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Ships passing in the night?: re-thinking the relationship between entrepreneurial agency and purposive transitions

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In this paper, we examine the ways in which the phenomenon of entrepreneurial agency has been represented in the transitions literature with particular reference to purposive sustainability transitions. The aim of the paper is to encourage critical reflection on the relationship between transitions and entrepreneurship research. We present provisional findings from a content analysis conducted on sample publications, covering historical transitional and contemporary purposive transitions. We find that while entrepreneurial agency is clearly evident in both conceptual and empirical works, there are a number of limitations regarding: i) the role of context in relation to the dynamics of entrepreneurial agency; ii) differences in the types of entrepreneurs engaged in socio-technical transitions and the ways in which they interact with other key actors; iii) the predominantly individualistic interpretation accorded to entrepreneurship in the literature. We also review recent developments in entrepreneurship research, including work on: entrepreneurial opportunity, dynamic capabilities, networks and institutions, and indicate how these ideas might be integrated into transitions research, with reference to two sample studies. In the concluding remarks, we suggest ways in which a closer engagement with entrepreneurial agency might contribute to future transitions research and policy-making.

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