitative and qualitative research on SE. To this end two different categories of variables will be outlined: those referring to the entrepreneurship side of SE and those referring to its social aspects. Both for entrepreneurship and social variables specific measurement tools are indicated.
Keywords: Social enterprise, nonprofit, social cooperatives, sociality, research frameworks.