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Beyond the commercial versus social entrepreneurship divide: Some lessons from English localities

Colin C. Williams (School of Management, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK)
Sara Nadin (School of Management, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK)

Social Enterprise Journal

ISSN: 1750-8614

Article publication date: 16 August 2011




The aim of this paper is to evaluate critically the extensively used social versus commercial entrepreneurship dualism that depicts these as entirely discrete realms possessing distinct and separate logics.


To challenge this dichotomous representation of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship, empirical data gathered during 865 face‐to‐face interviews in urban and rural deprived and affluent English localities are reported.


Uncovering entrepreneurs’ rationales the finding is that entrepreneurs do not pursue either purely commercial or social goals. Rather, most voice both commercial and social logics when explaining their entrepreneurial endeavour, displaying that there is not a dichotomy but rather a continuum from purely commercial to purely social entrepreneurship. Neither do entrepreneurs’ logics remain static over time. What begins as a commercial entrepreneurial venture may become more socially oriented over time or vice versa. Logics underpinning entrepreneurship also vary socio‐spatially. Those living in deprived populations and rural populations are more socially‐oriented, whilst relatively affluent and urban populations are comparatively more commercially‐driven.

Research limitations/implications

This is only a small sample and the data are not up to date. A more extensive contemporary survey will be required to more fully unravel how commercial and social entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship are not wholly separate and distinct.

Practical implications

The findings raise questions about whether it is appropriate to any longer differentiate between social and commercial entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship, such as in economic policy.


This paper displays the need to transcend the long‐standing commercial versus social entrepreneurship dualism and begins to document how logics of entrepreneurship vary temporally and spatially.



Williams, C.C. and Nadin, S. (2011), "Beyond the commercial versus social entrepreneurship divide: Some lessons from English localities", Social Enterprise Journal, Vol. 7 No. 2, pp. 118-129.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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