Grammars of Entrepreneurship

Let me introduce myself, I’m Diego Carbajo, a postdoctoral researcher of the University of the Basque Country (Spain) who is in Melbourne since last year. Currently I’m developing a research project titled The Grammars of Self-entrepreneurship in the Basque Country from an International Perspective in the School of Education at RMIT under the supervision of Professor Peter Kelly. Beyond the specificity of this study case, and based in works such as Peter’s The Self as Enterprise (2013) my project develops the hypothesis of the emergence and stabilisation of a “Grammar of Self-Entrepreneurship” on a global scale. A global grammar that is not posed as a culture or an ideology, but something closer to a discourse, an apparatus or an assemblage that helps us to understand not only how young people are incited to behave and act in certain ways, but how we are induced to perform a certain type of individuality nowadays.

Image obtained from

Through a number of upcoming posts I will outline the common elements of some governmental policies about self and social enterprises that connect geographically, culturally and politically distant places such as Victoria (AUSTRALIA), Scotland (UK) and the Basque Country (SPAIN). Following the way paved in previous posts, my aim is to sketch an entry point to the Global Grammars of Self/Social Enterprise. So, while this first contribution is focused on an institutional and descriptive level, the second will be more analytical and it will try to establish some connections between my project and this project on arts based social enterprise. Finally, the third one will be focused on defining the core elements that give shape to the global grammar of entrepreneurship. On the whole, I will explore the following research questions:

  • How the concepts of self and social enterprise have been developed and deployed in various governmental spheres?
  • What kind of governmental circuits do they emerge from and are subject to? Do they have a structure and/or obey any rationale?
  • What kind of uses and meanings have they acquired?
  • How are these concepts downloaded? How is that vocabulary framed in local territories?

Of course, this is a big endeavour for some blog entries. So, I will settle for drafting the core ideas and trends that are important here and will develop them in forthcoming conference publications and journal articles (that will be available here).

A note on the global production of entrepreneurs

First of all it is worthy to note that one of the main agents that contributes to giving reality and continuity (Latour and Woolgar, 1986; Law, 2009, p.249) to entrepreneurship as an international phenomenon through a massive production of statistical data (Foucault, 2009, p.274) is the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM). Founded in 1999, this international agency operates as a global census of entrepreneurship and produces and circulates a range of indicators of entrepreneurship. In addition, it provides regional analyses, international comparatives and different state rankings that contribute to making entrepreneurship a standardised and measurable global phenomenon (Osborne & Rose, 1999). Its work is not limited to conventional understandings of entrepreneurship and in the last decade its area of action has been expanding quite significantly. For instance, its latest report on social enterprises it shows an evolving sophistication of its measuring tools. Overall, this agency is taken as a trustworthy data source by academics, journalists and diverse agencies, but more importantly, it is taken as a reference by policy makers, states and organisations such as the OECD and the European Union that need to measure quantitatively, and to some extent, performatively produce and standardise, entrepreneurship (Law, 2009, p.248). My intention here is not to go into great detail about GEM, but to take it into account as an international agent in the production of academic, social and political representations of entrepreneurship.

The EU and Enterprise: European policies on entrepreneurship

Although there are differences in its member countries, the European Union (EU) establishes the foundations and the directives for the employment, entrepreneurship and social enterprise policies implemented by member states. It would take too long to index and explain here all the complex network of policies that have been developed since the 1997 Amsterdam Treaty, but it is important to note that the current programmes are a continuation of that established by the 2000 Lisbon European Council (Ginesta, 2013).

On the one hand, regarding entrepreneurship, the Lisbon council proposed active incentive mechanisms for entrepreneurship —including private economic initiatives— as drivers of European economic long-term growth. As Ginesta (2013, p.60) shows, the early 2003 Green Paper on Entrepreneurship in Europe highlighted the need to develop comprehensive programs to promote entrepreneurship on an individual, business and society level. The results and measures taken after those initiatives can be seen in different action plans but above all, in the Small Business Act approved in 2008 and reviewed in 2011. Both Acts are the foundations of the current Entrepreneurship 2020 Action plan: Reigniting the entrepreneurial spirit in Europe, which presents three main objectives:

  1. Developing entrepreneurial education and training
  2. Creating the right business environment (ecosystem)
  3. Identifying and promoting role models and reaching out to specific groups (—unemployed— young people women, seniors, immigrants, etc).

All of them seek, among other things, a far-reaching cultural change to make entrepreneurship the engine of economic growth in Europe (Op. Cit. p.4). It is apparent that these policies are based on a strong market oriented rationale where entrepreneurship is directly associated to job-rich recovery and prosperity —assumption that is becoming as arguable as the one that states that economic growth automatically creates jobs. Indeed, as all of these objectives are aimed at individual entrepreneurs, and at Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), they create a sense, often ambiguous, that an enterprise as an institutional product is both a personal quality of (initiative), and/or that individuals contain the qualities of an enterprise (Armstrong, 2005, p.6). The logic that articulates the “grammar” I want to refer to is evident in the European Commission Website:

Europe’s economic growth and jobs depend on its ability to support the growth of enterprises. Entrepreneurship creates new companies, opens up new markets, and nurtures new skills. The most important sources of employment in the EU are Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs). The Commission’s objective is to encourage people to become entrepreneurs and also make it easier for them to set up and grow their businesses.(Op. cit.)

As an early blog post also suggested, the understanding of entrepreneurship that this Act establishes is close to an attitude, a skill and to a moral disposition:

Entrepreneurship is an individual’s ability to turn ideas into action. It includes creativity, innovation, risk taking, ability to plan and manage projects in order to achieve objectives. (Op. cit. European Commission Website)

But more importantly, this definition is wide and ambiguous enough to include in it those self-employees, social enterprises and all kind of collectives (especially young people) who, after the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) are defined by various EU agencies as a priority vulnerable group that require urgent intervention.

On the other hand, with regard to Social Enterprises, even though policies oriented to the ‘Third Sector’ go back to the late 1980s, the core document, where most of the current European policies are located, is the Social Business Initiative published in 2011. For our purposes, it is interesting to note how social enterprises are defined in the web page of the European Commission and how the adjective of entrepreneurial enables us to situate both entrepreneurship (as a disposition, but also as a particular type of person) and social enterprises in the same analytical framework:

A social enterprise is an operator in the social economy whose main objective is to have a social impact rather than make a profit for their owners or shareholders. It operates by providing goods and services for the market in an entrepreneurial and innovative fashion and uses its profits primarily to achieve social objectives. (Op. cit.)

The call for persons to be, or to become entrepreneurial is a crosscutting issue in all the different political programs regarding employment (Keune & Serrano, 2014), and gives shape to an apparatus (Foucault, 1980, p.194-195) that has been analysed in several works (Kelly, 2013; Bröckling, 2016). This notion of apparatus is specially evident if we take into account the wide range of measures, materials, activities, experts and good practice guides, that can be found the European Commission website section dedicated to social enterprises —to be analysed in my next post.

In this frame, youth becomes a paradigmatic case of these governmental processes [close to a biopolitical program (Foucault, 2008)] when we identify arguments that suggest that entrepreneurial learning promises the most significant and important solution to improve young people’s employability (Serrano & Martín, 2017). As posed in the Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan: Reigniting the entrepreneurial spirit in Europe:

Whether or not they go on to found businesses or social enterprises, young people who benefit from entrepreneurial learning, develop business knowledge and essential skills and attitudes including creativity, initiative, tenacity, teamwork, understanding of risk and a sense of responsibility. This is the entrepreneurial mind-set that helps entrepreneurs transform ideas into action and also significantly increases employability. (Op. cit. p.6)

It is important to keep in mind that even though the notion of entrepreneurship has a trajectory of at least twenty years in the architecture of the employment policies of the European Union (Bröckling, 2015, p.11), it was not until the GFC that the concepts of self-entrepreneurship and social enterprises were definitively fostered as a solution to the high unemployment rates among European young people. The way in which the introductory paragraph of the previously quoted Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan defines the GFC —as a catalyst, even an accelerator— provides further evidence of this ‘governmental investment’ in particular understandings of entrepreneurship:

Before the on-going economic and financial crisis, the European economy faced structural challenges to its competitiveness and growth, and obstacles to entrepreneurship. Many of these persist, but the crisis has also been a catalyst for deep change and restructuring. (Op. Cit. p.3)

In other words, the concepts, the core ideas and the objectives of these policies were already evident before the GFC happened, but it seems that they couldn’t have been fully developed and implemented until the GFC and subsequent EU sanctioned austerity measures definitively altered the previous labour market regulations or shrunk the functions of the Welfare State —I´ll develop this ideas further in the next post. A closer look to how the notions of self-entrepreneur and social-enterprises have landed in the Basque Country might help to ground these reflections.

Forced Landings of concepts and measures: The Basque Country and Entrepreneurship

Two of the multiple problems that the EU is facing are continuing high unemployment rates, and employment precarity among young people. In the case of Spain, these indicators were scandalously high during the GFC that began in 2008, especially for the young (Eurofound, 2015).

Youth (15-29) unemployment rates (%) evolution by country. Compilation based on Eurostat (2017) and Basque Youth Observatory (2017).

According to Eurostat (2017), the rate of youth unemployment (in the 15 to 29 age range) in Spain reached its peak of 42.4% in 2013. In 2016, the youth unemployment rate of 33.3% was, along with other Mediterranean countries, still one of the highest in Europe, over twice that of the EU-28 average. In the case of the Basque Country, these rates were lower. According to the Basque Youth Observatory, while the peak of youth unemployment was reached in 2014 with a rate of 29.5%, in 2017 it dropped to 15.1%. It is also worth noting that even though the unemployment rates in Spain’s are lower nowadays, the temporary employment rate in 2016 stood at 57.4%, the highest in Europe, in contrast to the EU-28 average of 32.5% (Eurostat, 2017).

The Spanish government transferred responsibility for policies affecting young people or employment matters to the Autonomous Communities —including the Basque Country and Catalonia— but the central government still acts as a coordinator and proponent of the EU employment public policy initiatives, especially in terms of active employment policies. Nevertheless, in regions such as the Basque Country it is quite easy to find how the local policies and programs about entrepreneurship and social enterprises closely align with the directives of the European Union without any mediation of the state government. The Basque Country Government’s general plan, based in its own Law for the Support of Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses, has been recently updated until 2020 with a budget of 295 million euros. The determination of the Government with regard to the broad notion of entrepreneurship we have previously mentioned is clear, even though, according to GEM, in 2016 the Basque Country had one of the worst TEA (Total Entrepreneurial Activity) scores of the last decades at 3.3% (Hoyos et al. 2017).

The low rate of entrepreneurs in Basque Country contrasts with the massive competitions for different positions in the Basque Government Institutions as officials and civil servants. Bilbao Exhibition Centre, photography by Alfredo Aldai/EFE.

The Basque Government seems to be concerned and aware both of such ‘resistances’, and that it is competing with other European regions for this niche —and the resulting European funding. As a result, the last update for the entrepreneurship program has been presented with the main goal of positioning Basque Country as a privileged place to create and develop all kinds of new entrepreneurial initiatives.

The current program involves most of the local administrative institutions and a wide range of public and private agents. It includes, among others; A) conventional economic measures focused on facilitating the access to the market, to financing and to investments; B) more flexible taxation and regulations; and C), a wide range of support programs, services and infrastructures. However, is worth noting that in regard to the non-economic measures, special effort is made in all educational and training institutions (implying young people) on fostering a positive attitude towards entrepreneurs and the values of entrepreneurship. Overall, and in line with the European directives, the main intention of these policies is to ‘recover, generate and reinforce an entrepreneurial culture through generating an ‘entrepreneurial ecosystem’. In this sense, it is interesting just how the memorandum of the current law builds a narrative that forces an essentialist notion of (Basque) identity to fit with the contemporary values and characteristics of entrepreneurship:

The Basque Country has always been a land of enterprising people. The most outstanding values of these have been the desire for innovation, the creation of added value and openness to the world. With their ambition they managed to make the Basque Country one of the most prosperous areas of the State and of Europe. Entrepreneurs have been present in the history of the Basque Country since historiography exists. Since the Middle Ages, Basques and Basques have demonstrated their entrepreneurial spirit in sectors such as iron-works, mechanics and international trade, among others. [Translated from the Law for the Support of Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses]

In this frame, and mainly focused on enterprise generation, social entrepreneurship appears as a variation of entrepreneurship linked to the notion of social innovation. Even though the earlier Basque Government program partially reproduces the European Commission one, a lower level in the Basque administration structure gives some hints about how it is understood and applied. A quick reference to the Provincial Council of Bizkaia 2017 call for funding innovative and social enterprises, shows that all of them have to acquire, if not the form, at least the outcomes and ‘attitudes’ of a conventional enterprise. Some of the limitations of this sort of approach have been sketched elsewhere in this blog. But I would like to stress that beyond the social values that some social-enterprises might look for (justice, equality, integration, sustainability, etc.), they are mainly valued and judged by the ‘survival’ criteria settled by the market. Or if not, they will be evaluated as potential substitutes or externalized ‘resources’ of the Welfare State. For instance, one of the indicators to measure the social impact of the social enterprises in a call of the Provincial Council of Bizkaia 2017 is quite clear in this regard:

“Administration savings for the employment created in people at risk of exclusion” (translated from Op. cit)

In this sense, in a very explicit way, we see particular dimensions of the moral economies of social enterprise come into view – something that the team wrote about in a previous blog post. We see both the moral obligation that governments create for young people to be and become entrepreneurial. And, alongside this, we see an ‘investment’ in the promise of social enterprise framed by a sense that social enterprises, in taking on these responsibilities, will enable ‘savings’ in the State’s obligations to develop and administer labour market programs and welfare payments. I will return to some of these concerns in my next post.


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BRÖCKLING, U. 2016. The Entrepreneurial Self. Fabricating a New Type of Subject, London, SAGE.

EUROFOUND. 2015. Youth entrepreneurship in Europe: Values, attitudes, policies, Luxembourg, Publications Office of the European Union.

EUROSTAT. 2017. ‘Youth unemployment rate by sex, age and country of birth’, accessed at Eurostat on March 30, 2018.

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OSBORNE, T. & ROSE, N. 1999. Do the social sciences create phenomena?: the example of public opinion research. The British Journal of Sociology, 50, 367-396.

SERRANO, A. & MARTÍN, P. 2017. From ‘Employab-ility’ to ‘Entrepreneurial-ity’ in Spain: youth in the spotlight in times of crisis. Journal of Youth Studies, 20, 798-821.


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