Entrepreneurship and being: the case of the Shaws

Our paper takes the case of John and Elizabeth Shaw, early nineteenth-century English hardware factors. The sources are almost 200 hundred letters written by the Shaws and their circle. Using these, two readings of the Shaws’ experiences of creating a business are presented. The first is couched within a narrative structure of plotted stages and finds the Shaws starting, struggling to, and ultimately succeeding in creating a successful business. Here, their actions within a nascent industrialized economy can be described as entrepreneurial ? they successfully pursued opportunity through founding an enterprise within economically and technologically auspicious environments. The second, more phenomenological reading, opens up for consideration the questionableness of their experience of ?being in business?. Here the Shaws’ understanding of themselves (as conveyed in personal letters) brings into question the academic tendency to emplot their story as one of the staged growth and profitability. Specifically, it resists attempts to ascribe to their experience entrepreneurial status, not simply because they did not think of themselves as entrepreneurs, but because the appearance of the business for the Shaws was woven with their lives in ways that belie the narrative direction and coherence that concepts like entrepreneurship give to it.

Journal or Publication:
Entrepreneurship & Regional Development
Andrew Popp
Robin Holt
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