Schumpeter’s Plea: Rediscovering History and Relevance in the Study of Entrepreneurship

by Geoffrey G. Jones & Dan Wadhwani

Overview — Academic studies of entrepreneurship have focused on people and firms but ignored the context of history. The result is an over-reliance in the experiences of high-tech start-ups in the U.S., leading to generalizations using empirical evidence from an exceptional and atypical industry and location. Economist Joseph Schumpeter believed the study of entrepreneurial behavior made little sense without the equal study of the broader industrial, social, and economic setting in which they operated. An exchange between historical and social scientific approaches will yield far richer understanding. Key concepts include:

  • The lessons we are learning from studies of entrepreneurship are incomplete, lacking the perspective of historical context.

Author Abstract

Joseph Schumpeter believed that history was essential to the study of entrepreneurship. It is a perspective that has been lost in recent scholarship. This paper shows why this has been detrimental to the field, and explores how the current situation can be improved. We begin by surveying the development of the social scientific literature on entrepreneurship since the field first emerged as an area of academic interest in the 1940s. We show that, despite theoretical agreement on the importance of context in the study of entrepreneurship, empirical research in recent years has ignored historical setting in favor of focusing on entrepreneurial behavior and cognition. The result has been a pre-occupation with high-tech start-ups in the United States, and growing irrelevance from the major issues in the contemporary global economy. The paper outlines ways in which the rediscovery of history can facilitate entrepreneurial studies, using examples from international entrepreneurship. We conclude by arguing that these methods can stimulate the kind of exchanges between the history and theory of entrepreneurship that Schumpeter envisioned.

Paper Information