We begin with an examination of the demographic and economic framework of ethnic minority business in Britain which, given the strong influence of demographic and labour market forces on the nature of ethnic minority entry into self-employment, is a vital facet of embeddedness. Turning the spotlight on market opportunities and constraints post-entry, we then report on sectoral variations in the nature of ethnic minority business at the local and regional level, as established by our own fieldwork. Here the emphasis is on the sectoral underdevelopment of ethnic minority enterprise, its confinement within some of the least rewarding markets in the economy as a consequence of a complex of socio-economic barriers (some of which are racist at root) to its development. Recognising also that this pattern is far from fixed, and that increasing diversification is gradually occurring, we consider the temporal dynamics of South Asian business in Britain, drawing on some of our earlier publications, but also on some recent data collection and on the work of authors engaged in parallel investigations. Among other issues, this will throw light on shifting embeddedness, the question of how far diversification and development entail a move away from ethnic resources to class resources.
The demongraphic and economic context of ethnic minority business development
Table I, based on the most recently available census figures, presents a broad outline of the size and employment status of Britain's ethnic minorities. It shows that, contrary to many popular perceptions of "swamping", ethnic minorities, even when considered collectively, are still only a small fraction, 5.5 per cent, of the British population and of the more narrowly defined ethnic communities, only Indians exceed 1 per...
This entrepreneurial gap between whites, blacks, and Asian groups brings us to the battlefield contested by those who explain ethnic entrepreneurialism in terms of socio-economic embeddedness and those who insist on an ethnocultural interpretation. The former viewpoint is encapsulated in the claim that it "... was racism and economic decline, not cultural flair, that pushed many Asians into self-employment". For most South Asians, primary migration took them into low paid employment in industries like textiles and engineering, destined to suffer widespread restructuring and job loss, which provided a powerful incentive to self-employment (Jones et al., 1989), as did job losses in public services, another immigrant specialist, victim of merciless Thatcherite cuts in the 1980s. This connection between rising unemployment and rising self-employment has also been argued to apply throughout the general population irrespective of ethnicity, suggesting that ethnic self-employment is perhaps an aggravated, racialised variation on a universal theme.
When we consider the contrasts between Britain and its European neighbors, the need for this contextual perspective becomes all the more urgent. Ethnic minority entrepreneurial self-employment rates in Britain tend to be significantly higher than those of immigrants in continental Europe, a highly distinctive gap which surely cannot be explained purely as a product of ethnocultural disparities, such as between Moroccans in Austria and Indians in Britain.