Infinitely Demanding Entrepreneurship

Sammanfattning: In both the study and the practice of entrepreneurship, the phenomenon of entrepreneurship is recurrently put forward as a key, or even the key, to resolving many of today’s social, ecological, and economic challenges. However, research shows that entrepreneurs who pursue social change risk overlooking or excluding certain worldviews, values, and ways of living. This thesis examines how entrepreneurial practices can create responsible social change. The study draws on ethnographic work and explores a new initiative launched by the Swedish furniture company IKEA – IKEA’s Partnership with Social Entrepreneurs. The aim of the initiative is to start collaborations with social entrepreneurs around the world, and to support their social change work, particularly when it comes to empowering women. The thesis further sheds new light on ethical and political aspects of entrepreneurship by using the insights and concepts of philosopher Simon Critchley.       The thesis comes to four main conclusions. First, the study shows that the pursuit of social change requires that a variety of, sometimes contradictory, practices be performed. Second, the study shows that this particular change work and initiative have the positive and responsible outcome of generating a multiplicity of new autonomous spaces that enable the women involved to live more worthwhile lives. Third, the study shows that creating responsible social change is ‘infinitely demanding’ because responding responsibly to another person’s desires and strivings is tremendously challenging, and the number of people to which one can respond is similarly overwhelming. Fourth, the study shows that the complexity of creating responsible social change can be handled through the practices of a faithless faith (i.e., fidelity to a lived subjective commitment) and humour (i.e., the humorous acknowledgment and acceptance of one’s limits as a human being). The major contribution of this thesis is that it enriches our understanding of how entrepreneurial practices can accomplish responsible social change. The main theoretical contribution and thrust of the thesis is then the concept of infinitely demanding entrepreneurship, a notion centred on the suggestion that this form of entrepreneurial practice is driven by committed, responsible, and ethically and politically attentive actors and thus might lead to the creation of responsible social change. Infinitely demanding entrepreneurship has at least five facets: (1) its main aim is to be for the other person and to acknowledge and respect her otherness; (2) there is an attentiveness to the limitations of the specific situation, which encourages people to keep pushing to do more; (3) a plurality of competing ethical and political demands are acknowledged and handled; (4) there is an awareness that a variety of practices have to be carried out and a multiplicity of objectives met, including economic, social, and environmental ones; and (5) the practices of a faithless faith and humour enable these actors to cope with the infinitely demanding situation of trying to create responsible social change.  Infinitely demanding entrepreneurship is an argument that breaks with research suggesting that practicing entrepreneurship is a rather easy means of solving societal issues. However, infinitely demanding entrepreneurship is also an argument that contradicts research that views entrepreneurship as the actual villain of today’s problems. Instead pointing out that entrepreneurial practices can create responsible social change, but that succeeding in this endeavour is ‘infinitely demanding’ for the involved and committed people who engage in such practices.