Anything new under the sun? : A qualitative study on the discourse of sustainable entrepreneurs and its potential source
The human kind is at risk as severe problems, such as poverty or climate change, escalate. At the root of these problems is the organization of human (economic) activity and sustainability, a simple and attracting concept that hides an ideological battle among three discourses, is pointed out as the solution. The result of this battle will dictate if we will deal with those problems by keeping all the same (market discourse), by reforming the actual system (weak sustainability discourse) or by transforming it radically (strong sustainability discourse).
Sustainable entrepreneurs, as an important source of innovation, can provide cues to what kind of change we will have. Given the non-existence of previous research on the topic two research questions were defined that try to i) understand how much of the discourse of the sustainable entrepreneurs is based upon our current way of thinking and ii) identify what social mechanisms can be conditioning such discourse.
Taking a critical realism stance, and understanding the tentative nature of the research, a retroductive process is used to obtain qualitative knowledge, in a cross-sectional study.
Drawing from the theoretical areas of sustainability discourse, sustainable entrepreneurship, discourse and social structure a conceptual map as well as framework of reference are defined, that highlight the existence of sustainable entrepreneurs inside the social structure as well as the ways how the social structure can condition that discourse.
Looking at the views of eleven sustainable entrepreneurs, collected during interviews and analysed through critical discourse analysis, it was found that the discourse of sustainable entrepreneurs is identifiable with the weak sustainability discourse, albeit some traces of strong sustainability discourse. Findings also show that the discourse is characterized by having “bipolar” normative assumptions with a set of explicit weak/strong sustainability discourse values and a set of implicit market discourse beliefs. Moreover, the discourse seems to reproduce the key features of the market discourse.
Based on those findings and the analysis of the current social structure, two social mechanisms (knowledge control and collateral awareness) are hypothesized as to impact the discourse of sustainable entrepreneurs. Future research is suggested to focus on the further analysis of the phenomenon as well as a need to create knowledge to help transform the situation. Similarly, recommendations to society and sustainable entrepreneurs are made that advocate the development and application of knowledge that is free from the market discourse.
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