Political Dimensions of Entrepreneurship : Exploring Competing Discourses in a Marginalized Urban Community Aspiring for Social Change

Abstract: Entrepreneurship is a celebrated phenomenon in today’s society. Students are taught to become entrepreneurial and governments develop policies to support entrepreneurship based on the belief that it generates economic growth and societal development. In particular, social entrepreneurship is connected to a vision of an ethical capitalism where public, commercial, and civil sectors join forces to generate combined economic and social value. Even activists are encouraged to address social struggles by engaging in various forms of entrepreneurship. In this view, entrepreneurship is envisioned to solve social problems in the most efficient way.However, critical scholars are skeptical to the idealization of entrepreneurship and have spent much time scrutinizing the roots of these ideas. They find that it is connected to neoliberalism, and that social entrepreneurship is used as a smokescreen covering for increasing budget austerity and diminishing social support by public institutions. They show that neoliberal governance encourages activism, as long as it occurs through the market, e.g. entrepreneurship. These theories raise questions about how to resist structures that encourage resistance as part of its logics. Can entrepreneurship really generate emancipative social change, or does it just reproduce neoliberal val­ues? This study addresses such questions by demonstrating that the relationship between entrepreneurship and resistance can be theorized in new ways by understanding society as permeated by political struggles between discourses.The study explores the political dimension of entrepreneurship emerging within the context of a subaltern counterpublic (a form of community cultivating contestation of current social structures) primarily consisting of second generation Swedes with connections to marginalized suburbs in Stockholm. It examines discursive struggles within a network of entre­preneurs that are part of the community, who organize in various ways against social exclusion and marginalization to improve conditions for marginalized people and construct a more inclusive and democratic society. By studying struggles between discourses that accommodate and contest social structures in this empirical context, the study shows that, although the entrepreneurship in this context is subjected to co-optive processes that align the entrepreneurs’ ideas with neoliberalism, the entre­preneurs’ connection to a subaltern counterpublic provides them with input of counter­discourses enabling them to continuously identify and problematize co-optation.The study contributes to critical entrepreneurship studies by highlighting the relevance of the political context of entrepreneurship, and by providing a language from which political dimensions of entrepreneurship can be identified and understood. In addition, the study develops theorizations of resistance as an iterative process of learning and experimentation. While contestation of current structures in the empirical context is subjected to co-optation and at times align with neoliberalism, there are also processes of pushback against co-optive processes through identification of co-optation, reflexive problematization of own practices, and tactical align­ment with neoliberalism. These processes of pushback expand the space for contestation of existing structures.