In This Article Entrepreneurship

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Classic Works

Sociology Entrepreneurship
Patricia H. Thornton, Ling Yang
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 March 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0109


Entrepreneurship as an engine of innovation and job creation is a mechanism for changing the distribution of wealth and well-being in society. Entrepreneurship is the process of identifying and developing economic and social opportunities through the efforts of individuals and organizations, which can result in starting and building new businesses, either as independent enterprises or within incumbent organizations. Individuals discover opportunities in markets and organizations; how these opportunities are pursued results in different forms of entrepreneurship, such as independent start-ups, licensing activity, corporate ventures and spin-offs, and nonprofits. Because entrepreneurship is inexorably linked to institutional processes and organizational forms, the discipline of sociology is central to the development of entrepreneurship research. In the early 21st century, considerable resources have been devoted to the study of entrepreneurship, and this momentum points to an increasing variety of research perspectives. The threads of coherence to this bibliographic selection stem from a Weberian view of institutions. Just as Max Weber viewed society as composed of various institutional orders and organizational forms, the field of entrepreneurship research is composed of interdisciplinary perspectives drawing from the social sciences. Although this article takes a sociological view, it also includes selected works of authors in the sister social, management, and financial sciences that borrow sociological concepts or that flesh out the relevance of the sociology of entrepreneurship. This border crossing is more prevalent with the classic scholars because they are a relatively fuzzy set. Finally, in keeping with the good scholarly practice of elucidating the roots of ideas, this bibliography strives to include the classics and the initial theoretical and empirical formulations and their key elaborations, focusing more on the mechanisms that explain entrepreneurship.

General Overviews

The field of entrepreneurship does not have its own conceptual framework that explains and predicts a set of empirical phenomena. This has led scholars to produce a variety of partial reviews and programmatic statements of issues, debates, and approaches to the study of entrepreneurship. Thornton 1999 classifies entrepreneurship research into supply- and demand-side perspectives, conceptualizing a duality of the availability of suitable individuals to fulfill entrepreneurial activity (based on factors such as psychological traits), and the structural conditions that influence the number and nature of entrepreneurial roles that need to be filled. Swedberg 2000 highlights the importance of the classics as a foundation for future research. The ten-chapter edited volume Ruef and Lounsbury 2007 focuses on a variety of phenomena-based research on the sociology of entrepreneurship. Sorenson and Stuart 2008 suggests that scholars from different disciplines should participate in research to explain phenomena-based research. Carroll and Khessina 2005 argues for an ecological approach to the study of entrepreneurship. Aldrich 2011 expands on the ecological perspective by presenting a collection of essays on the evolutionary approach to entrepreneurship.

  • Aldrich, Howard E. 2011. An evolutionary approach to entrepreneurship: Selected essays by Howard E. Aldrich. Cheltenham, UK: Elgar.

    E-mail Citation »

    These essays represent Aldrich’s contribution to the literature over the course of his career. Topics covered are an expansion of evolutionary analysis, as applied to entrepreneurship; historical comparative methods; social networks; entrepreneurial teams; the creation of new organizational populations and communities; gender and family; the implications of entrepreneurship for stratification and inequality in modern societies; and future directions for entrepreneurship research.

  • Carroll, Glenn R., and Olga M. Khessina. 2005. The ecology of entrepreneurship. In Handbook of entrepreneurship research: Disciplinary perspectives. Edited by Sharon A. Alvarez, Rajshree Agarwal, and Olav Sorenson, 167–200. International Handbooks on Entrepreneurship. New York: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/b102106E-mail Citation »

    To make organizational ecology more accessible to entrepreneurship researchers, Carroll and Khessina suggest a conceptual framework that views “new venture success and failure as a process of the rates of event occurrence: a population founding rate (decomposed into two constituent rates) and an individual organizational mortality rate” (p. 168). They review the organizational ecology literature through the lens of their framework.

  • Ruef, Martin, and Michael Lounsbury, eds. 2007. The sociology of entrepreneurship. Research in the Sociology of Organizations 25. Amsterdam, Boston, and Oxford: Elsevier JAI.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0733-558X(06)25001-8E-mail Citation »

    This volume includes entrepreneurship research within organizational sociology. Topics include entrepreneurship entry, immigrant entrepreneurship and enclaves, academic entrepreneurship, and new organizational forms. Howard E. Aldrich offers a chapter on self-employed parents and their children; Jesper B. Sorensen, on mechanisms of intergenerational transmission of self-employment; Alejandro Portes and Steven Schafer, on revisiting the enclave hypothesis; and Jeannette A. Colyvas and Walter W. Powell, on academic entrepreneurship in the life sciences.

  • Sorenson, Olav, and Toby E. Stuart. 2008. Entrepreneurship: A field of dreams? Academy of Management Annuals 2:517–543.

    DOI: 10.1080/19416520802211669E-mail Citation »

    Sorenson and Stuart contrast two distinct paths to the establishment of the field of entrepreneurship research: (1) an independent field with clear jurisdiction, common theoretical canon, and autonomy from related fields; and (2) a phenomena-based approach in which scholars participate with different disciplinary lenses. The authors argue for the phenomena-based approach and review discipline-based research in economic and organizational sociology relevant to entrepreneurship.

  • Swedberg, Richard. 2000. Entrepreneurship: The social science view. Oxford Management Readers. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    This is an anthology of classics by social science scholars, such as Joseph A. Schumpeter, Richard von Mises, Alexander Gerschenkron, Kenneth Arrow, and Mark Granovetter, combined with interstitial material to bring practical and scientific knowledge closer together.

  • Thornton, Patricia H. 1999. The sociology of entrepreneurship. Annual Review of Sociology 25:19–46.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.25.1.19E-mail Citation »

    This review article focuses on the less-well-developed demand-side perspective, using the sociological perspective, with the goal of identifying areas of entrepreneurship relevant to future research. These areas include the context of organizational founding relative to the activities of markets, hierarchies, the professions, the state, and technological change. Also offers suggestions for integrating supply- and demand-side perspectives.

  • Tolbert, Pamela S., Robert J. David, and Wesley D. Sine. 2011. Studying choice and change: The intersection of institutional theory and entrepreneurship research. Organization Science 22:1332–1344.

    DOI: 10.1287/orsc.1100.0601E-mail Citation »

    Institutional theory and entrepreneurship studies have remained relatively distinct literatures. Yet, there are a number of benefits to explicitly articulating the links. Literature is reviewed that relates how institutions affect entrepreneurial choices and how entrepreneurship is related to institutional change. The authors suggest topics for future research by integrating institutional theory and entrepreneurship studies.

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