Academic journal article Revue Canadienne des Sciences de l'Administration

Social Structuration of the Field of Entrepreneurship: A Case Study

Academic journal article Revue Canadienne des Sciences de l'Administration

Social Structuration of the Field of Entrepreneurship: A Case Study

Article excerpt

Emergence of an Epistemology of Entrepreneurship Research

Already rooted in a long tradition of research, with ramifications extending to the borders of political economy and opening onto a variety of seminal works, the problematic of entrepreneurship was structured into a true field of research during the 1980s. There is much evidence of this. The corpus of texts published on entrepreneurship has grown exponentially; scientific journals and associations devoted to entrepreneurship have been founded; conferences have been organized; research centres have been inaugurated or, at least, rendered more visible; university courses and programmes of study in entrepreneurship have been instituted, and so on.

Along with this growing interest in the problematic (and even its institutionalization as a legitimate field of research), we have witnessed the emergence of an ever-increasing number of articles taking the new field of research itself as an object of research-the first milestone in an emerging epistemology of entrepreneurship research.

Putting its own stamp on the self-reflexivity characteristic of modernity (Giddens, 1990, 1991) and joining the contemporary movement to develop epistemologies specific to the different fields of research, the epistemology of entrepreneurship research is mainly dominated by theoretical and methodological considerations. Whereas the former mostly take the path of synthesis leading to the divination of future trends (Amit, Glosten, & Muller, 1993; Bull & Willard, 1993; Churchill & Lewis, 1986; Cooper & Dunkelberg, 1987; Fried & Hisrich, 1988; Hornaday & Churchill, 1987; Low & MacMillan, 1988; Stevenson, 1983; Wortman, 1986, 1987), methodological reflections enter the fray on a certain epistemological terrain where methodological rules are proposed and research methods are tested for their suitability to the study of entrepreneurship (Bygrave, 1990a, 1993; Bygrave & Hofer, 1991; Hofer & Bygrave, 1992).

As well, swayed by a certain image of science, according to which only research fields organized around a common paradigm (seen as a sign of maturity) are truly scientific, a good number of researchers deplore the absence of consensus in the field. As evidence of this absence they highlight the variety of definitions of entrepreneurship (Brockhaus & Horwitz, 1985; Carsud, Olm, & Eddy, 1986), the multiplicity of measurement instruments (MacMillan & Katz, 1992), the profusion of concepts and variables (Gartner, 1993; MacMillan & Katz, 1992), the paucity of links between different research studies (Hornaday & Churchill, 1987; Low & MacMillan, 1988), the failure to share data collected on entrepreneurship, and so on. In this context, it is not unusual to hear calls for unity and sharing-calls which are, most often, coupled with the proposal of a paradigm capable of setting entrepreneurship research on the path of scientific knowledge (Carsud et al., 1986; Low & MacMillan, 1988).

The emerging epistemology of entrepreneurship research displays several distinctive features when compared with the overall trends structuring contemporary epistemological reflection (Piaget, 1967; Whitley, 1984c). Twentieth-century epistemology is marked by emerging systems based on empirical research, a descriptive and comprehensive approach which replaces a resolutely normative one, and research scenarios featuring historical and sociological perspectives rather than the essentially formal and philosophical ones dominant at the turn of the century. In contrast, epistemological reflections in entrepreneurship remain largely normative, and draw their inspiration from the formal and philosophical spheres. What is more, though epistemology's primary object is the field of research, this field itself is rarely seen as an empirical object to which researchers should apply the methodological rules they admit are essential to establish the scientific validity of their work. …

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