Understanding The Epistemological Basis Business Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

In the previous chapters I presented the background to the study and the background for the Tanzania national context and the pertinent and relevant literature reviewed for the study was presented. This chapter focuses on providing a tentative theoretical framework to facilitate analysis of the influence of socio-cultural factors on rural entrepreneurship activities.

4.1 The conceptual framework of the study

As an ethnographer, I fully understand the importance of understanding the epistemological basis for a selected model. I have selected an ethnographic model, although this model is usually based on a phenomenological-oriented paradigm, it embraces a multicultural perspective because it accepts multiple realities (Fetterman, 1998:5).

Developing a conceptual framework for a diverse phenomenon like entrepreneurship is not an easy task. An entrepreneurship phenomenon is multi-dimensional in nature and is a relatively new field of study in socio- sciences. Entrepreneurship as a field of study has no developed paradigms yet. There are different perspectives of entrepreneurship as a phenomenon. The ongoing research is striving to develop direct theories for entrepreneurship through development of concepts and conceptual frameworks.

The phenomenon under study is complex and it calls for multiple strategy and diverse conceptual tools to collect and analyze data. That is the only way this study will make its intended contribution to the body of knowledge. There are a number of theories in other fields of business administration and management which may assist in developing relevant theories to guide in the analytical framework. However, the normative nature and the logic of confirmation mean they are not well suited when studying entrepreneurship activities or small businesses sectors. Entrepreneurship belongs to the business administration and management fields and it tends to borrow theories from the established fields of economics, sociology and psychology. Sometimes researchers look for specific theories to suit their analytical frameworks, then they are forced beyond the fields of business administration and management.

According to Davidson (1998), researchers may have to adapt and combine theories. Different theories could be applied to the study. He further notes that many analyses proceed by contrasting a naked phenomenon with possible theories then choosing the one with the highest explanation power. He goes further by stating that the choice of suitable theoretical framework is dependent on the time, place and purpose of the study. By considering an interpretive perspective, there are several theories which can be matched with the phenomenon under study. As stated in earlier chapters this study does not aim in developing new theories. The primary aim of the study is to use the existing theories to analyse how the socio-cultural factors may have impacted on how women undertake their entrepreneurial activities.

Specific theories may be applied when studying specific topics. As Fetterman (1998:5) argues,"……theories that offer little explanatory power, are inappropriate for most topics, or have been debunked are best left rotting on the vine". There is no single theory which can answer all the problems, whether idealistic or materialistic. Usually ethnographers choose theories to suit their training, personality and specific needs. Fetterman further explains: "typically, ethnographers do not make a grand theory explicit because they do not automatically subscribe to one". A grand theory can be instructive to day-to-day research needs. Usually ethnographers use theoretical models indirectly linked to grand theory to guide their work. Grand theories, models, and personal theories all fall into either ideational or materialistic camps; a basic dichotomy that is useful in analyzing another researcher's work and in pursuing one's own. Obviously, approaches overlap in the field, but most researchers begin by selecting a theory or model that is primarily idealistic or materialistic in nature before they even begin to conceptualize the problem". A theory is supposed to guide the researcher in a "maze of data", and when it blinds rather than guides it is no longer useful. When the data does not fit the theory;"…it is time to look for a new theory"(Fetterman,ibid).

In the 1980's, qualitative research underwent a transformation to broaden its scope of inquiry to include different theoretical lenses (Creswell, 2003:131). In ethnographic studies like this, the aim of having a guiding theory is to provide a lens that shapes what is looked at and the questions asked (Creswell, 2003:119). Creswell explains that any theory which provides an explanation for behaviour and attitudes may as well be complete with variables, constructs and hypothesis. (2003:131). On the other hand, Wolcott (1996:113) notes that ethnographers employ cultural themes or "aspects of culture" when undertaking qualitative studies. This study aims at choosing the theoretical lens in order to guide the study and the researcher to examine how rural female entrepreneurs are marginalised and how I, as a researcher, position myself up front and minimize my bias from personal, cultural and past contexts, and allow respondents to describe their world and how they go about doing what they are doing.

4.2 Choice of theory

For the purpose of this study I have been driven to choose the social construction of knowledge lens to assist me in making sense of the data. According to Berger and Luckmann (1966), persons and groups interact together in a social system to form in the long run concepts or mental representations of each other's actions, which finally become habituated into mutual roles played by the actors in relation to each other. So individuals generate understandings of the social world by making inferences and forming theories about experienced social events (Turiel, 1983:1). It is assumed that individuals accommodate to the patterns or elements of the culture or social system, thereby coming to mirror the culture in their personalities, thinking and behaviour (Shweder, 1982) and that, individuals will tend to use forms of reasoning which correspond to the social structure in which they are inserted (Flick, 1998:85). Doise and Palmonari (1984) show that there is an interdependence between social and individual regulations, such that specific competences allow an individual to participate in social interactions which can give rise to new competences which can then further enrich participation in other social interactions (Flick, 1998:77). Thus, it can be argued that, it is through social interactions and coordination rural micro-entrepreneurs can do meaningful businesses which they were unable to achieve individually. It is therefore in this way, the interactions, that knowledge and understanding are formed. Therefore, to analyse how women use business to survive, or how friends help each other in obtaining credit and the whole process as a whole, the social construction of knowledge theory was seen to be appropriate. The choice of this perspective was done in accordance with logic of appropriateness rather than logic of consequence. This means there are many possible alternative theories and perspectives in studying the same phenomenon, such as institutional theory, mobility theory, system theory and social network theory.

As stated earlier in the chapter, the final choice of the theory depends not only on the aims of the study but also on its explanatory power. The assumption being that in entrepreneurial activities, like many other social processes embedded in society, are influenced by prevailing institutions, among others the socio- cultural norms of any national context. For this particular study I strongly believe the social constructionist theories as the most appropriate. The nature of this study may limit the use of social construction theory because its high level explanatory power or may be too abstract, but used in conjunction with a middle range theory, should have a reasonable, more practical explanatory power. For that reason I decided to adopt a more practical lens, the sustainable livelihood approach. This approach is more appropriate for this study as it is capable of aiding in understanding the process of female entrepreneurship in a developing country like Tanzania.

4.2.1 Sustainable livelihood approach

The word livelihood has been used in many different ways but for this study the definition adopted from Chambers and Conway (1992), is used to capture a broad view of livelihood understanding: A livelihood comprises the capabilities, assets (including both material and social resources) and activities required for a means of living (DFID, 2000). A livelihood is sustainable when it can cope with and recover from stress and shocks and preserve or improve its capabilities and assets both now and in the future, while not damaging the natural resource base (Creswell, 1997; Hussein and Nelson, 1998; Scoones, 1998; Carney, 1998). Building on this definition, Ellis (2000) brought in a more explicit consideration of claims and access issues, and, in particular, the impact of social relations and institutions that mediate an individual or family's capacity to a secure means of living.

4 4.2.2 Origins and objectives of livelihood approach

Livelihood philosophy refers back to the work of Robert Chambers in the mid 1980's and was further developed by Chambers and Conway and others in the early 1990's (DFID, 2000). Since that time several development agencies have adopted livelihood concepts and made efforts to begin implementation as a number of livelihood models have been put forward over those years. As noted by ODI (2000), the core of livelihoods model, going back to Sen (1981), Chambers (1988), Swift (1989), Kabeer (1991), Scoones, (1998), Davies, (1996), Carney (1998) and others, such as Barratt and Reardon (2000), has been the relationship between assets, activities and outcomes within a mediating environment as shown in figure 4.1.

However, for DFID, the sustainable livelihood approach represents a new departure in policy and practice. The UK government's 1997 white paper on international development commits DFID to supporting policies and actions which encourage sustainable livelihoods; better education, health and opportunity to poor people; protection and better management of natural physical environment; thereby helping to create a supportive social, physical and institutional environment for poverty eradication (DFID, 2000). The focus of the basic livelihood model is the household as the appropriate social group for the investigation of livelihoods, although external measures to manage risk may be social or public in nature. It is also people-centred as it puts people at the centre of development.

In understanding how the poor rural women entrepreneurs depend on their micro enterprises for their livelihoods, one has to think of a tool which will aid in improving understanding of livelihoods (DFID, 1999). The tool has to represent the main factors that affect the rural poor entrepreneurs also expose the relationship between these factors. In this case a livelihood framework may provide a checklist of important issues and sketches out the way these issues link to each other. It may also draw attention to core influences and processes and emphasize the multiple interactions between the various factors which affect livelihoods.

The main aim of livelihood framework is to assist people with different views to participate in a structured and coherent discussion about the many factors that affect them, how are the factors important to their livelihoods and the way these people interact with each other. This understanding may help policy makers and other stakeholders to identify the appropriate areas of concern for supporting improvement of livelihoods.

4.3 Components of livelihood framework

There are five components of a generic livelihood framework namely: Vulnerability context; Livelihood assets; Transforming structures and processes; Livelihood strategies and Livelihood outcomes.

As the framework is centred on people, it does not propose that the starting point for all livelihood frameworks is the vulnerability context which in turn yields livelihood outcomes. Livelihoods are shaped by a number of different many factors and forces that are changing constantly (DFID, 1999).

4.3.1 Vulnerability context

This frames the external environment in which rural female entrepreneurs exist. Their livelihoods and the wider availability of assets are basically affected by critical trends; shocks and seasonality over which they have limited or no control. Trends may include population, resources, economic and technological trends. Shocks like human health, natural economic and conflict are other elements of the vulnerability context. Seasonality of prices, production, health and employment opportunities also occur in seasons.

These factors of vulnerability context are very crucial because they have a direct impact upon female entrepreneur's assets and choices that are open to them to pursue beneficial livelihood outcomes.

4.3.2 Livelihood Assets

This component tries to gain an accurate and realistic understanding of entrepreneurs' strengths (assets or capital availability) and how they endeavour to convert them into positive outcomes. This is based on the fact that entrepreneurs require a range of assets to achieve positive livelihood outcomes as no single category of assets on its own is sufficient enough to yield all of the many and varying livelihood outcomes that entrepreneurs seek. This is exceptionally true for the poor rural female entrepreneurs whose access to any category of assets seems to be very limited. Thus, there is need to find ways of nurturing and combining whatever assets they have in innovative ways to ensure their survival. The assets or capital endowments include: Human capital; Social capital; Physical capital; Financial and Natural capital

These capitals are presented by an asset pentagon in a generic livelihood framework. The centre point of the pentagon, where all the lines meet, represents zero access to asset while the outer perimeter represents maximum access to assets (DFID, 2000). For this reason different shaped pentagons can be drawn for different communities or social groups within communities. Therefore, pentagons can be used as a useful focus point for discussion about appropriate entry point, how these will serve the needs of different social groups and possible trade-offs between different assets.

Human Capital

This represents the skills, knowledge, and ability to work and good health that all enables entrepreneurs to undertake different livelihood strategies and achieve their livelihood objectives (DFID, 2000). Human capital is an important asset as it is required in order to utilize the other four types of assets. However, human capital alone is not enough for the achievements of positive livelihood outcome.

Social capital

In the sustainable livelihood framework perspective, social capital means the social resources which rural female entrepreneurs depend in pursuit of their livelihood objectives. These are developed through networks and connectedness; membership of more formalized groups and relationships of trust, reciprocity and exchanges (DFID, 2000).

Social capital is important because it has a direct impact upon other types of capital; by improving the efficiency of economic relations; by reducing the 'free rider' problems associated with public goods and by facilitating innovation, developing the knowledge and sharing of that knowledge.

Natural capital

Natural capital is used to describe the natural resource stocks from which resources flows and services useful for livelihood are derived. This asset is closely related with the vulnerability context within the framework, as many of shocks that devastate the livelihoods of the poor rural female entrepreneurs are themselves natural occurring. Natural capital is crucial to those who derive all or part of the livelihoods from resource-based activities. Thus, nobody would continue to exist without the help of key environmental services and food produced from natural capital.

Physical capital

Physical capital includes the basic infrastructure and man made goods needed to support livelihoods. Infrastructure consists of modifications to the physical environment to facilitate rural entrepreneurs to meet their basic needs and produce more, while man made goods are tools and equipment that are used by rural entrepreneurs to increase efficiency. Lack of certain types of infrastructure is considered to be a core dimension of poverty and insufficient or inappropriate producer goods also constrain rural entrepreneurs, hence, the human capital at their disposal.

Financial capital

This denotes the financial resources that rural female entrepreneurs use to achieve their livelihood objectives. The financial capital can either come from available stocks (savings) or regular inflows of money (pensions). The importance of financial capital within the sustainable livelihood could be transformed with varying degrees of ease into other types of capital; it could be used for direct achievement of livelihood outcomes; it may rightly or wrongly transformed into political influence or social influence and it may free entrepreneurs for more active participation in organisations that formulate policy, legislation and government access to resources. However, that is the assets that tend to be least available to the rural poor female entrepreneurs.

4.3.3 Transforming structures and processes

These are institutions, organisations, policies, legislations that shape livelihood within the livelihood framework. They operate at all levels from the female entrepreneurs' households to the international level, and in all spheres from most private to most public. They determine access to various types of capital, livelihood strategies and to decision making bodies and sources of influence; the terms of exchange between different types of capitals; returns to any given livelihood strategy.Again, transforming structures and processes have a direct impact upon whether entrepreneurs are capable of attaining a feeling of inclusion and well being and also account for other unexplained 'differences' in the 'ways things are done' in different societies (DFID, 2000).


These are the hardware of the organisations, both private and public, that sets and implements policy and legislation deliver services, purchases trade and conduct all manner of other functions that affect livelihoods of rural female entrepreneurs DFID, 2000). Structures are important because they make processes functions. An absence of appropriate structure can be major constraints to development; especially in remote rural areas.


These are considered to be the software. They determine how the structures and individuals relate and work together. These operates at a variety of different levels also they overlap and there is conflict between them. Some of the important transforming processes to livelihoods are: