Understanding opportunities in social entrepreneurship: a critical realist abstraction

Xiaoti Hu, Susan Marlow, Angelika Zimmermann, Lee Martin, Regina Frank

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This paper extends social entrepreneurship (SE) research by drawing upon a critical realist perspective to analyse dynamic structure/agency relations in SE opportunity emergence, illustrated by empirical evidence. Our findings demonstrate an agential aspect (opportunity actualisation following a path-dependent seeding-growing-shaping process) and a structural aspect (institutional, cognitive and embedded structures necessary for SE opportunity emergence) related to SE opportunities. These structures provide three boundary conditions for SE agency: institutional discrimination, an SE belief system and social feasibility. Within this paper, we develop a novel theoretical framework to analyse SE opportunities plus, an applicable tool to advance related empirical research.
Original languageEnglish
Article number0
Pages (from-to)1032-1056
Number of pages25
JournalEntrepreneurship: Theory and Practice
Issue number5
Early online date13 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2020


  • social entrepreneurship
  • critical realism,
  • China
  • context
  • opportunity


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