As I have tried to argue in my two previous blog posts, the principle that is operating in many EU and Spanish policies, both for young people and collectives (social enterprises), is that, to achieve a certain type of “success”, then individuals and groups need to imagine themselves as enterprises-businesses, and to do so from within market driven rationales. This is a trend that was identified by Foucault in the late 1970s (2008), and which has been developed further by other authors, including Lazzarato, (2012), Kelly, (2013), Lorey (2015) and Bröckling (2016). To develop this discussion further we are proposing the metaphor of grammar to better understand the usage rules, the norms and regulations, of this concept of entrepreneurship. In this blog post my aim will be to, first, sketch the circuits through which this grammar is expanded and reproduced and, second, I will break down this grammar by briefly describing its main components. I want to stress at the beginning that even though there are connections, this entry will be more focused on the global grammars of self-entrepreneurship than on the global grammars of social-enterprises.
Local and Global Circuits of the Grammar
As a number of the blog posts here have identified, the measures implemented in different parts of Europe, and here in Victoria, that aim to foster social enterprises and youth entrepreneurship respectively can be understood as parts of an apparatus that put into on circulation or re-signifies concepts in a way that, far from being neutral are, in part, inherently moral. As we have shown, one of the most important producers and distributors of this grammar are agencies and institutions of government. These different agencies give shape to a political, juridical and administrative field of plausibility (lets say reality), where some possibilities are promoted, and others not so much. More specifically, significant policies and funding projects about entrepreneurship have enabled and fostered the emergence of a complex network of public and private institutions and agencies that aim to produce, support, accompany or guide different kinds of entrepreneurial projects.
Spanish (and Basque) government scientific policies, as with many other European countries that follow the Research Horizon 2020 European Union Program, defines entrepreneurship as a priority area for research in its R&D National Plan, and presents multiple, on-going calls. One way or another, these scientific policies have made ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘youth’ a significant ‘research niche’, where youth enterprise becomes an artefact of expertise (Kelly, 2000) in which all kind of academic and intellectual resources have been invested (and in which I am included*). As it happens with the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) on a global scale, the local research and scientific fields, through a massive production of data about entrepreneurship, helps to performatively give shape and reality to the phenomenon (Latour, 2005, p.173 and ff.).
[*it is important to stress that academia is not exempt from the logic of entrepreneurialism. Platforms such as academia.edu and researchgate.net are good examples of how we have become, in the context of cognitive capitalism, the commercialisation and marketization of knowledge, intellectual brands or academic-self-enterprises (Duffy and Pooley, 2017)].
In this particular framework, where the production of knowledge and the knowledge about capitalism overlap, the notion of cultural circuits of capitalism developed by Nigel Thrift (2005) is really helpful to understand the semantic and material expansion of the grammar of entrepreneurship (Kelly 2013, p.20). At the risk of simplifying, the main source from which the knowledge and truths about entrepreneurship emerges is management studies, a field that has proved to be especially receptive to various ‘schools of thought’ including post-structuralist social theory and complexity theories (Boltanski and Chiapello, 2005). Thrift (2005, p.75) argues that the main producers of this discourse have been, since the 60s, the business schools (through the marketing of their MBA degrees), management consultants and management gurus (drawing on methods and technologies such as seminars, training programs, New Age philosophies and distribution tools). The business schools produce and stabilise knowledge; the gurus embody and perform successful examples; and management consultants have played a crucial role in the distribution and spreading of this knowledge. Over the last three decades these players in these cultural circuits have been able to process, package and place management knowledge in all kind of fields by providing versatile formulas, which can be applied in many diverse situations. As Sergio Bologna (2006, p.11) argues, the self-employment field has been specially shaped by this knowledge, and in last decades, when it should be questionable if all these formulas actually fit well to the figure of the ‘freelancer’ or the ‘autonomous worker’.
These mobile, stable and combinable packages of knowledge, technologies, methods and their equations can be easily detected (within the vocabulary of efficiency and productivity) not only in private corporations, but also in state and public institutions, Third Sector Organisations, Not-for-Profits, NGOs and social enterprises. And of course, individuals (from productivity apps to fitness trackers devices and so on).
With regard to the governmental programs on entrepreneurship I have talked about, it is easy to identify institutionalised cultural circuits of capitalism where a) the links between the academic production of knowledge, b) its distribution through consultancies, c) the development of policies of entrepreneurship, and d) the concretization of entrepreneurial projects becomes more clear. The 2020 Entrepreneurship Plan of the Basque Country, for example, offers a good example of these circuits, and the mirroring games that takes place between different western states and regions through the idea of “exemplary cases”.
Map of international reference practices in entrepreneurship made by the Basque Government. Source: The 2020 Entrepreneurship Plan of the Basque Country (p.12).
This mirroring game, based on the idea of “replicability” of specific formulas and exemplary projects (as a way of spreading them horizontally), also plays an important role in a ‘scale-up’ logic that seeks to expand these ideas both vertically and horizontally (making them bigger and spreading them).
Doubt emerges when we realise that these kind of concepts, measurement systems and reports are not produced in a vacuum, and that, indeed, they are grounded and written from somewhere – most often by middle class, western academics, in western “developed” countries. If we take as an example the last GEM report on Social Entrepreneurship, successful and exemplary cases come from countries such as US and Australia, countries that are shaped by neoliberal policies. In addition, the European western countries, where the welfare state is being shrunk in quite violent ways, are identified as proper “ecosystems” for social enterprises. In thinking about the moral economies of social enterprise, we might then ask why other states and regions around the globe have to follow those grammars, these suggestions to behave in similar ways?
Non-State, Enterprise Actants
Beyond these more direct measures and their effects, there are also a myriad of agents that work in parallel to the political and legislative discourse of entrepreneurship, that reinforce this grammar.
Bruno Latour’s (2005) work allows us to identify how this grammar not only circulates at an institutional-policy level in the form of various reports, but through many other different spaces, circuits and actants. The production and circulation of all kind of inscriptions (reports, journal articles, research programs, laws, excel pages, apps, etc.) comprises a significant part of the non-human actors that give shape and continuity to this grammar. The framework of the Actor-Network-Theory (ANT) enables us to detect how this circulation of knowledge produces semiotic and material assemblages where non-humans become active actors in the local stabilisations and embodiments of the grammar of entrepreneurship.
Actor-Network-Theory stresses the importance to the materiality and capacity of the action of objects —as non-human actants– for in shaping the social. For example, this advertisement from an Uber campaign in Ghana, as a part of a, let’s say cynical, understanding of the “democratization” of entrepreneurship, represents how the car can become a mediator through which this grammar of enterprise is embodied. However, it should be stressed that the most important articulator (Latour, 2005, p.193) of this grammar would be, overall, the smart-phone.
Alongside the multitude of webpages, YouTube channels and blogs, the call to become entrepreneurial can be found in school curricula and financial institutions products, but also in entertainment industries, advertising, even in toys.
In 2014, for example, Mattel Toys released its Barbie Entrepreneur doll for young girls aged 3 and up (you can never start to soon imagining yourself as an entrepreneur!). In selling this doll to its demographic, and the parents of this demographic, Mattel tells them that as:
An independent professional, Barbie® Entrepreneur doll is ready for the next big pitch in a sleek pink and black dress. Her “smartphone,” tablet and briefcase are always by her side. Sophisticated details, like a statement necklace, chunky black handbag, belt, shoes and earrings keep her looking stylishly in charge
These comments about the general structure of the global grammars of entrepreneurship enable me to move to a brief review of certain, more specific elements of this “vocabulary”. Most of these elements that structure the grammars of entrepreneurship are quite familiar to us and we all, possibly, have an idea of what they mean. However, reviewing them from critical points of view (Kelly, 2013; Bröckling, 2016) reveals elements that have been naturalised and are taken for granted, and, in addition, it helps to understand how the grammar of entrepreneurship is spread, and becomes such a normalised element of discourses about young people, education, training and work. My intention here is to sketch some concepts that, selected from constellations composed by other related notions, stand out as useful analysis categories.
The Self as Project
Extending Beck’s (1992) work, both Kelly (2013, p.53) and Bröckling (2016, p.5) argue that the “project” is a specific way of producing contemporary subjectivities. As a form of experimental configuration for the counter-cultural movements of ’68, and later, institutionalised in the managerial knowledge centres, the concept is nowadays far beyond the frame of labour and covers almost every kind of activity. “Project” is a way of organising reality through certain objectives, closed time periods, check points and feed-backs. As a process of rationalisation, it is a technology through which we relate to ourselves and to others. In this sense, currently all of us have to have a life-project composed of several on-going projects, which makes self-identity itself become a reflexive enterprise (Kelly, 2013, p.14; Rose, 2002 in Bröckling, 2016, p.189). Or posing it in the other way around, being without any kind of project is understood as a form of personal deficit, a failure. That is to say, having a project is equated with desire(s), having no project is close to the depressive mood (Han, 2015). In this sense, the entrepreneurial project is a technique of self-management, and project management a sort of lifestyle (Kelly, 2013, p.137). Continually and simultaneously establishing different projects has become “the proper form” of conducting oneself in a disciplined way. The self-entrepreneur is the epitome of this subjectification process, and the engagement of the participants in social enterprises in their on-going projects is an ‘ideal’ way of relating to work. Bröckling identifies in the counter-cultural movement’s experiments, an unexpected contribution to the contemporary forms of enterprise management (and social enterprises):
“such anti-capitalist social experiments involuntarily provided learning material for the entrepreneurial spirit. Their endless consultation and debates, their experiments with rotating task allocation, all the while riding on the edge of financial collapse —this all makes business start-up seminars look amateur and derivative. Operating under such precarious, under-capitalized, self-exploitative conditions, these alternative projects had to either turn professional, stay marginal or give up. Many self-organized groups mutated into innovative enterprises, which were all the more successful for their long years of practice in communication, harnessing collective energies and self-motivation.” (Bröckling, 2016, p.177)
So, overall, we could say that the notion of project has been reshaped in such a way that nowadays it plays a structuring role as a working frame both for self-enterpreneurs and social enterprises.
As it articulates such things as desires, personal will, freedom, etc., self-fulfilment is inherently linked to the dominant psychological representation of the individual in western societies. As such, it plays a crucial role in the expansion and circulation of the grammars of entrepreneurship. In that regard, the slogan of the Barbie entrepreneur doll – “If you can dream it you can be it” – condenses the promises made to young people by this grammar through educational institutions and vocational training markets (Morgan and Nelligan, 2018, p.149).
Among other aspects, Kelly (2013) has analysed thoroughly the time and spatial changes of certain types of “exemplary” works and their subjectification effects; how vocation is presented as something feasible to everyone; and the ways in which passion is posed as an individual inner capacity that has to be self-cultivated by the person who aspires to achieve some kind of professional-life success (Kelly and Harrison, 2009). As Dardot and Laval have observed:
“The unitary subject is thus the subject of total self-involvement. The target of the new power is the desire to realize oneself, the project one wishes to pursue, the motivation that inspires the “collaborator” of the enterprise, and, ultimately, desire by whatever name one chooses to call it.” (2013, p.288)
If we consider that the “democratisation of the search of self-fulfilment” through work is relatively new (Dardot and Laval, 2013), and its expansion has much to do with being a ‘role model’ for Richard Florida’s creative class or Isabell Lorey’s cultural producers (2015), its actual function as a normalised/ing imperative becomes clearer:
Perhaps those who work creatively, these precarious cultural producers by design, are subjects that can be exploited so easily because they seem to bear their living and working conditions eternally due to the belief in their own freedom and autonomy, due to self-realization fantasies. In a neoliberal context they are exploitable to such an extreme that the State even presents them as role models (Lorey, 2006, p.6)
Individualization processes (Bauman, 2001) and the emergence of post-materialist values (Inglehart, 1989), together with a deep (and materialistic) precarization of labour markets after the GFC, seems to have fostered more intensively the desire for self-fulfilment and for self-determination that the omnipresent expression of “I want to be my own boss” synthesises. In other words, in a context where working conditions are increasingly tough, the self-fulfilment and self-determination promise that is central to the grammar of entrepreneurship seems to become a way of reproducing an individual’s ‘unique value proposition’, or the call to ‘be different’ (Bröckling, 2016, p.196). Angela MacRobbie (2010) observes that, given the precariousness of waged labour, “choosing” to become a self-entrepreneur, even with the same ranges of precariousness, would at least meet the desire of self-fulfilment or fulfil the “inner”-vocation.
One of the most important but elusive elements regarding self/social entrepreneurship has to with the notion of creativity understood as a “productive energy”. As George Morgan and Pariece Nelligan (2018) argue in their recently published book The Creativity Hoax, while workers’ creativity was by little considered in Fordist capitalism (even ‘frowned upon’ in standardises, routinized labour process), nowadays the notion is one of the core elements of the new working (and living) regimes. Since it was “re-discovered” as an almost endless source of profit (by adding value to commodities, transforming the forms of designing, producing and distributing goods faster and more efficiently, etc.), fostering it has become the obsession for corporations and public institutions (so we should all be intra-preneurs). Here, ‘creativity’ can be traced back to a semantic displacement: from an anthropological-romantic understanding of it as an instituent force that generates something new or disruptive (not necessarily productive or good in economic and moral terms respectively), to an institutionalized and rationalised set of techniques that seek to produce, standardize and make it profitable (Morgan and Nelligan, 2018, p.3). From the perspective of the grammars of entrepreneurship, creativity is re-framed mostly as the ability to imagine, identify and/or produce/solve a gap (called necessity, service, etc.) in the “normal order of things” in order make an economic profit. The more contemporary term of ‘innovation’ would point to those changes where the constructivist understandings of creativity, and the psychological knowledge produced about it, have made it measurable (Morgan and Nelligan, 2018, p.9) and translatable to managerial techniques (Bröckling, 2016, p.111). As the contemporary imperative of being creative (Morgan and Nelligan, 2018, p.15) overlaps with the need for acting in an entrepreneurial way, we can talk about a renewed economization and marketization of the ability of human and non-human actors/materials generating unforeseen combinations and relations (in other words, agency).
The need to be flexible is another core characteristic of grammars of entrepreneurship. In a ‘positive’ sense, flexibility is generally understood as a cognitive skill that enable the person to adapt and adjust to the different conditions of a new context. In this way, it is a personal attitude that enables the person to ‘best’ navigate unpredictable and uncertain environments. Masterfully portrayed by Richard Sennett (1998, 2006), this call to be flexible can be understood as the individualisation and subjectification of the changes in the organization of corporations towards structures that are more adaptable to the fluctuations of the markets. The movement, the transition from rigid, bureaucratic, ‘Fordist’ structures in the last 40 years to more fluid and agile networks must now be reflected in the subjectivity of the young entrepreneur:
Cutting-edge firms and flexible organizations need people who can learn new skills rather than cling to old competencies. The dynamic organization emphasizes the ability to process and interpret changing bodies of information and practice. (Sennet, 2006, p.115)
Management knowledges, and psychology of work, have paved the way for establishing and stabilising the ‘truths’ of flexibility for young entrepreneurs (Boltanski and Chiapello, 2005; Rose, 1999). In work policies in EU, for example, the emergence of terms such as flexicurity attempt to gather and balance the securities related to Fordist working regimes with the uncertainties of the current ones (Keune and Serrano, 2014). ‘Flexibility’ represents an uninterrupted appeal to the responsibility of individuals for maintaining their ability to adapt to the determinations of the new knowledge economy (Zimmermann, 2014). It has come to mean that a flexible person is the one who is dynamic, open to change and reflexive. Flexibility operates as a moral category because it gestures away from the volatile, inconsistent or fickle person. In its latest iteration, these ideas of ‘flexibility’ articulate to powerful, omnipresent psychological understandings of resilience, which also goes hand in hand with the category of self-responsibility (Rose and Lentzos, 2017).
Flexibility and resilience impel the self-entrepreneur to, somehow, remain competitive. Given the consensus on the impossibility of changing the uncertain, precarious character of contemporary labour markets, we have little choice but to “go with the flow” and follow the markets inertia by cultivating, unceasingly, our own flexibility and resilience in order to overcame the next, more than likely, crisis.
Closer to the pragmatist rationale determined by the “real” frame of the market, the viability of the entrepreneurial project emerges as a compulsory checkpoint for its development. The ‘business plan’ of any kind of project, following Latour (2007), is an ‘inscription device’ that, subject to economic evaluation, will circulate in the cultural circuits of capitalism, especially in its financial-funding section. The business plan is a stabilisation of an expectation of the productivity that prescribes a program through which the economical profitability of the project is defined. In other terms, it measures the predictability of the project in an uncertain context (Thrift, 2005, p.40). As a technology developed by the management knowledge centres and the business schools, it is unimaginable to conceive any self- or social-enterprise project without its itemised, prioritised, justified business plan (Bologna, 2006, p.101). Related to the notion of project, but closer to the economic dimension, viability emerges as a compulsory checkpoint for its development and its financialization. And, it should be apparent, that management knowledge, management consultants, and financial institutions will play a central role in helping to give shape to it.
Risk-taking is the notion that links and reframes most of the concepts sketched up to this point. Peter Sloterdijk (2013a), the German philosopher, explains the development of capitalist globalization through colonialism, mercantilism and the birth of the modern state. At the same time, he also traces back the primary forms of self-entrepreneurs to the explorers and discoverers of the 16th and 17th centuries. With the discovery and conquest of America, a growing desire for mobility and personal enrichment is triggered throughout Europe. New actors willing to risk appear in order to obtain profits and pay off investment credit debts (2013a, p.71). Taking risk within the horizon of uncertainty would be the “new” subjective disposition and the pragmatic foundation of the modern culture of expanding and reaching out. “Discovery” —fuelled by self-fulfilment and triggered by creativity, organized by the project and judged feasible through the business plan— becomes a special case of an investing phenomenon, which situates the debtor and the financial sector in the front of the stage. Here, risk-taking makes reference to the productive moment of grammars of enterprise. That moment, that space when all sorts of investments that the self-enterpreneur makes in/of herself in a context of uncertainty, pushes her to “go beyond herself” in order to cope with that situation of uncertainty (or the debt contracted). Ironically, beyond the indebtedness that education and training implies nowadays, the case of the self-enterpreneur who gets a mortgage to fund her project shows an auto-referential loop where she is paying, again, for having a work or developing a fulfilling career.
Examples of this rationale abound. In the example below the National Australia Bank (NA), one of Australia’s ‘big 4’ banks/financial institutions that provide the ‘pillars’ for successive Australian governments to build national financial/banking policy on, uses this grammar of entrepreneurship to call for intensifying an ascetic self-introspection and self-surveillance in order to go beyond your current situation – by identifying your “true” desire(s).
The grammars of entrepreneurship as an anthropotechnic
Lastly, following Sloterdijk’s (2013b) work —interestingly titled “You must change your life”—, given the biopolitical character and the links with the care of the self that implies the grammar of entrepreneurship, it could be also posed as an anthropotechnic. Departing from Foucault’s (1988) analyses on the technologies of the self, Sloterdijk defines the anthropotechnics as self-immunization exercises and “training programs” with origins in the Ancient Greece that seek both the betterment of oneself and the immunisation of certain social groups. The contemporary ascetic practices of modernity have abandoned the ideal of the contemplative life to become techniques oriented towards dis-inhibition and constant experimentation (“Talk to yourself more about you really want”). Contemporary anthropotechics no longer seek to “immunize” (Lorey, 2015) the subjects but to expel them “outside” their primary spheres to an exteriority where risk dominates, making them a sort of “discoverers”. The imperative of “universal mobilization”; the commitment to limitlessness implied by grammars of entrepreneurship, through the will of going beyond oneself, the desire to increase one’s own abilities and to improve the performance of oneself, can all be framed in the anthropotechnics that seek both the government of others and of the self.
To finish with this long blog entry, some work remains to be done to achieve what I proposed at the beginning. It remains to identify what kind of responses, appropriations, declensions or resistances (as types of individuation and subjectification processes) are producing this grammar of entrepreneurship. Something that I will turn to my next and last blog entry.
In any case, one of the most important ideas to keep in mind is that the ways in which ‘social rights’ and ‘social integration’ mechanisms used to be provided or “guaranteed” by the State (work, education, health, housing, communications, transport, environment, etc.) have, in many contemporary settings, become market orientated fields that promise opportunities of self-employment for self-entrepreneurs, or areas where social enterprises projects “are waiting” to be developed. In other words, in the ruins of the most institutionalised western forms of solidarity, the script we are encouraged to follow is the entrepreneurial one. Indeed, we see here the clear outlines of a ‘moral economy’ of enterprise – self and/or social.
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