PhD Thesis by Steffen Ernø: Rebelling Against Entrepreneurship Education - a Phronetic Approach

Entrepreneurship promises more jobs for more people and is also a key component for steady economic growth. As a consequence, a growing interest in entrepreneurship education has followed.This dissertation is a phronetic exploration of entrepreneurship education. Phronesis, as identified by Aristotle, is a scientific virtue addressing ethical and practical matters related to fields of public interest. Given the context of the study, and based on qualitative data, it is argued how an alternative way of thinking about entrepreneurship education might be more desirable.

Lagt online: 14.06.2018

Entrepreneurship is a ubiquitous part of daily discourse and politics in many modern societies. We are increasingly becoming aware of how we are expected to be the creators of our own future jobs. Entrepreneurship promises more jobs for more people, and it incites us to innovate and to disrupt the status quo. Entrepreneurship is also a key component for steady economic growth. As a consequence, a growing interest in entrepreneurship education has followed; one that promises to provide the means to sustain the future demand for entrepreneurial souls. This dissertation is a phronetic exploration of entrepreneurship education. Phronesis, as identified by Aristotle, is a scientific virtue addressing ethical and practical matters related to fields of public interest. Given the context of the study, and based on qualitative data, it is argued how an alternative way of thinking about entrepreneurship education might be more desirable.

Originally, my objective was to examine how entrepreneurship education can help the individual to become more entrepreneurial by approaching the study through auto-ethnography. My own experience of participating in a university summer course level on entrepreneurship, made me consider the potentially harmful consequences of entrepreneurship education. The normative effect that entrepreneurial ideals, which clearly separates winners from losers, can have on new generations of citizens should not be overlooked; it is neither an achievable nor sustainable end. Starting with this realization, I attempt to form a meaningful rebellion against entrepreneurship education. A rebellion because I remain critical of entrepreneurial discourse, yet meaningful since I simultaneously consider how elements also present in entrepreneurship education might provide students with skills that are beneficial not in an entrepreneurial society, but in a democratic one. By considering entrepreneurship education from this perspective, I show how it comes with negative consequences, but also a potential to be more democratically oriented. In a manner, this dissertation attempts to both deconstruct and reconstruct its field.

The dissertation is organized into nine chapters: three of them set frame, while five articles explore entrepreneurship education in different ways, finally, as the ninth chapter, there is a conclusion.

The first three chapters serves as a bird’s-eye view on the topic and the making of the thesis. Firstly, an introduction to the specific approach to entrepreneurship education taken in this thesis and the circumstances under which it has been made is given. Following this is a literature review on entrepreneurship education in general, and two smaller reviews. One explores the connection between neoliberalism and entrepreneurship education, while the other explains why social entrepreneurship has not figured more prominently.

Chapter 4 discusses the role of psychology as a science and as an intellectual tool. This chapter does not deal with entrepreneurship education directly, but argues that psychology needs to find its role as a scientific discipline that contributes to making transparent the political, social, and interpersonal relations that define how our lives are shaped. Additionally, it explains my approach to doing psychological research, as it has been applied in the dissertation.

Chapter 5 is an empirical paper which explores how a course on entrepreneurship can move students from an individual to a collaborative understanding of entrepreneurship. Drawing on ethnographic data, it is argued that the collective understanding better reflects the everyday life of entrepreneurs. It therefore better prepares students for life outside of education by setting a more realistic standard for what they should expect to be able to achieve by themselves.

Chapter 6 is a methodological and empirical paper wherein an actor-network theoretical approach to studying entrepreneurship education is applied. Through three vignettes the material and spatial dimensions is explored in depth, which provokes new realizations about the importance of learning spaces in enabling positive learning experiences. It also brought awareness to the fact that learning need to be sustained and integrated into everyday life to ensure it is performed beyond the educational setting.

Chapter 7 is an autoethnographic exploration examining the type of subject entrepreneurship education constructs. While we recognize that some positive value is promoted, it was our experience that many conflicting interests were present in the educational setting, obscuring the purpose and creating doubt among students. We highlight the possible negative impact of entrepreneurship education on students as a consequence hereof.

Chapter 8 considers the characteristics of the ideal democratic citizen, and explores how democratic traits and values can be promoted. In the chapter I focus on education as a necessary investment if we want a more democratic society. Further, it is argued that entrepreneurship education can provide students with tools and skills beneficial to a democratic citizen, but for it to be a viable approach it has to be re-oriented to embody democratic value rationalities rather than economic ones.

About Steffen Ernø

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