Doctoral dissertation: Debunking the heroic social entrepreneurship myth

Social entrepreneurship is about mundane work and not about heroism, argues Eeva Houtbeckers in her dissertation to be defended on 28 October.

Social entrepreneurship has been developed as a reaction to “conventional” entrepreneurship, which is connected with maximising profits and taking risks. 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

Because 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.

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

Further information:
Eeva Houtbeckers
045 676 0608

Twitter: @aatteinen



Väitös: yhteiskunnallinen yrittäjyys murtaa sankarimyyttiä

Yhteiskunnallinen yrittäjyys on arjen puurtamista eikä sankaritarinaa, esittää Eeva Houtbeckers 28. lokakuuta tarkastettavassa väitöstutkimuksessaan.

Yhteiskunnallinen yrittäjyys on kehitetty vastavoimaksi ”tavanomaiselle” yrittäjyydelle, joka liitetään voitontavoittelun maksimointiin ja riskinottoon. Vallalla oleva yhteiskunnallisen yrittäjyyden kritiikitön ymmärrys toistaa yrittäjyyteen liitettyä sankarimyyttiä, joka ulkoistaa yhteisen vastuunkannon kyvykkäille yksilöille. Houtbeckersin tutkimus kyseenalaistaa tämän ja muita yhteiskunnalliseen yrittäjyyteen liitettyjä myyttejä tekemällä näkyväksi mikroyrittäjien arkisia työkäytänteitä.

Olennaista on arkinen tekeminen

Yhteiskunnallinen yrittäjyys on samalla tavalla tyhjä käsite kuin yrittäjyys, ja ilmiön ymmärtämisen kannalta arjen työn tuntemus on olennaista. Houtbeckers seurasi väitöskirjaansa varten neljää organisaatiota uusilla toimialoilla. Toimialoja olivat avoin data, kierrätystekstiilit, veganismi ja yhteisölliset työtilat. Kaikki yritykset oli perustettu jonkin yhteiskunnallisen ongelman ratkaisemiseksi.

– Yhteiskunnallisten haasteiden parissa toimeentuloaan yrittäviä urbaaneja nuoria on ollut vaikea sijoittaa mihinkään olemassa olevaan määritelmään. Heidän työnsä tulee kuitenkin ymmärtää yhdeksi muodoksi harjoittaa yrittäjyyttä, sanoo Houtbeckers.

Puhumalla yhteiskunnallisesta yrittäjyydestä luodaan implisiittinen vastakkainasettelu sen ja tavanomaisen yrittäjyyden välille.

– Aikaisempi tutkimus on osoittanut, että yrittäjyyttä on mahdotonta määritellä tyhjentävästi. Siten ei ole olemassa mitään ”tavanomaista yrittäjyyttä” eikä ”yhteiskunnallista yrittäjyyttä”, vaan kyse on mielikuvista, toteaa Houtbeckers.

Tutkimuksessa seuratut mikroyrittäjät pyrkivät vaikuttamaan olemassa oleviin käytänteisiin liiketoimintaideoilla, jotka pohjautuvat heidän huoliinsa maailman tilasta. Mikroyrittäjien valta muuttaa laaja-alaisia prosesseja on kuitenkin rajallista. Yhteiskunnallinen yrittäjyys voi rajoitteista huolimatta olla sosiaalisesti hyväksytty tapa tavoitella kestävää yhteiskunnallista muutosta, joka poikkeaa vallitsevista tekemisen tavoista. Siksi yhteiskunnallinen yrittäjyys voidaan ymmärtää arjen aktivismiksi.

– Jos jokin on yhteiskunnallisessa yrittäjyydessä sankarillista, se on arjen puurtaminen, sanoo Houtbeckers. Tämän ymmärtäminen on olennaista, kun yrittäjyyttä ajatellaan yhtenä tapana ratkaista tai lievittää kompleksisia yhteiskunnallisia ongelmia.

Kauppatieteiden maisteri Eeva Houtbeckers väittelee 28.10.2016 klo 12 organisaatiot ja johtaminen -alaan kuuluvasta aiheesta Arkinen yhteiskunnallinen yrittäjyys: Käytäntöote mikroyrittäjien työhön (Mundane social entrepreneurship: A practice perspective on the work of microentrepreneurs). Vastaväittäjänä toimii professori Karin Berglund (Tukholman yliopisto) ja kustoksena professori Minna Halme (Aalto-yliopisto). Väitöstilaisuus järjestetään Aalto-yliopiston Chydenia-rakennuksessa, Saastamoisen säätiön salissa (3. kerros) osoitteessa Runeberginkatu 22–24, Helsinki.

Houtbeckersin väitöskirja on julkaistu sarjassa Aalto University publication series DOCTORAL
DISSERTATIONS (171/2016). Väitöskirja ilmestyy myös sähköisenä Aaltodoc-palvelussa

Eeva Houtbeckers
045 676 0608

Twitter: @aatteinen



Revisiting Barcelona

Although I feel I have nothing wise to say today, I decided to use the possibility to do some blogging. Unfortunately for blogging, I’ve been too busy finalizing conference papers for summer research conferences, writing texts for blogs, like the EMES Junior Expert’s Blog, and planting our allotment (garden).

Currently, I’m in Barcelona for a workshop concerning social entrepreneurship teaching and research. Consequently, I have a great chance to revisit a nice place, this time Barcelona. I seem to enjoy revisiting since it tells me what has changed in the place I like (if anything).

What has changed in Barcelona after my last visit? I’m told that the Sagrada Familia has progressed. Judging from my bedroom window, this is the case; I can see some new white statues. Indeed, I’m staying over at close friends who live next to the Sagrada Familia and have windows facing the Barcelona monument. This is the view from the guest room:

Sagrada_Familia2 Sagrada_Familia1It is very impressive to see and hear the church while spending time at the apartment. I’m also impressed by the fact that they are building the monumental cathedral only with income generated from the admission tickets.

Otherwise I feel the Barcelona spirit has not changed. People are as relaxed as before, at least on a sunny Sunday like today, parks are still lovely, and I can always get a drink and something good to eat. By the way, I guess I just listed the three things I value the most in any city.

Perhaps the temptation to revisit (nice) places is the feeling of arriving to a potential home. I could easily imagine myself living in Barcelona although I have no idea what I could do here for a living. Maybe one day I will move here for some time. To me there’s only one thing that beats revisiting: Living the everyday life away from home.

Duct tape news

News are said to become shallow. No wonder when we consider the way average reader spends time reading one article, not to mention the cuts in newspaper staff. Sacking journalists is due to the decline in orders for printed newspapers. Orders are expected to decline more as electronic publications conquer the domain.

For some time I have managed to not to read a newspaper every morning. To some this is a disgrace. For me it has been an attempt to clear some capacity for my Phd study. It really takes drastic measures to avoid procrastination.

I have not totally left following the world. Instead, I have focused my little leftover energy on following news weekly via one or two magazines. They have interesting longer stories and articles, which to me seem more rewarding to read.

To me keeping up with my field social entrepreneurship and related topics has benefited from Twitter and other social media. As a junior expert I consider already having some capacity to interpret 140 characters of information and turn it into relevant knowledge.

And that’s the trick: it is harder to be a critical reader of a topic new to me. Thus, I need more relevant information. In a quality magazine this is done for me by someone hopefully following the ethical guidelines of journalism. Again, when familiarising with news related to my field, I can evaluate the argument better alone.

Despite the fact I miss terribly the smell of a morning paper and the physical event of taking time for reading over a table, currently I have prioritised other things over this practice. I feel sad for the newspaper industry as I really like the idea of reading a paper version daily. And I can see the benefits of someone having to at least skim topics one otherwise wouldn’t. I wonder if my magazine reading will do open up my horizons enough?

Then there is the industry of news: one sentence from a PhD study is sad. But this is what happened: I heard news over the radio and results from one study were dealt in one sentence. If my PhD study ever gets to the radio news, that’ll probably be my treatment as well. One sentence. We were joking with a colleague that the use of duct tape might give us a second sentence: “Interestingly, the results were gained by using duct tape.”
Am I as the producer of new knowledge contributing to the fast information? I would prefer increasing the amount of slow news and perhaps then knowledge.