In the literature and in current public discourse, innovation is usually taken to mean technological innovation, which is carried out through the figure of the entrepreneur. This editorial introduction first goes back to the emergence of the notion of social innovation, dedicated to including other processes, actors and purposes. It reminds us that the notion has been shaped by the crises that faced societies from the 1970s and presents the two fields of research that have anchored the notion in different theoretical positions. We highlight how the food and agricultural sector illustrates the three current meanings of social innovation, despite the fact that the general literature on social innovation usually focuses only on a few types of initiatives. We explain how the papers of this special issue demonstrate that agriculture and food represent an exemplary empirical terrain to push forward thinking in the field, such as the need for a better understanding of ‘social innovation in the making’ or of the processes of innovation scaling. This introduction thus not only consolidates a collection of contributions to the area of research on social innovation in the sociology of agriculture and food, but it also frames a new and potential contribution of sociology to the literature on social innovation.