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Work and employment in small businesses: perpetuating and challenging gender traditions

Baines, Susan and Wheelock, Jane (2014) Work and employment in small businesses: perpetuating and challenging gender traditions. ISSN 1468-0432

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Abstract

More and more women and men are becoming dependent on some form of small business activity for all or part of their livelihoods but there is little research offering insight into gender and working practices in small businesses. In this article we assess some theoretical approaches and discuss these against an empirical investigation of micro-firms run by women, men and mixed sex partnerships. In the ‘entrepreneurship’ literature, with its emphasis on the individual business owner, we find little guidance. We argue that in the ‘modern’ micro-business, family and work are brought into proximity as in the ‘in between’ organizational form described by Weber. The celebrated ‘flexibility’ of small firms often involves the reproduction within modernity of seemingly pre-modern practices in household organization and gender divisions of labour. This is true in the Britain of the 1990s in a growing business sector normally associated neither with tradition nor with the family. Tradition, however, is never automatic or uncontested in a ‘post-traditional society’. A minority of women and men in micro-enterprises actively resist traditional solutions and even traditional imagery of male and female behaviour. For this small group alone new economic conditions seem to bring new freedom.

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