Academic journal article Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice

The Nature and Focus of Entrepreneurship Research in France over the Last Decade: A French Touch?

Academic journal article Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice

The Nature and Focus of Entrepreneurship Research in France over the Last Decade: A French Touch?

Article excerpt

This article gives an overview of the specificities of entrepreneurship research in France, paying attention to its emergence, nature, and focus. Reviewing 253 articles and conference papers from two journals and two conferences, considered main outlets for research outcomes from French scholars, our findings reveal a distinctive "French touch" of entrepreneurship research. The main facets we were able to identify with our data for the 1995 to 2005 period are as follows. There is a preference for qualitative methods, conceptual contributions, and the entrepreneurial process as privileged research theme. A particular strength of the French approach is also a strong focus of small and medium-sized organizations. The "French touch" of entrepreneurship research could make a distinctive contribution to the international research community and the mainstream debate. However, mainly French-speaking dissemination of knowledge and (still) insufficient international journal-oriented output strategies limit the diffusion of French entrepreneurship research. Implications for academic institutions and future research are discussed.

Introduction

The term "entrepreneur" was introduced by the "Irish-born-French" financier, Richard Cantillon, in his published essay The General Nature of Trade (Essai sur la nature du commerce en general; Hamilton & Harper, 1994, p. 3; Hebert & Link, 1988, p. 152). Cantillon (1756) described the entrepreneur as the one who takes the risk of being self-employed. Paradoxically, the word "entrepreneur" is French in its entirety, but France has generally not been regarded as an especially "entrepreneurial" country. On the contrary, while the English aristocracy invested in new ventures during the first and second industrial revolution, the climate for entrepreneurship was less supportive in France: "In the French social structure the businessman had always held an inferior place.... he was detested from the start by the nobility, which rightly saw in him a subversive element. ... Against the practical, materialistic values of the businessman, it [the aristocracy] set the consciously impractical, unmaterialistic values of the gentleman. Against the restless ambition of the parvenu, it placed the prestige of birth; against the mercurial efficacy of money, the solid stability of land; against the virtues of diligence and austerity, the dignity of leisure and the splendor of pomp and circumstance" (Landes, 1949, p. 55).

After World War II, during the economic period entitled les trente glorieuses in France (1946-1973), the entrepreneur in particular and small business entrepreneurship in general were either ignored or considered "obstacles to modernity" to cite Marchesnay (2007). Fayolle (2000), comparing the United States and France, explains the ambivalent attitude toward entrepreneurship in France with historical and cultural factors: the predominant role of the state, individual attitude toward money and capital, seeking of privileges, and a high risk aversion.

Torres (2001) complains that France lags considerably behind in terms of entrepreneurship. He argues that in French society entrepreneurial spirit and attitude is not enough encouraged or rewarded. Entrepreneurship and small businesses (SME) are often similar in the mindset of people to "traditional" activities like trade or crafts (metiers; Torres, 2001, p. 5). Comparing entrepreneurship and SME across different world regions, Torres identifies four types of entrepreneurs: (1) liberal, networking, informal, and corporatist entrepreneurs. The French "corporatist" entrepreneur is characterized as the one who seeks opportunities in activities with small measures of evolution, adopting a rather anti-competition attitude (Torres, 2001, p. 12). Not surprising then, the results of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) confirm a low level of French entrepreneurship activity. The entrepreneurial activity index measured for France between 1999 and 2006 is constantly below the average of the annual GEM country samples (Acs, Arenius, Hay, & Minniti, 2005; Bosma & Harding, 2007; Minniti, Bygrave, & Autio, 2006; Reynolds, Bygrave, & Autio, 2004; Reynolds, Bygrave, Autio, Cox, & Hay, 2002; Reynolds, Camp, Bygrave, Autio, & Hay, 2001; Reynolds, Hay, & Camp, 1999, p. …

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