Understanding opportunities in social entrepreneurship: a critical realist abstraction

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Xiaoti Hu
  • Susan Marlow
  • Angelika Zimmermann
  • Lee Martin
  • Regina Frank

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • University of Portsmouth
  • Warwick University
  • Univ Loughborough
  • De Montfort University


This article extends social entrepreneurship (SE) research by drawing upon a critical realist perspective to analyse dynamic structure/agency relations in SE opportunity emergence, illustrated by empirical evidence. Our findings demonstrate an agential aspect (opportunity actualisation following a path-dependent seeding-growing-shaping process) and a structural aspect (institutional, cognitive and embedded structures necessary for SE opportunity emergence) related to SE opportunities. These structures provide three boundary conditions for SE agency: institutional discrimination, an SE belief system and social feasibility. Within this article, we develop a novel theoretical framework to analyse SE opportunities plus, an applicable tool to advance related empirical research.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1032-1056
JournalEntrepreneurship Theory and Practice
Issue number5
Early online date13 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2020


  • social entrepreneurship, opportunities, critical realism, context, China