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Entrepreneurship and Regional Development

Special Issue

Deadline: 1 December 2019

Entrepreneurship and Embeddedness

Dynamic, Processual and Multi-layered Perspectives

Contemporary research offers rich and convincing evidence to the importance of embeddedness for entrepreneurs (M. T. Dacin, Ventresca, & Beal, 1999; Thornton, 1999). Entrepreneurial activities are embedded, meaning that they are situated in contexts that enable and/or constrain certain activities, actions and strategies. Accordingly, entrepreneurship is a fundamentally contextualised phenomenon (Thornton, 1999; Zahra, 2007) and will unfold differently in different contexts.

The earliest notions of embeddedness in entrepreneurship research related to the social networks of entrepreneurs. Drawing on sociological theories that have pointed to the general embeddedness of economic activity (Burt, 2004; Granovetter, 1985; Polanyi, 1957; Swedberg, 2000; Uzzi, 1996), entrepreneurship researchers have shown how interpersonal relationships (ties) can enhance an entrepreneur’s ability to succeed by e.g. gaining access to idiosyncratic information, access to resources on favorable terms, and legitimize the entrepreneur and the venture (cf. Baum, Calabrese, & Silverman, 2000; Burt, 2000, 2004; Gnyawali & Madhavan, 2001; Thornton, 1999). The entrepreneur thus derives advantages from a beneficial position in social structures.

The notion of embeddedness has been used to explain the importance of other forms of context than the social (Welter, 2011; Welter, Baker, & Wirsching, 2018). Institutional and spatial contexts can also serve as a source of information, resources and legitimacy, if the entrepreneur is embedded in multiple such contexts (Kloosterman, 2010; Kloosterman, Van Der Leun, & Rath, 1999; Müller & Korsgaard, 2018; Ram, Jones, & Villares-Varela, 2017; Vannebo & Grande, 2018).

A prominent example of this kind of mechanism is the important research on mixed embeddedness, where studies have found that immigrant entrepreneurs are able to leverage their embeddedness in both the origin and destination contexts. Mixed embeddedness affords advantages if the entrepreneur is able to access resources and markets in multiple contexts, which would explain e.g. the general overrepresentation in numbers and better overall economic performance of in-migrant entrepreneurs in rural areas (Kalantaridis & Bika, 2006; Kloosterman, 2010; Kloosterman et al., 1999). Marti and colleagues (2013) identified a similar bridging mechanism in play at the community level where “known strangers” bridging the boundaries between a local impoverished community and outside resources enabled community development that would have been impossible through the agency of the locals alone.

Overall, the entrepreneurship field is rich with contextualized descriptions of embeddedness in specific contexts. Studies of family entrepreneurship (e.g. Alsos, Carter, & Ljunggren, 2014; Arregle et al., 2015), rural entrepreneurship (e.g. Gaddefors & Anderson, 2018; McElwee, Smith, & Somerville, 2018), academic entrepreneurship (e.g. Rasmussen, 2011; Wright, 2014), gendered structures and dynamics of entrepreneurship (e.g. Marlow & Patton, 2005; Minniti & Naudé, 2010), social entrepreneurship (e.g. P. A. Dacin, Dacin, & Matear, 2010; Vannebo & Grande, 2018), community entrepreneurship (e.g. Haugh, 2007; Johannisson, 1990; Vestrum & Rasmussen, 2013), and entrepreneurship in emerging economies (e.g. Pasillas, Brundin, & Markowska, 2017) have all illustrated the importance of the context and increased our understanding of its peculiarities. 

Further, the study of the social, spatial and institutional embeddedness of entrepreneurship has enhanced our general understanding of the heterogeneity of entrepreneurial responses to external conditions, as well as demonstrated how structural factors influence entrepreneurial processes at the micro-level (cf. Thornton, 1999; Welter, 2011; Welter & Smallbone, 2011). Such studies thus constitute a vital element for entrepreneurship theorizing (Zahra, 2007), by making the theorizing sensitive, in several ways, to the social and institutional contexts in which entrepreneurship occurs (Welter, 2011; Welter et al., 2018). Firstly, this has helped researchers explore, on the one hand how economic rationality and optimization is often compromised by social and institutional embeddedness, and on the other hand how this enables entrepreneurial activities for individuals with privileged positions in networks and institutions. Secondly, it has demonstrated the importance of bridging or connecting activities in enabling entrepreneurial activity, be it bridging or connecting across social or institutional boundaries (cf. Anderson, Dodd, & Jack, 2012).

Despite the extensive coverage of the importance of embeddedness for entrepreneurial activities, the research predominantly relies on somewhat static, single layered, and binary notions of embeddedness. Predominantly the research i) considers embeddedness as a stable state of an individual entrepreneur or the entrepreneurial venture, i.e. the entrepreneur is embedded in the local social context in which she lives and operates the business; ii) considers embeddedness within only one form of context, i.e. either the social, institutional or spatial context; iii) considers embedded as something that the entrepreneur either is or is not, so that different levels of embeddedness are not considered, despite the possibility that even entrepreneurs that have operated in a rural village for the same time period may be embedded to very different extents (Korsgaard, Ferguson, & Gaddefors, 2015).

Furthermore, there has been a very strong tendency to consider primarily the enabling and positive consequences of embeddedness, with very few studies exploring notions of over-embeddedness or the advantages of not being embedded. Indeed, embeddedness involves at least two paradoxes.

Firstly, embeddedness enables entrepreneurship, yet may also lead to conformity and stasis. Entrepreneurship therefore requires an element of provocation, misfit or tension with the established norms, practices and routines of the context(s) (Berglund, Gaddefors, & Lindgren, 2016) – oftentimes introduced by outsiders. As a consequence, entrepreneurial processes must involve delicate balances between conformity and provocation e.g. through blending local involvement and outside influences (Dubois, 2016; Gaddefors & Cronsell, 2009; Müller & Korsgaard, 2018).

Second, the entrepreneurial act, while relying on embeddedness, inevitably alters the fabric of the context. Entrepreneurs, even if they seek to preserve the heritage, values, life style or norms of a context, will have a transformative and disruptive effect that can lead to the destruction as well as creation of value in context. As entrepreneurs transform contexts others may become disembedded or alienated from the context. 

Following the general calls for entrepreneurship research to become more sensitive to contextual issues (Welter, 2011; Welter et al., 2018; Zahra, Wright, & Abdelgawad, 2014) and the ever-present need for deeper explorations into the intricacies of entrepreneurial processes (McMullen & Dimov, 2013), we argue that there is a strong need for studies that problematize embeddedness and the relationship between entrepreneur and context (cf. Alvesson & Sandberg, 2011). Can we explore embeddedness as dynamic, processual and multi-layered, as well as elaborating on the paradoxes of embeddedness?

So how do entrepreneurs become embedded and/or disembedded in processes that unfold over time with the configurations of entrepreneurial identities, ventures and contexts in constant change? How do different layers (social, spatial, institutional, gendered, class) of context relate and interchange to influence entrepreneurial activities? What intersectional effects of embeddedness in context enable and constrain entrepreneurs?

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Guest Editor Information

Caroline Wigren-Kristofersen, Lund University, School of Economics and Management 

Steffen Korsgaard, University of Southern Denmark

Ethel Brundin, Jönköping International Business School 

Karin Hellerstedt, Jönköping International Business School

Gry Agnete Alsos, Nord University Business School

Jorunn Grande, Nord University Business School 

Submission Guidelines

The deadline for paper submission is the 1st of December 2019. Full papers should be submitted to Steffen Korsgaard. Please indicate in the headline that the submission is for the special issue. The papers must be prepared in accordance with ERD’s style guide, as available at the journal’s website. Please make sure to submit both a version including a title page with author information, and a version without author information for double blind review. We expect the special issue to be published in 2020 or early 2021.

To fulfill the potential of such important questions we may need to leverage new theories of embeddedness from outside the entrepreneurship field, thereby limiting our dependence on e.g. sociological theories of networks and structure (as in e.g. Hite & Hesterly, 2001; Hoang & Antoncic, 2003; Jack & Anderson, 2002), deploy new and innovative methods that allow for going beyond traditional cross-sectional approaches and adopt the strong processual perspectives needed for multi-layered accounts of embeddedness, temporal processes of embedding and disembedding, or multi-level analysis of the recursive relationship between entrepreneurial activity and embeddedness.

Potential topics and research questions can include, but are not limited to:

  • New conceptualizations of embeddedness and disembeddedness
  • Processes of embedding and disembedding and their effect on entrepreneurial activities
  • Studies of the recursive effect of embeddedness and entrepreneurial activities considered as an agency-structure problem
  • Discussions of new and emerging theories of embeddedness and their importance for our understanding of entrepreneurship
  • Multi-layered studies of simultaneous embeddedness in multiple forms of context
  • Studies seeking to understand the gendered aspects of embeddedness
  • Studies of intersectional effects of embeddedness and identities including both privilege of social, spatial or institutional embeddedness and discrimination of enforced embeddedness upon exposed groups.
  • New innovative methods to uncover embeddedness dynamics in entrepreneurship


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