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 https://aaltodoc.aalto.fi

Further information:
Eeva Houtbeckers
045 676 0608
eeva.houtbeckers@aalto.fi

Twitter: @aatteinen
Blog: https://aatteinen.wordpress.com/doctoral-dissertation

 

thebook

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.

A research conference, police, and a good laugh

I attended a research conference on social entrepreneurship. In conferences I try to talk to one new person on every break. Not because I am supposed to, as research practices are socially constructed by humans, but because I have found it a great way to get to know jolly people.

I would have never heard the following funny stories if I had only listened to my colleagues’ scheduled presentations. Well, here’s a true story. No one believes you when you say that. Yet, I assure you this one is. I was informed over the dinner that one of my Nordic colleagues was fined in Denmark after asking the policeman if he was wearing a thong.

This revealing brought up many other absurd stories related to meeting the guardians of law and order. The people around the table are lucky to live in countries where one doesn’t have to be afraid of the police. Thus, one of us had asked a permission to kiss a police (on his cheek) as a part of a dare competition. One had mistaken a police patrol ringing the doorbell as masquerade guests and invited them to join the noisy party they had actually arrived to interrupt.

Social gatherings in professional meetings are important. However, I am surprised how many people have a tendency to sit with people they feel close to. Especially this applies to international meetings. It is either sitting with people from your home country or people you already know.

This is understandable. After listening to presentations about new topics, usually not in one’s mother tongue, and using one’s brain to the extreme, it is quite demanding to try to make up a meaningful conversation with someone one doesn’t know. Yet, it has become such fun when I realised I don’t have to: usually everyone is overwhelmed by the quantity of interesting topics and they really look forward to a break. Thus, according to my experience sharing funny stories and laughing is the official brain maintaining activity in research conferences.