The sociology of entrepreneurship

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Citation: Patricia H. Thornton (1999) The sociology of entrepreneurship. Annual Review of Sociology (RSS)
DOI (original publisher): 10.1146/annurev.soc.25.1.19
Semantic Scholar (metadata): 10.1146/annurev.soc.25.1.19
Sci-Hub (fulltext): 10.1146/annurev.soc.25.1.19
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): The sociology of entrepreneurship
Tagged: Sociology (RSS) management (RSS), business (RSS), entrepreneurship (RSS)


As the title suggests, Thorton (1999) is an annual review style literature review on the sociology of entrepreneurship. The literature review is broad and covers, at least superficially, the broader literature on entrepreneurship outside of sociology. In perhaps its most lasting contribution, Thornton frames the literature in terms of "supply side" and "demand side" perspectives on the phenomena.

Supply side perspectives focus on the characteristics of entrepreneurs and include most psychology-based approaches (e.g., McClelland 1961) or social network based approaches like Burt's (1992) study of structural holes in entrepreneurial success . Thornton has a certain amount of criticism for these studies that primarily include flawed designs and selection on only successful entrepreneurs.

Demand-side, on the other hand "emphasizes the push and pull of context" and, as a result, is the one most relevant to the sociological orientation that Thornton is arguing for. Like other structure and context-based approaches, these tend to suffer from underdeveloped theories of agency. Thornton explores a number of opportunities and work in the space of structural inertia, agency theory, transaction costs economics, corporate venturing as ways of tracking how firms influence entrepreneurship. Thornton also explores the roles that markets and social embeddedness have played in sociological and demand-side explanations.

Thornton's goal is to build synthesis between supply and demand side approaches. She is optimistic about ecology and institutional approaches, about multilevel modeling that can incorporate variables at both the individual and firm level to help partial out effects, and about partially out "sources of heterogeneity" in entrepreneurial success to individuals, organizations, markets, and environments.

Theoretical and Practical Relevance

Thornton's (1999) most lasting contribution and the reason for which it is most cited is the division of entrepreneurship into supply-side and demand-side perspectives which has provided a useful frame for approaching a variety of understudied concepts within entrepreneurship from the alternate (usually demand-side) perspective.