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Guest editors' introduction: alternative perspectives on entrepreneurship research.

The Need for Alternative Perspectives in Entrepreneurship Research

Burrell and Morgan's (1979) classic text Sociological Paradigms and Organisational Analysis is as relevant now as it was when first published a quarter of a century ago. Central to Burrell and Morgan's thesis is the idea that "all theories of organisation are based upon a philosophy of science and a theory of society" (2003, p. 1). Either explicitly or implicitly, researchers base their work on a series of philosophical assumptions regarding ontology, epistemology, and human nature, which have methodological consequences. Within each of these assumptions, the extreme positions are reflected in "sociological positivism" (realist ontology, positivist epistemology, deterministic view of human nature, nomothetic methodologies) and, in opposition, "German idealism" (subjective ontology, antipositivist epistemology, voluntarist view of human nature, ideographic methodologies). Similarly, researchers hold differing views about the nature of society, underpinned by further assumptions, and reflected in Burrell and Morgan's distinction between regulation and radical change. Researchers adhering to the "regulation" perspective attempt to explain society in terms that emphasize its underlying cohesiveness. Their concerns are with the status quo, social order, consensus, social integration, solidarity, individual or system needs satisfaction, and actuality. In contrast, the "radical change" perspective is concerned with explaining structural conflict, modes of domination, contradiction, emancipation, deprivation, and potentiality.

Assumptions that researchers make, both about the philosophy of science and the theory of society, represent two independent dimensions which, taken together, delineate four distinct paradigms: "Functionalist," "Interpretive," "Radical Humanist," and "Radical Structuralist" (Burrell & Morgan, 2003). These paradigms reflect basic metatheoretical assumptions that underpin the shared philosophy, perspective, mode of theorizing, and approach of researchers who operate within them. Each is derived from distinctive intellectual traditions and presents a fundamentally different perspective for the analysis of social phenomena (see Figure 1).


Within the field of entrepreneurship, the vast proportion of theory and research is located within the bounds of the Functionalist paradigm (Chell & Pittaway, 1998: Grant & Perren, 2002), characterized by all objectivist perspective and rooted in regulation. Contextualized within the range of alternative perspectives available to researchers, it becomes clear that the dominant paradigm of entrepreneurship research is based upon a relatively narrow range of metatheoretical assumptions. The concentration of effort within this narrow range has resulted in Functionalism becoming dominant within the subject domain. This has implications both for the majority of researchers who adhere to the Functionalist orthodoxy and for the minority operating within different paradigms. As Burrell and Morgan (2003, p. ix) explain:
   Because this orthodoxy is so dominant and strong, its adherents
   often take it for granted as right and self-evident. Rival
   perspectives from the same paradigm or outside its bounds appear as
   satellites defining alternative points of view. Their impact upon
   the orthodoxy, however, is rarely very significant. They are seldom
   strong enough to establish themselves as anything more than a
   somewhat deviant set of approaches. As a result the possibilities
   which they offer are rarely explored, let alone understood.

This special issue is devoted to searching for these "alternative points of view." By this we mean more than just a different aspect of a prevailing research agenda. Drawing upon Burrell and Morgan (1979), alternative perspectives here implies research that exists in a different paradigm from the majority of current entrepreneurship research. In essence, this means research that has moved outside the hegemony of Functionalism (see discussions in Chell & Pittaway, 1998 and Grant & Perren, 2002). Here, we are concerned with research that occupies the remaining three paradigms proposed by Burrell and Morgan (1979): Interpretive, Radical Structuralist and Radical Humanist. Interpretivists, like Functionalists, are interested in how society maintains order and regulates the status quo, but view reality as subjective and are interested in the world through the eyes of individuals. Radical Humanists share Interpretivists' subjective view of the world, trot see the purpose of research as understanding how radical change can occur within society. As the name suggests, Radical Structuralists are interested in understanding radical change of what they view as objective and hard structures within society.

Academic tradition builds a justification for research by demonstrating the absence of something; the research need emerges from a gap in the literature, which is then occupied (Swales, 1990). Like an inverse of the climber who justifies the ascent of a mountain by the immortal phrase "because it was there," much social science research appears to be justified on the basis that it was not there. On reflection, we doubt the absence of something is in itself justification of need.

In the case of alternative perspectives of entrepreneurship research, there is not so much a gap as a chasm. Grant and Perren's (2002) paradigmatic analysis of 36 articles published in leading entrepreneurship and small business journals in 2002 found that 32 were broadly Functionalist, 4 were Interpretivist, while none had emerged from either the Radical Humanist or Radical Structuralist paradigms. Encouraging research outside the boundaries of Functionalism, especially if it has a radical perspective, at least satisfies the criteria of filling a gap in the literature; but in itself, this is insufficient justification. Functionalism does after all aspire to employ well-regarded scientific methods and normally has the agenda of improving some aspect of economy, society, or entrepreneurship; for example, increasing innovation, gross domestic product, employment and self-employment, and reducing business failure.

If there were no other benefits to be gained from alternative perspectives other than being different, then perhaps there are good reasons for Functionalism being the prewilling research paradigm. Grant and Perren (2002, p. 202)justified the need for multiple paradigms within the entrepreneurship domain on the basis that they would "enable debate, friction, creativity, and ultimately new theories and understandings." This justification is highly academic, however. There are consequences that flow from Functionalism that go beyond academia and, we believe, provide a justification for this special edition that extends further than merely filling a gap. Functionalism tends to write individuals out of the story; it concentrates on so-called "objective" facts and ignores the emotion and personal angst of entrepreneurs. It puts function and the system before people, and this can be dangerous without a strong counterbalance. Fortunately, the Interpretivist research paradigm has become more accepted in the area in recent years (Curran & Blackburn, 2001), although it is still in the minority in leading journals (Grant & Perren, 2002). Supporting the call for more subjectivist research would be a worthwhile agenda, but that is only one part of the justification for this special edition.

The second and most important part of the justification is the consequences of there being an absence of radicalism in most entrepreneurship and small business research. There are, of course, notable exceptions, for example, Ogbor's (2000) "ideological-critique of entrepreneurial studies" and Fairclough's (1995) critical analysis of enterprise discourse. But these are rare examples, which, as Burrell and Morgan (1979) predicted, may be ignored by the mainstream. The consequence is that mainstream entrepreneurship research acts as if certain social structures are "natural" and unchallengeable "facts" that are beyond the scope of researchers to question (see discussion of late modernity on pages 2-4 of Chouliaraki & Fairclough, 1999). Such beliefs reduce the field of vision of entrepreneurship research to such an extent that it often appears as atheoretical empiricism evidencing political rhetoric or research that lives in the shadow of "proper" Functionalist theories often derived from economics. Research from a radical perspective extends the field of view from the present day to a critical review of how social structures "came to be" and what alternatives there are for the future (see discussion on pages 2-6 of Chouliaraki & Fairclough, 1999 and their reference to Calhoun, 1995). Entrepreneurship researchers need this injection of power, else, they will remain the pawns of Functionalist discourse. Such a radical agenda does not have to fall into the critical theorists' trap of "hyper-critique and negativity"; rather "critical pragmatism and positive action" can be taken seriously (Alvesson & Deetz, 2000, p. 20).

The third reason is that acceptance of the philosophy underpinning Functionalism, like acceptance of the assumptions underpinning Interpretivism, Radical Structuralism and Radical Humanism, conditions the researcher/reader to favor a narrow selection of methodologies that lead to the development of a limited understanding of social phenomena. Despite the controversy between incommensurability and interparadigm transcendence, the breadth and richness of knowledge and understanding is surely enhanced by an acceptance of the need for pluralism. Hence, this special edition seeks to illustrate the power of alternative paradigms to contribute to knowledge and understanding of entrepreneurship.

Paper Selection

A key determinant of the eventual content of this special issue was the accuracy of the call for papers in explaining its purpose and defining the parameters for paper selection. Phraseology and language were crucial in reflecting the metatheoretical stance being adopted, which simultaneously had to be equally accessible and appealing to potential authors bounded by the constraints of their normal paradigm. The call for papers highlighted three key points. First, it was necessary to explain the context of the special edition within the hegemony of Functionalism. Second, alternative paradigms were named explicitly as exemplars of the perspective(s) amplified by accepted papers. Third, it was specified that the creation of new paradigms per se was not being sought; however, all contributors should adopt a paradigm or an approach, perhaps well established in an alternative field, but not normally applied within an entrepreneurship context. The call for papers was circulated within the entrepreneurship research community through direct mailing (176 by post and 162 by e-mail), inclusion in journals, conference proceedings and delegate packs, and Internet-based promotion. The call remained open for more than six months and asked for papers to be submitted by July 31, 2002.

The call generated 22 submissions, of which only 4 were from outside the UK (from Europe and Australasia). Of these, 18 fully engaged with the criteria for paper selection and were sent for double-blind refereeing in keeping with normal editorial policy for Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice. Each submission was refereed both by a leading entrepreneurship scholar and by an acknowledged specialist in the paradigm and methodologies adopted within the paper, irrespective of their primary field. This posed two challenges. First, given the dominance of Functionalism within entrepreneurship, several entrepreneurship reviewers returned papers stating that they were unfamiliar with the alternative paradigms and research methodologies adopted. Second, the editors needed to explore unfamiliar subject domains in order to identify the acknowledged methodological experts who might offer constructive criticism on the paradigmatic and methodological aspects of submitted papers. Nine papers were rejected based upon the comments received from the referees.

The final criterion for selection was the research paradigm used by authors. The aim of this special issue was to search for papers that could populate the generally underrepresented quadrants of Burrell and Morgan's (1979) matrix for the analysis of social theory. Having taken into consideration the referees' comments, it was then necessary for the editors to reappraise the remaining papers to surface the underlying assumptions upon which the paper had been prepared. The editors then added their comments to those of the referees, rejecting four more papers, and five authors were offered the opportunity to further develop and resubmit their paper. Upon receipt of the final papers, the editors took responsibility for ensuring that the concerns of the referees had been addressed and a number of additional, minor revisions were requested. The four papers included within this special issue represent the third generation of the original submissions completed by May 2004. The guest editors extend their thanks both to the authors for their tolerance and patience during a long but thorough refereeing process and to the many expert reviewers involved in this special issue.

The Papers

The first paper, by Nicholson and Anderson, examines the phenomenon of entrepreneurship by applying the principles of textual analysis to newspaper reports of the entrepreneurial life-world. By selecting the years 1989 and 2000 for comparative analysis, they show how popular perceptions of entrepreneurs, as portrayed in the news media, change over time. Generally, newspaper reports are compiled by nonentrepreneurs and, even when including direct quotations from practising entrepreneurs, the context, emphasis, and interpretation are those of the reporter and the microculture of the newspaper itself. It is acknowledged that newspapers are a tangible manifestation of the prevailing culture within society, being both influenced by, while simultaneously influencing the phenomena they report.

The research methods are strongly grounded in schema analysis (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000) and rely significantly upon data codification, condensation, and classification, as advocated by Miles and Huberman (1994). Interestingly, the authors demonstrate how quantitative data can be employed while maintaining a broadly social constructionist stance. The classification of entrepreneurs is carried out in a systematized manner using myth and metaphor to define and refine their social world. Metaphors embody shared meanings that help with both communication and socialization into a common frame of reference. The paper draws upon Giddens' structuration concepts (1984) with newspapers being presented as a mechanism for developing, sharing, and communicating common perceptions of structuration, regulation, and standardization. The role of culture is as the mediator of social change, yet simultaneously, culture is acknowledged to be not truly hegemonic.

Nicholson and Anderson's paper requires a sophisticated analysis as it does not neatly fall into any one of Burrell and Morgan's categories. By employing Giddens' idea of structuration, the authors acknowledge the relativist subjective world of the journalist as agent within society, while also accepting the enterprise culture as a tangible structure. In this way, they span the Interpretive and Functionalist cells of Burrell and Morgan's matrix.

Perren and Jennings are also concerned with the use of language as one element in the portrayal of entrepreneurial life-worlds. However, their focus is upon illustrating the use of critical discourse analysis (as advocated by Fairclough, 1995) as a research methodology which, in this example, demonstrates how prevailing "official" discourse entraps entrepreneurs into playing a defined role within society. A dilemma concerns whether entrapment is a deliberate policy or arises as a result of socialization into a particular economic perspective that is so deeply embedded within society that its founding assumptions are now accepted subconsciously, with no explicit surfacing or questioning of either the ethics or the implications.

The basis of the current prevailing discourse is that entrepreneurship has become a major rhetorical weapon in overcoming the perceived weaknesses and limitations of government control of the economy (see Ogbor, 2000). Capitalism and the influence of free-market economics, in even the most basic staple industries and public services, is now the dominant economic philosophy. Hence, government's espoused role shifts from one of direct control to fostering personal freedom and the management of stable economic conditions in which entrepreneurship can flourish to enhance national competitiveness. On the one hand, entrepreneurs become the ultimate expression of the individual with free will to take charge of their own destiny/welfare, but yet government demands that free will is exercised in a manner that benefits the economy/society.

Discourse is, of course, not a separate and objective phenomenon but is instead constructed through interpretation. This returns to the question of deliberateness and instrumentality--is there an explicit premeditated attempt to communicate purpose within a defined role and influence perception to legitimize the subjugation of entrepreneurs within a social/economic structure that emasculates free will?

The paper can clearly be categorized as radical on Burrell and Morgan's grid, as it is concerned with the subjugation of entrepreneurs within society. There are, however, some tensions regarding its classification on the subjective/objective continuum. The paper exposes the rhetoric of government discourse on entrepreneurship and the embedded structural issues (Radical Structuralist), while advocating the emancipation of the entrepreneur without imposing a specific agenda (Radical Humanist).

Downing's paper illustrates theorizing using existing, even well-established, concepts to develop new explanatory frameworks. The author makes direct reference to social construction in the title of the paper and emphasizes the creation and sharing of meaning with interaction being instrumental in both development and reinforcement. Here, narratives become complex, multidimensional metaphors that are used to both interpret and integrate widely differing stimuli to assist in understanding identity and role. Like Nicholson and Anderson, Downing makes use of Giddens' structuration theory (1984) and places particular emphasis upon structural duality--structures, order, and regulation serve to both facilitate and constrain change.

The paper raises challenges with regard to categorization on Burrell and Morgan's matrix. There is a strong emphasis upon the current, established order (regulation). Society is portrayed as constraining and the metaphor of an operatic libretto that explains action is employed. Additionally, narratives are shown to develop and mature over time and become interpreted as integral to the prevailing structure (regulation). Entrepreneurs enact their perceived identity and role within a social framework; they do not attempt to challenge or to change the prevailing framework. Thus, the paper is concerned with the regulatory nature of society.

The underpinning assumptions stress the emergent nature of the social world, created by the participants themselves with organizations emerging through social construction. Thus, while leaning more toward an Interpretive paradigm, the paper still accepts the reification of some aspects of organizations.

Goss revisits the work of one of the "founding fathers" of entrepreneurship, Joseph Schumpeter. Using a sociological lens, Goss teases out the hitherto rarely acknowledged personal entrepreneurial implications arising from the inherent tension between the structure--agency dichotomy in Schumpeter's work to present an emotion-driven explanation of entrepreneurial behavior. The crux of Goss's new models of entrepreneurial behavior lies within the human psyche and the contrasting forces of pride and shame. The discussion of the power of emotion and the portrayal of entrepreneurial behavior as social action rather than a systemic feature leans toward subjectivism. Goss defines "free will" as the power of an individual to act within constraints but not to break out of those constraints. This infers that entrepreneurs may not have freedom to undertake entrepreneurial action, this being determined by position within the prevailing social structure, but do have the freedom to choose exactly how to act entrepreneurially. The application of both Collins' (1990) "emotional energy," derived from acceptance within the prevailing social structure and rituals, and "interaction ritual theory" extends Schumpeter's concepts of routine and innovation. Ultimately, reference to the metatheoretical assumptions underpinning the paper, value-laden observation, interpretation, culturally derived meanings, and ideographic methodologies, highlight the influence of subjective knowledge, and combined with the focus upon regulatory sociology, confirm that this paper is an example of the power of the Interpretive paradigm to illuminate new perspectives on established concepts.

Overall, the four papers illustrate two significant features that differentiate "extraordinary research" from "normal science" in entrepreneurship (Kuhn, 1970). First, the authors have all found difficulty in relating their work to existing published research studies in the field. Of the 267 cited works referenced in the 4 papers, only 14 had been published in the top 6 entrepreneurship journals (those with an ISI listing). Second, all the authors demonstrate a heightened awareness of methodology and reflexivity that extends far beyond that typically exhibited in the Functionalist paradigm papers that dominate top journals. Ultimately, the editors call not for "scientific revolution" (Kuhn, 1970) resulting in the rise of a new dominant paradigm and the discrediting of Functionalism, but rather, an acceptance of paradigmatic pluralism within the field, fostering interparadigmatic debate.


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Ogbor, J.O. (2000). Mythicizing and reification in entrepreneurial discourse: Ideology critique of entrepreneurial studies. Journal of Management Studies, 35, 605-635.

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Peter L. Jennings is Senior Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour at the School of Management, University of Southampton.

Lew Perren is a reader at Brighton Business School, Faculty of Management & Information Science, University of Brighton.

Sara Carter is a professor at the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship, Strathclyde Business School, The University of Strathclyde.

Please send correspondence to: Peter L. Jennings at
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Author:Jennings, Peter L.; Perren, Lew; Carter, Sara
Publication:Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 1, 2005
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