Sociology of Ignorance: Migrant Entrepreneurs as underestimated Change Agents / Instamigrant

In the domain of migrant entrepreneurship, the sociology of ignorance (Smithson, 1989; McGoey, 2014) emerges as a compelling theoretical framework, illuminating the often-overlooked dynamics shaping migrants’ entrepreneurial experiences, including their (dis)connections to local societies and entrepreneurial ecosystems (David et al., 2023). Despite extensive research on migrant entrepreneurship, a focused exploration of the sociology of ignorance highlights gaps in knowledge and awareness surrounding this complex phenomenon. While migrants are studied as economic factors (Saxenian, 2009), the conditions, public institutional frameworks, and support systems remain insufficiently addressed in public discourse (cf. Terstriep et al., forthcoming; Awkward, 1995).

Ignorance in this context goes beyond individual lack of knowledge; it is a socially constructed and negotiated phenomenon, pervasive and sometimes perceived as inevitable or necessary within societal contexts (Mueller, 2018). Despite its evident social consequences, scholars have notably limited their attention to ignorance. This becomes particularly intriguing when contrasted with the extensive focus on racial ideologies, power dynamics (David et al., forthcoming), and forms of domination within sociological studies. While scholars have meticulously examined how racial ideologies distort understanding to perpetuate White supremacy, there exists a significant gap in the exploration of ignorance—a concept deserving of more thorough investigation (Mueller, 2018).

This conceptualisation of ignorance does not simply imply a lack of intelligence or capacity within the majority society; instead, it points to societal blind spots, media absence, implicit or explicit biases, and unexplored aspects within the discourse of migrant entrepreneurship (David et al., 2023). From contextual entrepreneurship studies and recent advancements in linking power discourses to entrepreneurship (cf. Audretsch & Fiedler 2023; Spigel, 2017), emergent knowledge about the embeddedness of everyday entrepreneurial processes into larger institutional contexts is evident (Vershinina & Rogers, 2023), governed by principles of privilege and domination, reproducing social hierarchies, social contracts, and hegemony to maintain societal hierarchy (cf. Tajfel & Turner 2004; Polanyi 1966). From a social constructivist vantage point (Berger & Luckmann, 1966), further linking the public domain, public transcript, and media reception with the structural power dynamics faced by migrant entrepreneurs is warranted.

An encompassing view of context (Baker & Welter 2018; Welter et al. 2019) reveals that institutions govern (migrant) entrepreneurs' cognitions, behaviours, and outcomes—embed and become internalised for migrant entrepreneurs. However, the precise dynamics by which migrant entrepreneurship ‘takes place’ in public discourse and how it is connotated, regarded, and valued remain underexplored. From a structuralist, power perspective, Neumeyer et al. (2018) inquire, ‘Who is left out?’ – asking how and why migrant entrepreneurs are excluded from public perception and recognizance.

We postulate both overt, intentional ignorance and implicit disinterest and discontempt toward migrant entrepreneurs, their obstacles, and outcomes—except for very few exceptional cases (e.g., BioNTech for Germany), where the migrant entrepreneurial experience is discounted and not representative of the majority. Interestingly, existing literature often falls short of capturing the intricacies of the migrant entrepreneurial experience, leaving critical questions unanswered, as not all entrepreneurship is created equal (Martinez Dy, 2020).

The sociology of ignorance prompts scholars to scrutinise prevailing assumptions and classifications within the field. How do societal perceptions and preconceptions about migrants influence their entrepreneurial opportunities? Are there systemic barriers perpetuating ignorance about the potential and capabilities of migrant entrepreneurs (Bolzani & Mizzau, 2019; Neumeyer et al. 2018)? These inquiries aim to reveal hidden patterns and biases hindering a comprehensive understanding of migrant entrepreneurship, could underscore entrepreneurship as a means for “emplacement” (Lintner 2019) for migrant populations and provide a counterweight to emergent right-wing and xenophobic discourse entering the mainstream across Europe.

Additionally, this framework encourages a reconsideration of terminology and categorisations. For instance, the conventional division between migrant and refugee entrepreneurship (Yeshi et al., 2022; David & Zaghow, forthcoming) may foster ignorance about these groups' diverse backgrounds, skills, and aspirations. An inclusive approach is proposed to comprehend the nuances of migrant entrepreneurship better, moving beyond limiting labels (Abebe, 2023).

In summary, the sociology of ignorance serves as a valuable lens for examining the complexities of migrant entrepreneurship within scholarly and, specifically, public discourse. By acknowledging and addressing knowledge gaps, scholars can contribute to a more informed and equitable understanding that recognises the diverse contributions and challenges faced by migrant entrepreneurs. This approach enriches academic understanding and lays the groundwork for more inclusive policies and practices within the broader entrepreneurial landscape.

Supported by:

Forschungsförderung der Westfälischen Hochschule


Opole University of Technology (Poland), Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore Milan (Italy), University of Southern Denmark (Denmark), University of Bremen (Germany), Brunel Business School London (United Kingdom)


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