Chapter 15: Historical Reasoning and the Development of Entrepreneurship Theory
R. Daniel Wadhwani INTRODUCTION To many, history may seem irrelevant to the study of entrepreneurship today. The pace, nature, and forms of entrepreneurial activity in our time make the phenomenon appear new and unique, with few relevant comparisons in the past (Dana et al., 2004). Historical evidence on entrepreneurship is fragmentary, messy, and difficult to analyze using conventional social scientific methods. Moreover, researchers often label the field itself ‘new’ or ‘young’ (Cooper, 2003). History, one could conclude from much of today’s scholarship, is at best marginal to our understanding of entrepreneurship. Yet historical reasoning has played a more profound role in the development of modern conceptions of entrepreneurship than most researchers in the field recognize. Many of the premises that shape the field today originate from historical reasoning and research. Historicism has been especially important in understanding the links in the entrepreneurial process between the actions of individuals or firms and change within industries, economies, and societies. Not surprisingly, understanding the role of historicism in the development of theories of entrepreneurship requires a deeper historical perspective than is typically offered in conventional accounts that date the emergence of the field to the 1970s and 1980s. This chapter takes that deeper perspective in order to examine the role of historical reasoning and research in the development of entrepreneurship as a field of thought and investigation. The chapter not only establishes that entrepreneurship research and reasoning has a much deeper tradition than is commonly recognized, but also argues that historicism – the analytical...
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