© Emerald Group Publishing Limited. Purpose-The purpose of this paper is to offer new reflection upon the contested interaction of social enterprises with the public sector. It does this by fore fronting the notions of boundaries, boundary work and boundary objects. Design/methodology/approach-The paper reports qualitative research with social enterprise practitioners (from social enterprises and support agencies) in the north of England. Accounts elicited through interviews are combined with visual data in the form of pencil drawings made by practitioners when the authors invited them to respond to and rework diagrammatic models from the literature about the social and economic dimensions of social enterprise. Findings-Participants explained in words and images how normative images of social enterprise depicting linear and static boundaries inadequately represent the complexity of ideas and interactions in their world. Rather, they perceived an iterative process of crossing and re-crossing boundaries, with identities and practices which appeared to shift over time in relation to different priorities. Research limitations/implications-Through participant generated visual data in which social enterprise practitioners literally redrew models from the literature, the paper open space to show movement, transgression and change. Originality/value-This paper is timely as social enterprises are becoming increasingly prominent in the welfare mix. The authors make novel use of conversations and drawings in order to better understand the dynamic and everyday practices of social enterprise within public services. In doing this, the authors also potentially contribute to richer methodological resources for researching the movement of services between sectors.