On becoming self-employed: gender, class and entrepreneurship in Portugal

  • Fátima Assunção

Student thesis: Phd


AbstractInstitution: University of ManchesterCandidate: Fátima Maria de Jesus da AssunçãoDegree title: PhD Thesis title: On becoming self-employed: gender, class and entrepreneurship in PortugalDate: 2012Keywords: Self-employment, entrepreneurship, gender, class, Portugal, Southern EuropeThe main purpose of this study was to analyze the ways in which women and men, who set up a business in the service industries, perceive their pathways into self-employment, and the interaction between their business and family life. This thesis addressed two problems identified in current literature. Firstly, the gendered tradition and the reductionist approach of the push-pull theory, which does not offer an adequate understanding of paths into self-employment where both push and pull forces are involved. Secondly, the low visibility of the interactions between business and family life, and also the tendency for some research to portray partnerships between spouses in a harmonious light. Given the dominance of phenomenon-driven research, this study was aimed at adding to the theoretical consolidation of the study of gender and entrepreneurship. In theoretical terms, this research relied mainly on a synthesis between feminist theorizing, Bourdieu's theory of practice and insights from studies that focus on biographical experiences leading to self-employment. This study adopted a qualitative research strategy, and used qualitative interviews as a research method. A theoretical sample was constructed, based on two criteria: gender and the industry in which the self-employed person operated. The sample focused on the Lisbon Region, and targeted self-employed people who set up a business between 2005 and 2008. A total of forty-eight interviews were conducted, involving twenty-three women and twenty-five men. The interviews were transcribed and analyzed in their original language: Portuguese. Only those quotations which have been used in the thesis were translated into English. The interpretation of interviews was based on a thematic analysis. Different pathways into self-employment were found. These were grouped under two main perspectives: seeing self-employment as a primary way of working; or as an alternative plan. The lived experiences of the interviewees also gave strength in exploring the various situations that can trigger a leap into entrepreneurship. These were conceptualized as trigger experiences. Two main sorts of trigger experiences were identified: crises (disruptive or corrosive) and encounters. These were deeply embedded in the interviewees' educational, occupational and family experiences, going back to their social background, and the ways in which these experiences interact with gender relations.Two main contexts of interaction between family and the business were studied: "copreneurships" and "non-copreneurships". Ambivalent feelings towards the former were illustrated through the cooperation and tensions involving spouses, as well as by the strategies that they devised in order to cope with these tensions. In "non-copreneurships", the multiple contributions of spouses to interviewees' activities as self-employed people revealed the connections between the family and business in these types of situation. Gender relations, social background in self-employment, and spouses' positions in the business were decisive for placing interviewees' lived experiences into context in this respect.
Date of Award1 Aug 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorColette Fagan (Supervisor) & Jill Rubery (Supervisor)


  • self-employment
  • entrepreneurship
  • gender
  • class
  • Portugal
  • Southern Europe

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