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Debunking the heroic social entrepreneurship myth

Social entrepreneurship is about mundane work and not about heroism.

Social entrepreneurship has been developed as a reaction to “conventional” entrepreneurship, which is connected with maximising profits and taking risks. Social entrepreneurship is about mundane work and not about heroism, argues Eeva Houtbeckers in her dissertation to be defended at the Aalto University School of Business on 28 October.

The uncritical understanding of social entrepreneurship repeats the myth of a heroic individual, also commonly linked to entrepreneurship. Houtbeckers’ study challenges this and other myths related to social entrepreneurship by examining mundane work practices.

Mundaneness essential for understanding phenomena

As social entrepreneurship and conventional entrepreneurship are empty signifiers, examining mundane work is essential for understanding the phenomena. In her research, Houtbeckers focused on four organisations within the fields of co-working spaces, open data, recycled clothing, and veganism. All of these organisations had been established to address or resolve societal challenges.

"It has been difficult to position these young urban entrepreneurs who aim to make a living by addressing contemporary challenges. Yet their work needs to be understood as one means of practicing entrepreneurship", comments Houtbeckers.

However, any reference to social entrepreneurship creates an implicit juxtaposition between social and conventional entrepreneurship.

Previous research has shown that it is impossible to provide an exhaustive definition for entrepreneurship. Therefore, Houtbeckers argues, there is no “conventional” or “social” entrepreneurship, rather entrepreneurships which represent a variety of everyday practices.

The microentrepreneurs followed for the study aimed at influencing existing practices with business ideas stemming from their concerns on the contemporary issues, such as clearcutting rainforest or intensive animal farming. However, the microentrepreneurs were limited in their power to affect wide-ranging processes. Nevertheless, social entrepreneurship as a popular concept could be a rational and socially acceptable way to disguise radical aims for social change and provide space for experimenting with marginal ideas that may challenge existing ways of doing things. Thus, social entrepreneurship can be understood as everyday activism.

"If there is something heroic in social entrepreneurship, it is the mundaneness of the work", claims Houtbeckers. Understanding this is essential for considering entrepreneurship as a means to solve or alleviate complex societal challenges.

Defence of dissertation

The doctoral dissertation of Eeva Houtbeckers, M. Sc. (Econ.), in the field of Organization and Management "Mundane social entrepreneurship. A practice perspective on the work of microentrepreneurs." will be publicly examined at the Aalto University School of Business on Friday, 28 October 2016. The defence of the dissertation will be held in the Chydenia building (address: Runeberginkatu 22-24, Helsinki, Finland): Saastamoinen Foundation Hall (3rd floor), starting at 12 p.m. (noon). Opponent: Professor Karin Berglund (Stockholm University);
Custos: Professor Minna Halme (Aalto University).

Eeva Houtbeckers’ dissertation has been published in the Aalto University publication series DOCTORAL DISSERTATIONS (171/2016). The dissertation will be published electronically in Aaltodoc service (https://aaltodoc.aalto.fi).

Further information:
Eeva Houtbeckers
tel. 045 676 0608
[email protected]

Twitter: @aatteinen

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