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Strategies and Structures. A multi-disciplinary study of the preconditions for entrepreneurship among immigrants in Sweden.


The project analyses how changes in policies and regulations affect conditions and opportunities for small business development in different industries over time, and how self-employed persons act in response to changes in opportunity structures. We study strategies of growth and survival within specific industries and markets, but also transitions of self-employment across industries and types of markets. The project will contribute new knowledge through a systematic and coherent longitudinal and spatial investigation of the dynamics of self-employment among immigrants in Sweden. The project systematically applies and develops instruments from recent international research on ethnic minority businesses (EMB). Theory in the field is developed through the integration of entrepreneurship theory and new theoretical contributions from EMB research. Theoretical perspectives on strategies and self-employed as actors is combined with theory on opportunity structures (the framework of ?mixed embeddedness?). Methodologically, the approach implies coordinated analyses of different dimensions on different levels, using a combination of policy studies, case studies and quantitative analyses.


Entrepreneurship, Ethnicity, Social exclusion/inclusion, mixed embeddedness


The focus on individual entrepreneurs is an essential methodological feature of mainstream research on small business; which takes as its point of departure that the entrepreneur is an agent of change who is at least partly in control of his own future (Welter and Lasch 2008). However, mainstream entrepreneurship research has also highlighted the importance of viewing an entrepreneurial phenomenon within its national context and focusing on the intersection of the constructs of the individual, the organisation, the opportunities and the external environment. Carrying on from influential research by Low and Macmillan (1988), a more recent discussion has again identified the importance of contextualising entrepreneurship research (Zahra 2007). This view of entrepreneurship as a multilevel phenomenon is similar to the discussion in EMB research. However, mainstream entrepreneurship literature has taken a slightly different approach in its description of the entrepreneurship phenomena; the act of entrepreneurship and its explanations. We will combine theoretical insights from EMB with mainstream entrepreneurship theories.
Research into the phenomenon of immigrant self-employment has been prominent internationally over the last 40 years. In comparison the Swedish immigration experience may well be less developed, but, more importantly, it is contextually different. Although several studies have analysed differences between immigrant groups and native Swedes regarding self-employment propensity and performance (e.g. Hammarstedt 2001, 2004, 2006; Andersson & Wadensjö 2005; Andersson & Hammarstedt 2007, 2011; Andersson-Joona 2010, 2011; Hedberg & Pettersson 2011), the importance of ethnic networks (Pripp 2001, Ljungar 2007; Andersson & Hammarstedt 2012; Olsson et al 2010), there has been no systematic attempt to take account of the specific structural context that shapes the preconditions for self-employment among immigrants in Sweden. In addition, the field generally lacks an interdisciplinary approach and results from different Swedish studies are not well connected to each other. Thus, there is still no coherent picture of the structural preconditions and transformations of the small business sector in general and self-employment among immigrants in particular.
This project uses the ?mixed embeddedness? (ME) approach, which has been the most influential concept within EMB research in recent years (Kloosterman et al. 1999; Rath and Kloosterman, 2000; Rath, 2002; Kloosterman, 2010). The concept encourages a broader perspective; immigrant entrepreneurship is embedded within political-economic structures of markets and states, therefore, research on EMB needs to encompass the interplay between social, economic and institutional contexts within which entrepreneurship is negotiated (Kloosterman et al., 1999). ME requires a active and systematic oscillation between three perspectives: 1) constitution and changing dynamics of policies, rules and regulations, 2) social and cultural embeddedness of entrepreneurship, and 3) dynamics of market openings that frame opportunity structures for entrepreneurship. All three perspectives are observed in their mutual influences and interdependences. Kloosterman makes a categorisation of markets according to growth potential (stagnating/expanding) and accessibility (high/low threshold) produces a four quadrant matrix of market categories (Kloosterman 2010:30): 1) stagnating, high-threshold markets, 2) stagnating low-threshold markets - vacancy-chain openings, containing businesses dealing with small-scale, low-skilled, labour intensive production, 3) expanding low-threshold markets, highly accessible markets with high growth potential, and 4) expanding high-threshold markets; modern markets with high skill requirements. These varying types of market openings or business opportunities are restrained by varying barriers to entry, which stem from both the individuals? level of human capital and the dynamics of the opportunity. This framework is to be further developed in relation to the Swedish context. Another important challenge is to develop a gender perspective within the ME approach, regarding embeddedness of self-employed individuals in gendered businesses and occupations.
In sum, entrepreneurship theory frames our understanding of the importance of characteristics, resources and strategies of self-employed, while the concept of mixed embeddedness deals with structural obstacles and opportunities. While stressing the external environment, mixed embeddedness continues to underline the importance of agency in responding to this context. There is now a need to ?live up to? the promises of the approach (Kloosterman, 2010:41); with the aid of the ME model and the connection to mainstream entreprenurship theory, this project takes up the challenge.


Klinthäll, Martin & Susanne Urban(2014). Second-Generation Immigrants in the
Small-Business Sector in Sweden. Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies, 12:3, 210-232.

Högberg, Lena, Tobias Schölin, Monder Ram & Trevor Jones (2014) Categorising and labelling entrepreneurs: Business support organisations constructing the Other through prefixes of ethnicity and immigrantship". International Small Business Journal, Published online before print November 21, 2014, doi: 10.1177/0266242614555877.

2014 - 2017


Handelsbankens forskningsstiftelser
Linköpings universitet
Marianne och Marcus Wallenbergs stiftelse

REMESO Project Leader

Martin Klinthäll, Associate professor

Participants from REMESO

Susanne Urban
Zoran Slavnic

Participants not from REMESO

  • Craig Mitchell, Lund University, Sweden
  • Tobias Schölin, Lund University, Sweden

Contact for project


Last updated: 2015-01-13

Page responsible: erik.berggren@liu.se
Last updated: 2017-03-24