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To Grow or Not to Grow? That is the Question: Lessons for Social Ecological Transformation from Small-Medium Enterprises


  • Heidi Leonhardt
  • Maria Jutschen
  • Clive L. Spash


While research on alternatives to growth at the level of the economy as a whole is accumulating, few studies have related the criticism of growth to the business level. This paper starts to address this gap by investigating mechanisms of growth for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), presenting a case study that applies Q methodology and interviews with owner-managers of both growing and non-growing SMEs in Austria. Some mechanisms stimulating growth are identified across SMEs including contributing to innovativeness and motivation of employees. Others are only of relevance for some SMEs: competition, financial stability and a desire for market power. The owner-managers of non-growing SMEs hold values and pursue goals that free them from mechanisms of growth or prevent them from being triggered. Moreover, they exhibit a strong identification with their SME, operate in niche markets and strive for financial independence. This illustrates that a growth imperative is neither inevitable nor are growth mechanisms always operative, but depend upon structures and institutions.

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  • Heidi Leonhardt & Maria Jutschen & Clive L. Spash, 2017. "To Grow or Not to Grow? That is the Question: Lessons for Social Ecological Transformation from Small-Medium Enterprises," SRE-Disc sre-disc-2017_06, Institute for Multilevel Governance and Development, Department of Socioeconomics, Vienna University of Economics and Business.
  • Handle: RePEc:wiw:wiwsre:sre-disc-2017_06

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Clive L. Spash, 2015. "The Future Post-Growth Society," Development and Change, International Institute of Social Studies, vol. 46(2), pages 366-380, March.
    2. Davidsson, Per, 1989. "Entrepreneurship -- And after? A study of growth willingness in small firms," Journal of Business Venturing, Elsevier, vol. 4(3), pages 211-226, May.
    3. Johan Wiklund & Holger Patzelt & Dean Shepherd, 2009. "Building an integrative model of small business growth," Small Business Economics, Springer, vol. 32(4), pages 351-374, April.
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    Cited by:

    1. Spash, Clive L., 2019. "Time for a Paradigm Shift: From Economic Growth andPrice-Making Markets to Social Ecological Economics," SRE-Discussion Papers 2019/07, WU Vienna University of Economics and Business.
    2. Spash, Clive L., 2020. "A tale of three paradigms: Realising the revolutionary potential of ecological economics," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 169(C).

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    More about this item


    SME growth; growth mechanisms; post-growth society; social ecological transformation;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • L21 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Business Objectives of the Firm
    • M14 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Business Administration - - - Corporate Culture; Diversity; Social Responsibility
    • O44 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Environment and Growth

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