Transnational Entrepreneurship: Critique

transnational entrepreneurship - critiqueIn the previous post on transnational entrepreneurship (TE) I gave a descriptive model showing the aspects of the problem that scholars have addressed, including individual traits; networks and social milieu; institutional regimes; as well as geographical, political and economic contexts.

What becomes clear from a review some of the literature on transnational entrepreneurship is that there are “constellations of factors responsible for specific ‘compositions’ of entrepreneurship and forms of immigrants’ adaptation” (Morawska 2005: 327) in all kinds of different case studies. A seminal piece by Alejandro Portes and co-authors (2002) is frequently cited, because it is a quantitative study that establishes transnational entrepreneurship as a (statistically, if not materially) significant phenomenon. The trouble, as I see it, is that virtually no two articles use the same definition of TE. Several authors who rely upon the Portes article to establish the construct proceed to study something that Portes himself had declared outside the definition of TE, like ethnic entrepreneurship or returnee entrepreneurship. There is no basis upon which to build a general theory if the construct is continually shifting and so has no discriminant validity.

In the special issue lead article in Entrepreneurship Theory & Practice September 2009, Drori et al. gave this definition of transnational entrepreneurs: “social actors who enact networks, ideas, information, and practices for the purpose of seeking business opportunities or maintaining businesses within dual social fields”. It is overly-general. An ethnologist would probably consider a billiards hall and the laundromat across the street as two distinct social fields. The “social actors” in question are invariably immigrants.

Transnational entrepreneurship as a topic originated from a stream of literature in which sociologists, economic geographers and others explored the implications of immigrants’ undertaking economic activity, in both the host country and country of origin, in attempts to adapt, assimilate, prosper or just overcome adverse circumstances. As the project of migration and settlement occur within a broader context, these authors discuss historical forces of colonialism, post-colonialism, 20th century economics, geo-politics, and so on. By contrast, authors in the international business stream of scholarship often construe context as the increasing and necessary process of globalization, taken quite uncritically.

International business authors seem to want to establish the idea of the Transnational Entrepreneur as a “new breed” capable of generating wealth, and to build theory to substantiate this. It may be possible, but it should be justified in terms of its significance in the wider context of an economic program, and rigorously defined as clear construct. Here is a preliminary (not exhaustive) pdf of references for transnational entrepreneurship.

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