Dernier ajout : 28 janvier 2008.
Coordinators : Pierre-Paul Zalio (IDHE) / Michel Grossetti (LISST)
15 researchers involved
Period : 2008-2012.
Studying the figure of the entrepreneur has always been a side-inquiry for French sociology (Zalio 2004 ; see Swedberg 2000, or Aldrich 2005 for social sciences view on entrepreneurs). This, however, is changing : the present program is born from the wish and will of a group of researchers from various institutions, all of them determined to unite their efforts and their data in order to reach an empirical and theoretical improvement -in the field. Regarding entrepreneurship, the sociology of labour – built from the study of wage-earning workers — has been mostly silent ; as to the sociology of business community , it has mainly consisted in linking entrepreneurial activity with social and cultural characteristics, thus leaving a lot in the dark. A common space of research has obviously to be constructed.
In France, the self-employed represent 11% of the working force. This ratio had been significantly decreasing until the 1970s but remained more or less unchanged for the following twenty years. According to the data of Employment Survey, it tended to increase in the early 2000s (Beffy 2006).This is not typical of France : the proportion of freelancers and entrepreneurs in the working force in France is close to those observed in Germany, the U.S., Canada or Sweden ; it is much bigger still in Great-Britain, Japan, Spain or Italy (Gartner, Shane 1995, Arum, Muller 2004). In times of lasting unemployment, independent work is viewed as a refuge ; it is supported by many public (ACCRE) or private (micro-credit) programs ; it may also afford a collective solution while labour is losing consistency (Aucouturier 1994, Castel 1995). To these circumstances, typical of developed economies, one must add the part played by private actors in transitional economies (Guiheux 2007).
Self-employed workers or business managers counted in official statistics are only the visible part of entrepreneurial activity.This is the reason why qualitative analyses are necessary. The border-lines of the wage-earning class are not impervious : the same individual may be employed and self-employed at the same time ; the salary of the employed, fixed by a labour-contract, in relation to the income of the non-employed (the latter being established ex-post and characterized by the part of risk involved in any independent activity) is re-determined (Bessy 2007). Sociologists have talked of the growing hybridation of the status of activity, because of the complexification of labour-laws (Menger 2002), particularly in the service sector, notably in innovatory activity (counsel, financial engineering, data processing, biotechnologies and so on…). At last, contemporary management often change managers as well as executive employees into near-independents, as emphasis is given to ‘the spirit of enterprise’, autonomy, initiative, self-involvement, innovation or individual creativity, by means of ‘projects’ paid for in bonuses and commissions (Kanter 1988, Boltanski, Chiapello 1999). Some managers are even described as employed-entrepreneurs who fulfill tasks externalized by enterprises (Batty, Paysan 1995) and get for themselves part of the excess income and profit (Godechot 2004).
We will talk of entrepreneurial activities when actors are involved in an enterprise to start or develop it, whether it be by their formal position (chief executive officer, chairman and so on …) or by out-going their function. Hence the diversity of objects and grounds. He or she, who takes on his/her account the interests of the collective actor -the legal entity that the enterprise is-, and who helps decoupling the collective entity from the activities and the relationships of those who are part of it, this individual is said to take-up an entrepreneurial activity. The entrepreneurial activity is thus, specifically, single and founded, shared and personified (Zalio 2005). To grasp and analyze it in its very dynamism and in all its dimensions, such is the purpose of this program.
This research program intends to add data and also to compare new grounds, in order to build-up a theoretical framework allowing to describe and interpret a large spectrum of economic actors : independent (self-employed) workers, enterprise-starters, employed managers. The aim is to build a framework to compare various social worlds as dissimilar as those of researchers, enterprise-starters, freelance providers of services, oenologists, real-estate agents, artists, football players, street-merchants, not to mention building contractors or craftsmen, Romanian textile plant managers or even Chinese tycoons.
That social sciences have such a renewed interest in entrepreneurship world is not by chance. It is the visible sign of a theoretical conjuncture of questioning about both the place of the individual and an ideological context (that one might say performative) where the individual as an entrepreneur of his own life has become the emblematic figure of the new state of contemporary societies (Rose 1992). However, our group of researchers share the belief that the existence of markets inevitably entails the institutional construction of actors’coordination, and that the principles ruling the markets, far from holding back activity, are one of the aims entrepreneurs have in mind (Fligstein 1990). Obviously, none of us would dispute the need to understand the way in which social environment or specific social networks (cohesive, closed, open) are the usual conditions to get acess to ressources (Granovetter 1974, Burt 1995, Comet 2007), as well as the need to account for the gain of particular dispositions (Bourdieu 1963). And yet, the purpose of this research is to understand such an entrepreneurial activity as gaining ownership of a difference of value against one’s competitors, by means of breaking the usual rules and creating new rules. It is through facing this paradox that social sciences may hope to understand such entrepreneurs’trajectories distinguished by a double feature : being embedded in a collective environment and, at the same time, overcoming competition through better control over production or market. In order to build a theory of the entrepreneur based on observation and experiment, the most sensible way is to start with an analysis of the social supports of entrepreneurship.
This research is organized in four axes : 1. Entrepreneurship : between collective “dispositifs” and construction of the self. 2. Innovations and supports to entrepreneurship. 3. Self employment, gender and family supports. 4. Transition to market economy and entrepreneurship (China, Romania, Mexico).
Reflexive seminar : “entrepreneurship in contemporary societies, the social sciences view”.