The Distinctive and Inclusive Domain of Entrepreneurial Cognition Research

By Mitchell, Ronald K.; Busenitz, Lowell et al. | Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview
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The Distinctive and Inclusive Domain of Entrepreneurial Cognition Research

Mitchell, Ronald K., Busenitz, Lowell, Lant, Theresa, McDougall, Patricia P., Morse, Eric A., Smith, J. Brock, Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice

Through mapping both distinctive and inclusive elements within the domain of entrepreneurial cognition research, we accomplish our task in this introductory article to Volume 2 of the Special Issue on Information Processing and Entrepreneurial Cognition: to provide a fitting backdrop that will enhance the articles you will find within. We develop and utilize a "boundaries and exchange" concept to provide a lens through which both distinctive and inclusive aspects of the entrepreneurship domain are employed to frame this special issue.


Is the domain of entrepreneurial cognition research distinctive, inclusive, or some sort of combination? And, if a combination, then is it a mosaic? A melting pot? A hybrid?

Questions regarding the nature of the entrepreneurship research domain are not new. Despite the growing importance of entrepreneurship and the volume of research being conducted in the area, there are those who would claim that entrepreneurship researchers have only made very modest progress toward becoming a distinctive research domain (Aldrich & Baker, 1997). And given the broad cross section of researchers doing work in the area, Harrison and Leitch characterized the inclusiveness of the field as a "multidisciplinary jigsaw" with much fragmentation (1996, p. 69). One example of the current dialogue juxtaposes the characterization of entrepreneurship research as a distinctive domain based on the concept of opportunity identification (Shane & Venkataraman, 2000; Venkataraman, 1997) with that of a cross- and multi-disciplinary milieu, based on an inclusive domain, e.g., (MacMillan & Katz, 1992). Each has an underlying formative process that shapes its nature: focus and distinction versus multidisciplinary inclusion.

Understandably, the tension between distinctiveness and inclusivity in entrepreneurship research is also manifest in the area's research subdomains, such as entrepreneurial cognition research. Here, the distinctiveness of entrepreneurship must be reconciled with the inclusivity necessary to exchange ideas with psychology, the more-established parent discipline of cognitive psychology, since the area of cognitive psychology (1) provides a major foundation for our research in entrepreneurial cognition. Thus, through our considered response to the distinctive/inclusive tension, the boundaries of cross-disciplinary exchange (Aldrich, 1999) in entrepreneurial cognition research are gradually established. The development of meaningful research questions helps to create such boundaries, and, through the enactment of the research process, to invoke the cross-boundary--organizing mechanisms necessary for the progression of the field.

On the one hand, study of entrepreneurial cognition needs to create a distinct position within the context of existing research (Harrison & Leitch, 1996). The domain of entrepreneurial cognition research cannot simply be a net importer of theory from cognitive psychology and other domains, and expect thereby to establish its legitimacy. It must instead develop interesting research questions (Davis, 1971) and make progress in answering those questions by building and extending theory in its own domain. Entrepreneurial cognition distinctiveness is therefore most likely to be established when questions, concepts, and relationships are proposed that are different from those proposed by scholars in other areas like cognitive psychology, but which are overlooked by them when using their research lenses.

On the other hand, research associated with a specific domain also needs to be inclusive: to have the ability to attract the attention of and be beneficial to scholars working in other domains: to foster cross-boundary exchange among multiple domains of study. Ironically, the building of distinctiveness can have implications for inclusivity as well. When a given research domain properly studies and pursues its research questions, important and beneficial exchange can occur.

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