Topic: Which practices make entrepreneurship “Rural”?
Keywords: Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Rurality, Practice-Theories
Entrepreneurship in rural or peripheral areas has received attention both from economic geography and rural studies alike. Whereas (economic) geography sees peripheral places with “thin” institutions and infrastructure, rural studies more often adhere to the benevolent perspective of strong ties and high social capital characterizing rural economic action. Although not explicitly, both approaches convene around the fundamental sociological question of the relation between (entrepreneurial) actions and (specifically rural) structures. A definition has to integrate both dimensions and must be able to distinguish between entrepreneurship in rural areas and Rural Entrepreneurship as a social practice which itself creates rurality. These practices are understood as the assemblage of meaning, action and most importantly, materiality.
The second dimension then is the definition of the entrepreneur. I follow Schumpeter’s concept of the entrepreneur as somebody who combines factors to create something new regardless of her/his function, position or employment status. This definition includes intrapreneurship of engaged administrative personnel, civil engagement etc., but excludes non-innovative rural businesses. Schumpeter provides another pivotal and purely sociological element to the definition by describing the entrepreneur as somebody “who doesn’t experience limitations in the same way as other economic individuals would do” and someone who simply cannot (help) to be active and innovative. Taking this definition of entrepreneurship seriously we have to ask if the presumed characteristics (or limitations?) of rural areas are indeed relevant or rather if other limitations bear on the innovative rural entrepreneur.
To illustrate the argument I draw on Innovation Biographies conducted in a rural area of north-east Germany. Three case-studies of Rural Entrepreneurs, or so-called “Lifestyle Entrepreneurs” exemplify the difficulties they face in establishing local networks and local cooperation, and how they benefit from external knowledge. This way the case studies call into question both the close-knit local community and highlight the connectedness of rural places.