Jenks and Cochran would elaborate further on the sociological approach to the study of
entrepreneurship, drawing particularly heavily on Talcott Parsons’ structural-functional theories
in order to understand the origins of entrepreneurial “roles” within history (Sass, 1978).
Jenks and Cochran’s approach quickly became the dominant approach to historical
research on entrepreneurship by the 1950s. Each of them produced empirical studies on the rise
of entrepreneurship in the transition to capitalism and inspired a wave of comparative historical
investigations that examined the emergence and social conditioning of entrepreneurship in
countries around the world (Sass, 1978). In each case, researchers sought to understand how
historical context and social structure shaped the emergence, amount, and character of
entrepreneurship within a particular national setting. This stream of research resulted in a large
body of literature that amounted to the cumulative case that the levels and character of
entrepreneurship varied significantly over time and place and was essentially determined by
historical and social context (Sass, 1978; Cochran, 1953; Landes, 1949; Landes, 1958; Sawyer,
1954; Cochran, 1959; Kellenbenz, 1953-4; Parker, 1954; Ranis, 1950; Yamamura, 1968; Morris,
By the 1960s, however, this stream of research was losing momentum among historians.
At least in part, this was because a strictly structural-functional approach seemed to yield few
insights beyond the notion that entrepreneurship was socially and historically determined. The
“iron cage” of historical and social determinism offered few new vistas for research. Historians
also lacked comparative methodological advantage when it came to trying to study
entrepreneurial traits or “roles” systematically or quantitatively. In contrast, the new
organizational approach to business history... [continues]
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