Ethnic boundary dynamics in immigrant entrepreneurship: a Barthian perspective

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This paper sets out to better understand the role of ethnic boundary dynamics in immigrant entrepreneurship, in particular in terms of intersections at the boundaries between ‘ethnic’ and ‘mainstream’ economies, internal differentiation within ethnic community boundaries, and the socially constructed nature of ethnic boundaries more broadly. To better account for these dynamics, we develop a Barthian perspective on immigrant entrepreneurship, building on and integrating Fredrik Barth’s work on entrepreneurship, ethnic boundaries, and spheres of value. A Barthian perspective shifts the analytic focus from the ethnic group to entrepreneurial activities and, by implication, to the ethnic boundary dynamics that these activities generate. We draw on ethnographic research conducted among immigrant Mennonite entrepreneurs in Belize, and identify three boundary dynamics among the Mennonites: bridging the boundary between Mennonite ethnicity and the wider Belizean society, stretching the boundaries of individual Mennonite communities, and allying across the boundaries between Mennonite communities. In developing a Barthian perspective, the contribution of our paper lies in developing a comprehensive framework for understanding the role of ethnic boundary dynamics in immigrant entrepreneurship, thereby also responding to calls for more micro-processual approaches to understanding the ‘mixed embeddedness’ of immigrant entrepreneurs in their ethnic community and the wider society contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)757-782
JournalEntrepreneurship and Regional Development
Issue number9-10
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Immigrant entrepreneurship
  • Mennonites
  • ethnic boundaries
  • Fredrik Barth
  • mixed embeddedness
  • Belize


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