Sub-theme 23: Bright and Dark Sides of Entrepreneurship in Society

Tim Weiss
Imperial College London, United Kingdom
Nevena Radoynovska
emlyon business school, France
Ignasi Martí
ESADE Business School, Spain

Call for Papers

Entrepreneurship thrives on imagination – envisioning new products, markets, possibilities, and even societies. As such, entrepreneurship is increasingly promoted as a form of – not only economic – but also social policy (Boltanski & Chiapello, 2007; Brandl & Bullinger 2009; Gruidl et al., 2015), with national governments and transnational organizations turning to entrepreneurship to resolve questions of youth unemployment, extreme poverty, climate change, economic stagnation, and social exclusion. Similarly, entrepreneurship education is at an all-time high, as it spills over from traditional educational settings into incubation hubs, acceleration spaces and international conferences.

Yet, despite its prominence and proliferation, the rosy façade of entrepreneurship has crackled through cases of fraud, deception, misconduct, and disillusionment, of which Elizabeth Holmes’ Theranos (Carreyrou, 2018), Adam Neumann’s “WeWork” (Thompson, 2019, and initiatives to denounce the abuses of start-up culture (e.g., Balance Ta Start-Up in France) are a few recent and illustrative examples. Increasingly, unbounded entrepreneurship leaves behind a bitter-sweet aftertaste (Davis, 2016). Moreover, as the COVID-19 crisis has brought to light, entrepreneurship has the potential to both contribute to “the good life” (e.g., boosting individual and economic resilience during the pandemic) and also to endanger it (e.g., through loan frauds and fraudulent products with claims to prevent, diagnose, treat and cure COVID-19).
Notably, scholarship has an important role to play in examining entrepreneurship’s broader role in society beyond the typical focus on its immediate market and economic outcomes. We note, however, that research in this domain tends to adopt one of two narratives. On the one hand, the focus is on the optimistic, “bright” side of productive entrepreneurship, highlighting how the latter benefits society and its members. On the other, the narrative highlights the pessimistic, “dark side” of unproductive entrepreneurship’s deleterious societal effects, such as enhancing economic inequality and power concentration. Building on a successful sub-theme at the EGOS Colloquium 2021, our goal is to continue to animate a forum in which both sides of the narrative can interact, with the aim of fostering a more nuanced debate. Furthermore, in the spirit of this year’s overall colloquium theme, we seek to examine the complex effects of entrepreneurship on different visions of “the good life” – considering both its legacy, as well as the imaginaries it inspires, for individuals, communities, and societies.
Among the numerous positive outcomes of entrepreneurship, scholars have pointed to the latter’s ability to: promote individual transformation (Hjorth, 2015; Tobias et al., 2013), emancipation (Calas et al., 2009; Jennings et al., 2016; Rindova et al., 2009), and social mobility (Alvord et al., 2004; Keister, 2000); foster community development (Diochon, 2003; Johnstone & Lionais, 2004); and contribute to changing gender norms (Haugh & Talwar, 2016; Sanyal, 2009). On the other hand, more critical perspectives have highlighted entrepreneurship’s undesirable social consequences (Shepherd 2019), including: increases in regional and national inequality (see Lippmann et al., 2005; Sorensen & Sorenson, 2007; Kwon & Sorenson, 2021); a lack of attention to power imbalances (Dey & Mason, 2018; Spinosa, Flores & Dreyfus, 1999); appropriation of the discourse of (social) entrepreneurship to perpetuate the status quo (Dey & Steyaert, 2012; Hjorth & Holt, 2016; Verduijn & Essers, 2013); production of fraud and misconduct (Schaef & Wood 2021; Palmer & Weiss, 2021); and an overly optimistic reliance on entrepreneurship to combat social exclusion (Blackburn & Ram, 2006).
Considering the role of entrepreneurship in sustainable development (Johnson & Schaltegger, 2020) also brings to light the duality of its promise and its perils with respect to climate change. Beyond such functional debates, studies of entrepreneurship as culture (Berger, 1995; Bromley, Meyer, & Jia 2022) invite inquiries into the processes of mythification of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship (Mauksch, 2017; Ogbor & Avenue, 2000), the acculturation processes that produce entrepreneurial actors (Katila, Laine, & Parkkari, 2017) and entrepreneurship’s performative character in emerging economies of the Global South (Weiss & Weber, 2019). Seemingly, the cultural appeal and fetishization of certain entrepreneurial types, such as unicorns and college-drop out entrepreneurs, has prompted academic research to ground modern-day myths of entrepreneurship in empirical reality (Aldrich & Ruef, 2018; Azoulay et al., 2020; Shane, 2008).
Yet, although the normative “schizophrenia” of academia comes to full fruition in the entrepreneurship debate, only a few studies have wrestled with both entrepreneurship’s “bright” and “dark” sides (see, for example, Diochon, 2013; Radoynovska, 2019; Steyaert & Hjorth, 2006; Teasdale 2010; Vedula et al., 2022; Verduijn et al., 2014). The time is thus ripe to foster an academic forum for charting out new avenues for debate and research, particularly in light of budding interest in a more contextualized study of entrepreneurship (Welter et al., 2011; 2019). This sub-theme is interested in fostering a conversation around the conditions under which entrepreneurship can be emancipatory and/or exclusionary.
We invite scholars who seek to challenge the very meaning of “bright” and “dark” in relation to entrepreneurship by interrogating the latter from different viewpoints. We especially welcome empirical or conceptual work that relies on a variety of theoretical perspectives, including organization theory, entrepreneurship, sociology, anthropology, strategy, communications, as well as science and technology studies. Preference is given to work that examines entrepreneurship in underrepresented empirical settings (e.g., Courpasson et al., 2016; Imas et al., 2012; Marti & Mair, 2009; Pardo, 1996; Ruebottom & Toubiana, 2017). This could include, without being limited to, papers that address the following questions:

  • How do entrepreneurial organizations contribute to “the good life” of various internal and external stakeholders – e.g., founders, employees, communities, and society at large?

  • How does entrepreneurship allow for, or prevent, individuals and social groups from transcending their own histories (particularly legacies of disadvantage and exclusion)? 

  • How do dominant imaginaries of entrepreneurship (e.g., high-growth, innovative) contribute to or hinder “the good life” for individuals and social groups across different contexts?

  • How does entrepreneurship contribute to solving (but also to creating) grand challenges, such as climate change, inequalities, poverty, or health crises?

  • How do different views of entrepreneurship reproduce, or challenge gender, race, caste, and class privileges and shape/undo subordinated and precarious lives?

  • Under what conditions does entrepreneurship reduce and/or exacerbate different forms of inequality?

  • Do different types of entrepreneurship (e.g., technological, social, environmental, refugee) produce similar or different effects on society? How?

  • How do entrepreneurship’s effects on society differ by the context in which entrepreneurship unfolds (e.g., rural/urban; strong welfare/liberal states; global south/global north, etc.)?

  • How do different kinds of entrepreneurial ecosystems condition entrepreneurship in society?

  • What are the effects of entrepreneurship in society when viewed from different vantage points – such as different levels of analysis, over time, and comparatively?

  • What measures can reliably assess the effects of entrepreneurship in society?

  • How are imaginaries of entrepreneurship configured; how do they become enacted; what types of behavior become desired, and which identity categories are privileged?

  • How do conceptions of the self change as individuals become exposed to entrepreneurship?

  • What role do actors play in introducing, promoting, and infusing entrepreneurship with a particularistic character in a given context?

  • What can we learn about entrepreneurship’s performative character by studying it in new settings (e.g., extreme poverty, the sex industry, prisons, primary schools, churches, refugee camps)?

  • What are the promises and limitations of entrepreneurship as a strategy for social change and transformation?



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Tim Weiss is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship at the Imperial College London, UK. His research programme sits at the intersection of entrepreneurship and society, analysing the changing nature of entrepreneurship and its societal effects. Tim is interested in the field and organizational level of analysis, studying phenomena like the emergence of Kenya’s Silicon Savannah, racial inequality in venture performance outcomes, misconduct in and by startups, and experimentation by platform organizations.
Nevena Radoynovska is an Assistant Professor of Strategy and Organisation at emlyon business school, France. Her research focuses on the organizational and institutional factors that contribute to, but also potentially alleviate, social problems – particularly various forms of inequality. Notably, her research examines how different forms of entrepreneurship and hybrid organizing are used as a means for achieving socio-economic change in disadvantaged communities.
Ignasi Martí Sustainability Department and the Director of the Social Innovation Institute at the ESADE Business School, Spain. His research focuses on different forms of individual and collective entrepreneurship and resistance, and other institutional and social change processes.