This dissertation examines a topic long overlooked by business scholars: the challenges faced by entrepreneurs operating in the inner city context. Inner cities are a longstanding, global problem that are symptomatic of a metropolitan economy unable to efficiently employ a significant portion of available labor. Too often, the polarizing, argumentative, and overly rhetorical nature of discourse that accompanies prescriptive discussions hinders efforts to develop novel approaches to the problem.
Two guiding theses orient this research: first, that the mutual reinforcement of powerful economic and socio-cultural forces constrain inner city business development; and second, prevalent scholarly approaches have tended to focus solely on the constraints faced by inner city businesses, while defocalizing the entrepreneurial opportunities these forces also present.
The dissertation ins composed of three free-standing, yet related papers: the first paper develops a three-force theory of urban business development, and forwards propositions of the influence of these forces on inner-city entrepreneurship. The second paper presents a preliminary test of the business development process theory, analyzing the influence of the hypothesized forces on neighborhood self-employment growth using United States demographic and economic census data. The third paper is an ethnographic field study of 50 inner city entrepreneurs located in Harlem, New York designed to determine the strategies used by entrepreneurs in response to the hypothesized determining forces.