Editors: Professors Sarah Jack and Johan Gaddefors.
Alistair Anderson was unequivocally a leading entrepreneurship academic and an outstanding scholar of international standing. On the 26th of March 2021, the academic community lost this excellent academic, researcher and mentor and someone whose kindness, generosity, support and encouragement impacted on many of us and the work that we do.
Alistair had a rich and diverse career. Before he joined academia, he was a serial entrepreneur running a number of businesses ranging from pubs, to quality knitwear manufacturing, to building houses and property development. Throughout his life he retained his entrepreneurial interests while building a strong academic profile, generating respect with both practitioners and academics. His passion was entrepreneurship, both in its practice and research. His academic career started with the Open University where he studied for a BA in Social Science, achieving a 1st class honours degree, followed by an MSc in Advanced Educational and Social Research Methods. He then went on to study for a PhD titled The Arcadian Enterprise: an enquiry into the nature and conditions of rural small business under Professor Michael Scott at Stirling University. It was during this time that he really began to formalize his intellectual curiosity about entrepreneurship and its research. On completing his PhD, this intellectual curiosity got the better of him and in 1997 he joined Aberdeen University becoming the Director of their Centre for Entrepreneurship where he drove research, outreach and teaching. In 2002, Alistair moved to RGU taking on the position of Professor of Entrepreneurship where he led their Centre for Entrepreneurship, again building a team of scholars. In 2018, Alistair joined the Department of Entrepreneurship and Strategy at Lancaster University Management School in the UK as their Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship.
Alistair was strongly anchored in a social science perspective of entrepreneurship and brought a critical but also applied approach to entrepreneurship research. Throughout his life-time Alistair remained passionate about trying to understand the phenomenon of entrepreneurship and consistently worked towards promoting a distinctive understanding of entrepreneurship. His specific interest was in the social side of entrepreneuring (Anderson 1995; Gaddefors and Anderson, 2018), where he found networking and social capital especially fascinating. In working to promote a richer understanding of entrepreneuring as a social practice, he made a significant contribution to understanding the ways in which entrepreneurship is underpinned by societal influences. This was based on a strong belief that “entrepreneurs create our tomorrows and we have a responsibility to comprehend as well as appreciate what they do” (Dodd, Anderson and Jack, 2021: p.1). He embraced entrepreneurship as a change engine; where change is about development and not just growth (Anderson, 2000; Dodd et al, 2021). Alistair also strongly believed that entrepreneurship could address the numerous problems society faces and make things better for the World (Dodd et al, 2021). In challenging the more orthodox view of entrepreneurship as an economic function, Alistair demonstrated that it is a socially embedded practice. He strongly believed that the narrow economic view masks the richness of the phenomenon. In contrast, he believed that a socialised process focus helps explain how entrepreneurship works. In essence, he argued that entrepreneurship is a change mechanism and comes in many different forms. From being something of an outlier, Alistair worked to build rich qualitative process studies of entrepreneuring which became regularly featured in international journals. Such studies took account of the interactions between entrepreneurs and the context.
As a leader in the field, Alistair saw his role as being the critical friend of colleagues; coaxing, cajoling and constructively criticising their ideas, so that their work earned the publication it so often deserved. Sometimes he saw that this was best achieved through co-authoring, but at other times by merely being a sounding board for people to explore their ideas. What was critical to Alistair was that this process was built in a way that created a trusting, cooperative and fertile environment where the sharing of information, knowledge and ideas circulated freely and where everyone learned from each other. Indeed, he saw working with others as the most important thing that he did.
Alistair’s contribution to entrepreneurship scholarship was significant. He published more than 150 articles and book chapters and received more than 15771 citations of his work. His international standing was also recognised through over 40 invitations to deliver conference keynotes and seminars. Alistair was also a member of several entrepreneurship journal editorial boards and served on a number of international Peer Review Colleges. During his life-time, Alistair also held visiting positions across the World. He was also international faculty at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) (Sweden) and the Audencia School of Management (France). Through leading and building the development of a key journal in the field – Entrepreneurship and Regional Development – for 12 years, Alistair continued to play a very big role in building the international entrepreneurship community. Through his leadership of this journal, he again showed his commitment to the research and practice of entrepreneuring but also in building the field as a community.
Alistair loved to travel and his projects purposefully took him to all corners of the World. His travels were also driven by his curiosity and desire to find contexts that offered great scope for enriching understanding of the entrepreneurial phenomenon and for theorising the social as well as the economic context of entrepreneurship. His ambition was to provoke and build better entrepreneurship theory of the socially enabled and enacted phenomenon, in contrast to what he saw as the theoretical dead end of repeated analysis of entrepreneurial variances. He welcomed research seminars as they offered the opportunity for close engagement with people but also the possibility of planting, growing and directing insight. Alistair saw that conference keynotes offered a similar opportunity, and was someone who welcomed the opportunity they gave him to float new ideas and provoke fresh thinking to a wider audience.
With this Special Issue of Entrepreneurship and Regional Development, we will honour Alistair’s memory. We will publish papers that through theoretical and empirical contributions extend Alistair’s work. We invite friends, collaborators, and students of Alistair’s along with scholars who engage with his work to send us their contributions (provisional timeline below). For the Special Issue, we encourage work which:
– builds on and extends an aspect of Alistair’s work,
– takes a social science view to understanding entrepreneurship,
– draws upon qualitative methodologies in terms of research approach.
While contributions can take the form of regular ERD articles, we also welcome shorter research work and/or essay pieces.