Critical Distance and the Academic Study of Entrepreneurship

29 04 2012



As a historian who studies entrepreneurship, I try to keep up-to-date on what other social scientists are saying about it. Kate Maxwell of the Kaufmann Foundation’s entrepreneurship programme  recently blogged about the gap between the academics who study entrepreneurship and actual flesh-and-blood entrepreneurs.


In my reading of the entrepreneurship literature I have been struck by the large gap between entrepreneurs and people who study entrepreneurship. The group of people who self select into entrepreneurship is almost entirely disjoint from the group of people who self select to study it. Such a gap exists in other fields to greater and lesser degrees. Sociologists, for instance, study phenomenon in which they are clearly participants whereas political scientists are rarely career politicians but are often actors in political systems.


But in the case of entrepreneurship the gap is cause for concern. My sense is that all too often those studying entrepreneurship don’t understand, even through exposure, the messy process of creating a business, nor, due to selection effects, are they naturally inclined to think like an entrepreneur might.


What Kate Maxwell said here sounds reasonable.  Yes, academics who study entrepreneurs should probably speak to entrepreneurs. However, I think that it is also important for scholars of any social phenomenon to maintain their critical distance. The last thing we want is for scholars of entrepreneurship to fall into the trap of hero worship. 



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