A Realist Perspective of Entrepreneurship: Opportunities As Propensities

The idea that entrepreneurial opportunities exist “out there” is increasingly under attack by scholars who argue that opportunities do not preexist objectively but are actively created through subjective processes of social construction. In this article we concede many of the criticisms pioneered by the creation approach but resist abandoning the preexisting reality of opportunities. Instead, we use realist philosophy of science to ontologically rehabilitate the objectivity of entrepreneurial opportunities by elucidating their propensity mode of existence. Our realist perspective offers an intuitive and paradox-free understanding of what it means for opportunities to exist objectively. This renewed understanding enables us to (1) explain that the subjectivities of the process of opportunity actualization do not contradict the objective existence of opportunities, (2) acknowledge the category of agency-intensive opportunites, (3) develop the notion of “nonopportunity,” and (4) clarify the ways individuals might make cognitive contact with opportunities prior to their actualization. Our actualization approach serves as a refined metatheory for guiding future entrepreneurship research and facilitates the revisiting of subtle conceptual issues at the core of entrepreneurial theory, such as the nature of uncertainty and “nonentrepreneurs,” as well as the role played by prediction in a scientific study of entrepreneurship.

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Academy of Management Review
Stratos Ramoglou
Eric W. K. Tsang
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