Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Prof. dr. Monder Ram awarded an honorary degree honoris causae of Hasselt University, May 30th, 2011

Laudatio of Prof. Dr. Monder Ram (De Montfort University, UK)

 

by promotor Prof. Dr. Patrizia Zanoni

 

Early explanations of ethnic minorities’ business behaviour focused on the specific mix of resources available – or unavailable – to them. Their concentration in specific sectors at the low-end of the economy, often serving the own ethnic community was explained by referring to their access to low-cost, co-ethnic labour, the cultural capital necessary to serve the co-ethnic market, lack of capital and access to credit, and the relative lack of human and social capital necessary to enter the mainstream economy.

Later analyses also integrated the specific opportunities offered by the markets of the host societies. Through the concept of mixed embeddedness, studies examined ethnic minorities’ entrepreneurial behaviour as resulting from the ‘match’ between their specific bundle of resources on the one hand and the specific opportunities offered by the host economies on the other. These opportunities were shaped by the shift from industrial to service economies, and by distinct institutional contexts regulating more or less strongly the access to sectors (for instance by requiring new entrants to have certain qualifications) as well as the functioning of markets (for instance by restricting opening hours and location of businesses).     

Despite their increased explanatory power, these accounts still failed to acknowledge ethnic minority entrepreneurs’ agency, or their ability, as individuals, to self-reflect on their own business environment and to act in ways that make a difference for their businesses and their personal lives more broadly. Studies portrayed ethic minority entrepreneurs as representatives of their ethnic groups rather than as individual entrepreneurs. Their behaviour was largely seen as deriving from structural factors constraining or enabling the entrepreneurial action of whole ethnic minority communities. The lack of attention for individuals’ agency is particularly striking given that in the scientific literature white, ethnic majority entrepreneurs are, on the contrary, largely portrayed as individuals with strong personalities who spot opportunities, act, and create new value, building their own business success.

Monder Ram has made an essential contribution to the field of ethnic minority entrepreneurship by highlighting the agency of ethnic minority entrepreneurs and giving voice to them in his scientific work. His studies distinguish themselves for an approach that carefully balances between entrepreneurs’ own self-reflective understandings of their business environment and strategic action and the social, economic and institutional structures which both enable and constrain such reflections and actions.

The entrepreneurs he writes about are real people. Their destiny is never fully determined by their specific cultural background, the resources they have or do not have at their disposal or the opportunities offered by the context around them. However, nor is it fully in their own two hands, as the caricaturally heroic entrepreneurial stories featuring in the business press and the scientific literature would make us believe. 

Monder Ram’s ability to tell compelling stories of ethnic minority entrepreneurship derives in the first place from his willingness to engage in a true dialogue with his respondents. The sense of respect for these individuals and their work that transpires from his writings might partially be traced back to his own childhood growing up in an ethnic minority family business and later as an (ethnic minority) entrepreneur himself. During his academic career, he maintained this closeness to the real world of businesses, choosing ethnography as his main methodology.

As an outstanding social scientist, however, Monder Ram avoids adopting his respondents’ point of view in an uncritical or naive manner. His work rather combines this point of view with his own sharp analysis based on critical theories; developing in counterpoint, as it were. Portraying human action in all its nuances in a theoretically sound way, accounting for its passion and violence, with respect yet no deference, pinpointing unequal power relations yet avoiding the patronizing tone of the scholar, is a hell of a job. I thank Monder Ram for showing the academic community, through his work, how it can be done. 

Professor Ram, today I am delighted and proud that, on proposal of the Faculty of Business Economics, the Rector will confer on you the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa.

 

For more information on Monder Ram’s work and the Centre of Research in Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurship (CREME), see http://www.dmu.ac.uk/faculties/business_and_law/business/research/creme/

 

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