Social structural and cultural determinants in the formation and operation of small enterprise in the UK, with particular reference to the economy of East London and its Asian communities

Nabi, Md. Nurun (1995) Social structural and cultural determinants in the formation and operation of small enterprise in the UK, with particular reference to the economy of East London and its Asian communities. Doctoral thesis, London Guildhall University.


Over the last twenty years, small enterprises have become an important source of employment in the UK economy. Trends identified indicate that such firms are likely to play a continuing and increasingly important role in the future.

A feature of the sector is the growing involvement of ethnic minority entrepreneurs: however, at present, the nature of ethnic enterprise is imperfectly understood, any appreciation of its forms and practices drawing heavily on early theories which stress the primacy of the 'middleman'. A fuller understanding is required if small ethnic businesses are to be supported and their potential contribution to the economy maximised.

This study anticipates the existence of significant differences in patterns of business formation and operation by different ethnic groups, and proposes a new theoretical model to account for them.

Existing 'middleman minority' and related theories are shown to be inadequate in explaining these differences inasmuch as they fail to separate the question of why some minority groups form and operate one type of business rather than another from a consideration of the reasons why some groups achieve greater success in business than others.

This investigation hypothesises that the determinants which typically shape ethnic minority initiatives in the UK and produce variations in business practice between different Asian ethnic groups are linked to inherited, social-structural and cultural differences which aid (+) or restrict (-) their adaptation to the wider market of the host society.

An operational social-structural and cultural "social action model" has been devised to investigate the formation and operation of small businesses owned by four ethnic groups: Bangladeshis, Indian Gujaratis, Indian Sikhs and Pakistanis. The model comprises four sets of social-structural and cultural 'resources' viz. (i) family structure and underlying cultural values, (ii) education and language, (iii) business background and experience; and (iv) kin structure and the use of work experience.

Data were collected using face-to-face interviews based on a structured questionnaire. The stratified sample of 254 randomly - selected respondents constituted an estimated 25 % of the total population of selected Asian businesses in the London Boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Newham. The sampling frame was compiled using a street-by-street enumeration of small firms in the area grouped according to business type and owner's ethnicity. (Definition of "small firm" as used in the Bolton Committee Report, 1971).

The survey results confirmed the hypothesis intrinsic to the social action model. Firm associations emerged between social-structural and cultural differences based on ethnicity, and different forms of enterprise, types of retailing, and business practice.

Gujaratis and Sikhs tended to come from trading backgrounds, to be more educated, and to operate in English better than Pakistanis and Bangladeshis whose work experience was predominantly in Manufacturing and Catering. Gujaratis were typically wholesalers and retail clothiers or newsagents; Sikhs were wholesalers, and retailers of mixed goods; Pakistanis were manufacturers and retailers of food or clothing; Bangladeshis were manufacturers of clothing or leather goods, and retail grocers or restaurateurs. These differences were found to originate in socio-cultural characteristics, including migration background.

As stated, the study was confined to four Asian groups concentrated in two East London Boroughs. Future, comparative studies of minority communities in other British cities and further afield in North America, may yield findings concerning the links between ethnicity and enterprise.

DX194089.pdf - Published Version

Download (15MB) | Preview


Downloads per month over past year

Downloads each year

View Item View Item