theories of entrepreneurship: an exercise in dichotomies

There’s a certain resistance to dichotomizing: the truth is somewhere in between, it’s more nuanced, processual, interactional etc — both “x” and “y” need to be considered — so we’ll call it “z” (say, “structuration”).  But, as I’m preparing for an entrepreneurship-related PhD class tomorrow, most of the papers we read indeed tend to set up a dichotomous relationship between two things.  Despite problems with these types of contrasts (it’s usually pretty easy to see where the argument is going), I still find the exercise of extremes very valuable.  Theories, after all, idealize and need to focus on something (usually in reaction to its opposite, sorta).

So, here are some of the entrepreneurship-related dichotomies that popped up:

  • structure versus agency
  • macro versus micro
  • exogenous versus endogenous
  • observation versus theory
  • experience versus thought
  • supply versus demand
  • backward- versus forward-looking
  • discovery versus creation
  • something versus nothing
  • actual versus possible

(The truth can be found on the right-hand side.)

Many of the above dichotomies — in one way or another — hearken to classic debates in philosophy: rationalism versus empiricism, realism versus constructionism, etc.   I don’t think that organizational scholars will solve any of these classic problems, though obviously there are comparative opportunities vis-a-vis the things that we study: collective action, social process and interaction, value creation and so forth.

Below the fold you’ll find some of the (somewhat eclectic) readings that somehow relate to the above dichotomies of entrepreneurship:

Ahuja & Lampert. 2001. Entrepreneurship in the large corporation: a longitudinal study of how established firms create breakthrough inventions. Strategic Management Journal.

Alvarez & Barney, 2007. Discovery and creation: alternative theories of entrepreneurial action. Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal.

Baker & Nelson, 2005. Creating something from nothing: resource construction through entrepreneurial bricolage. Administrative Science Quarterly.

Benkler, 2002. Coase’s penguin, or, linux and the nature of the firm. Yale Law Journal.

Chomsky, 1966/2003. Cartesian linguistics: a chapter in the history of rationalist thought. Cybereditions Corporation.

Coleman, 1986.  Social theory, social research and a theory of action.  American Journal of Sociology.  

Felin & Zenger, 2009. Entrepreneurs as theorists: on the origins of collective beliefs and novel strategies. Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal.

Gavetti & Levinthal, 2000. Looking forward and looking backward: cognitive and experimental search. Administrative Science Quarterly.  

Hayek, 1942.  Scientism and the study of society.  Economica.

Holyoak & Thagard, 1995. Mental leaps: analogy in creative thought. MIT Press.

Jasper, 2004. A strategic approach to collective action: looking for agency in social movement choices. Mobilization.

Johnson, 2007. What is organizational imprinting? cultural entrepreneurship in the founding of the Paris Opera. American Journal of Sociology.

Levi-Strauss, 1966. The savage mind. University of Chicago Press.

Peirce, 1957. The logic of abduction. Essays in the Philosophy of Science, Thomas V (ed). Liberal Arts Press.

Sarasvathy, 2001. Causation and effectuation: toward a theoretical shift from economic inevitability to entrepreneurial contingency. Academy of Management Review.

Thornton, 1999.  Sociology of entrepreneurship.  Annual Review of Sociology.

Woodward, 2003. Making things happen: a theory of causal explanation. Oxford University Press.

Written by teppo

May 10, 2011 at 9:52 pm

4 Responses

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  1. In many of the above cases, I would replace ‘versus’ with ‘and.’ After all, what’s supply without demand, for example? Sometimes people create problems where there are none.



    May 11, 2011 at 4:50 am

  2. Hi Teppo,

    You have hit on a great litmus test here – and you might make an interesting paper out of a survey about how people base/anchor their ‘theories’ of entrepreneurship.

    For me, of course, it’s about Knightian uncertainty – which then leads to a dichotomy of method – static vs dynamic, or equilibrium vs non-equilibrium. I would see completely distinct universes of discourse – causal modeling in one, entrepreneurship etc. in the other.

    and I think there’s a lot in the etc. Perhaps everything?




    May 11, 2011 at 1:03 pm

  3. JC: thanks for the note. we’re actually (inter alia) reading your 1996 article for the next class.



    May 11, 2011 at 1:48 pm

  4. Pls solv dese question for me. List and explain theories of entrepreneurship


    Olanrewaju T O

    April 24, 2012 at 5:25 pm

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