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The economic reification of entrepreneurship: re-engaging with the social.

Anderson, Alistair R.


Alistair R. Anderson


Alain Fayolle

Philippe Riot


Growth and development at personal, firm and national levels are all, quite properly, attributed to entrepreneurship. However, the importance of these entrepreneurial outcomes has shaped how we perceive entrepreneurs and the entrepreneurial concept. The significance of these positive outcomes seems to imply that entrepreneurship is primarily an economic function. In consequence throughout history, the words 'entrepreneur', 'entrepreneurial' and 'entrepreneurship' have been associated with specific economic roles and phenomena (Hebert and Link 1982). Van Praag and Versloot (2007) go so far as to claim that almost without exception, academic studies on entrepreneurship are motivated by the economic benefits of entrepreneurship. In short, our perceptions of entrepreneurship have become functionalist. Economics has won the battle for theoretical hegemony in academia and society as a whole and such dominance becomes stronger every year (Ferraro et al, 2005). At the very least, as Minniti and L{acute}evesque (2008) claim, many aspects of entrepreneurship and its implications have been studied taking the lens of neoclassical economics. The problem is that this functionalist lens is narrow. Its necessary reductionism doesn't permit us to see enough of, or to take into account, the fine grain of context and circumstance, nor of the non-mechanistic behaviour, the sentient and the emotional entrepreneurial practices that characterise entrepreneurship. This is surprising, because entrepreneurship is always about novelty and newness, doing things differently and creating change. The qualities of context and idiosyncratic human behaviour are the very qualities that may provide this very novelty that makes things entrepreneurial. By confining entrepreneurship in an economic paradigm, our understanding is at risk of a procrustean trimming, a reductionism that offers poor explanatory justice. It also fails to give due explanatory weight to how entrepreneurship emerges from social and economic interactions (Anderson et al, 2012). Consequently, I want to argue that the economists focus on outcomes means that economic 'explanation' has overwhelmed 'understanding' (Anderson, 2014). The economistic dominance of enquiries about what causes entrepreneurship are explanations of enterprise that have served us well in explaining aspects such as innovation. But they serve us poorly in understanding how such processes emerge.


ANDERSON, A.R. 2016. The economic reification of entrepreneurship: re-engaging with the social. In Fayolle, A. and Riot, P. (eds.) Rethinking entrepreneurship: debating research orientations. Abingdon: Routledge [online], chapter 4, pages 44-56. Available at:

Online Publication Date Oct 1, 2015
Publication Date Oct 1, 2015
Deposit Date May 19, 2017
Publicly Available Date May 19, 2017
Publisher Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
Pages 44-56
Series Title Routledge rethinking entrepreneurship research
Book Title Rethinking entrepreneurship: debating research orientations
Chapter Number Chapter 4
ISBN 9781138802537
Keywords Entrepreneurship; Entrepreneurs; Economic benefits
Public URL
Publisher URL


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