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Title: Social entrepreneurship opportunities in China : a critical realist analysis
Author: Hu, Xiaoti
ISNI:       0000 0004 5993 684X
Awarding Body: Loughborough University
Current Institution: Loughborough University
Date of Award: 2016
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Social entrepreneurship (SE) has become a rapidly advancing domain of enquiry and holds a place in policy makers consideration around the globe. Opportunities have been regarded as critical in SE, but are often portrayed in abstract and unspecified ways. Research on this topic remains relatively scarce, theory building is not yet established and integrated, and the dearth of empirical studies further constrains theoretical development in SE. Researchers have thus called for more exploration and a comprehensive theoretical understanding of SE opportunities. The purpose of this study is to explore SE opportunities through empirical investigation and theoretical development. As an exploratory study, this study addresses two broad research questions: (1) What are SE opportunities? And (2) How do they emerge? To answer these questions, I draw on the broader entrepreneurship literature which provides two main alternative explanations: opportunity discovery (nexus theory) and opportunity creation (effectuation theory). While the discovery/creation debate is still ongoing, recent theoretical advancement has shown a possible path of forwarding entrepreneurial opportunity research, suggesting that research should incorporate structure and agency simultaneously in studying opportunities. Following this path, this study contributes to SE opportunity research by providing a comprehensive understanding of SE opportunities, it also helps address the discovery/creation debate in the context of SE. To make this contribution, this study first adopts critical realism as a research philosophy as well as methodology. Critical realism incorporates the effects of both structure and agency through its ontological assumptions of three domains of reality, while providing an explanatory framework to assess competing theories. Second, this study selects China as a context for empirical study. As a relation-oriented society, China provides a useful context for studying the causal relations between the social structure (guanxi) and SE opportunity. China s institutional context and fast growing social enterprise sector also provides a promising setting for exploratory research on SE opportunities. Based on critical realism, I used a three-step qualitative multi-case study to develop an explanatory framework in which guanxi and social capital theory provide theoretical explanations of the social structure and its causal powers, which lead to SE opportunity emergence in China. Data were collected from 45 interviews with Chinese social entrepreneurs, their employees and other key stakeholders in 36 organisations in Beijing, Hunan Province and Shanghai. My research findings show that SE opportunities develop in all of the three domains defined by critical realism. In the domain of empirical a world of human experience of social events a SE opportunity can be described as discovered, created, or as both discovered and created. In the domain of actual the social events under study a SE opportunity consists of three internal and necessary constituents: unjust social equilibrium (USE), social entrepreneurs beliefs (SEB), and social feasibility (SF). In the domain of real deeper structures, causal powers and mechanism that produce the social event the emergence of SE opportunities can be seen as the result of a resource acquisition and mobilisation mechanism whereby USE, SEB and SF are identified or formed through social entrepreneurs social capital embedded in guanxi. Building on these findings, this study concludes with a theoretical framework that offers a comprehensive explanation of SE opportunity emergence in China. This study is the first attempt to apply critical realism to the study of opportunities in the context of SE in China. It contributes to the SE and general entrepreneurship literature by developing a theoretical framework of SE opportunity emergence that provides an alternative explanation for the existence of discovery and creation opportunities, and by extending our theoretical understandings of some key concepts of SE. This research further provides an example of the use of qualitative methods to apply critical realism in SE and general entrepreneurship research, which contributes to the development of relatively rigorous research design and research methods in studying complex social events.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Social entrepreneurship ; Entrepreneurship ; Opportunity ; Opportunity discovery ; Opportunity creation ; Critical realism ; Social capital ; Guanxi ; China