Frontiers of Entrepreneurship Research
1997 Edition


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UNDERSTANDING THE FIELD OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP: A SYNTHESIS OF THE MOST OFTEN QUOTED CONTRIBUTIONS

Jean-Pierre Béchard

École des Hautes Études Commerciales (HEC)
Montréal, Québec, Canada H3T 2A7

Telephone: 514-340-6379
Fax: 514-340-5635

Principal Topics

How can we understand a young research field like entrepreneurship? A study of the most often quoted references in 5 academic journals over the last nine years constitutes the basic material of this research. These contributions to science are then classified according to three levels of knowledge: the level of praxeology, the level of scientific disciplines, and the level of epistemology. The first level looks at management and development practices in entrepreneurship. The level of scientific disciplines takes stock of the different contributions to the field of entrepreneurship made by economics, psychology, socio-cultural theories, and theories of organization. Finally, the level of epistemology looks at efforts made by researchers to define, model, classify, and evaluate the field of entrepreneurship. Each level is then analyzed through the hypotheses offering the greatest amount of structure. Finally, we present a synthesis of these contributions by using a paradigmatic perspective.

Method

Our basic research hypothesis proposes that important authors in entrepreneurship are the most often quoted by researchers in the field. We consequently build two data bases: an American and a European one. The American data base is made from the most often quoted references in Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, Journal of Business Venturing, and Journal of Small Business Management. The European data base is made from the most often quoted references in Entrepreneurship and Regional Development and International Small Business Journal. The period under study lasts from October 1986 to October 1995.

Major findings

The results are grouped according to the three levels of the theoretical framework. At the level of praxeology, we find two major contributions. At the level of scientific disciplines, we identify 35 references: 14 from economics, 8 from psychology, 8 from theories of organization, and 5 from anthropology. There are 12 contributions at the level of epistemology. A close study of these results enabled us to bring out the hypotheses offering the greatest amount of structure in the field in order to draw two paradigms: the paradigm of the economy of entrepreneurs and the paradigm of the society of entrepreneurs. We suggest that the paradigm of the economy of entrepreneurs is based on four groups of forces: economic forces regulating demand for goods and services, psychological forces determining the personality traits of all entrepreneurs, socio-cultural forces modulating cultural traits of each entrepreneur, and organizational forces provoking adaptation to pressures from the competition. The paradigm of the society of entrepreneurs is also defined by four groups of forces: economic forces supporting the development of supply of goods and services, psychological forces encouraging innovative behavior, socio-cultural forces allowing members of a society to perceive and act on opportunities for social change, and organizational forces supporting the creation of a new venture.

The paradigm of the economy of entrepreneurs is the dominant one in the field and is preoccupied with the content of entrepreneurship. The paradigm of the society of entrepreneurs is associated more often with entrepreneurial process and is considered as an alternative whose origin is in management and development practices.

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