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The motives of off-the-books entrepreneurs: necessity- or opportunity-driven?


In recent years, it has become common to represent entrepreneurs as either necessity- or opportunity-driven. Drawing upon face-to-face interviews in England with 70 entrepreneurs trading wholly or partially off-the-books, this paper evaluates critically this dichotomous representation. The finding is that squeezing the motives of off-the-books entrepreneurs into one side or the other of this dichotomy not only over-simplifies their rationales since both necessity and opportunity motives are often involved but also obfuscates how their motives change over time. The outcome is a call to replace this either/or depiction with a richer and more nuanced both/and understanding of off-the-books entrepreneurs that recognises their diverse and dynamic motives.

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    Although most literature on off-the-books work reads the motives of participants through the lens of the necessity/opportunity dichotomy, the ethnographic accounts by Monder Ram and his colleagues are the exception (see Jones et al. 2004; Ram et al. 2001, 2002a, b, 2003).


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Correspondence to Colin C. Williams.

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Williams, C.C. The motives of off-the-books entrepreneurs: necessity- or opportunity-driven?. Int Entrep Manag J 5, 203 (2009).

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  • Necessity entrepreneurs
  • Opportunity entrepreneurs
  • Informal economy
  • Shadow economy
  • Enterprise culture
  • England