This article explores the historical construction of the entrepreneur as a figure of antinomian or “deviant” risk. Though risk-bearing behavior has been the characteristic most often invoked to specify the economic function of the entrepreneur, this ostensibly descriptive category has operated culturally since the eighteenth century as a key nodal point in the reproduction of capitalist common sense. This tendency has deepened in the last thirty years as entrepreneurship graduated from a basic connection to spatial, physical “adventure”—the introduction of exotic products into a locality, a certain association with distant places explored and even conquered—and has begun to take on epistemological, affective, and ontological dimensions, linked not only to a radical transformation of the self but also to the transformation of society (via a notion of revolution) and even matter or “things” (via entrepreneurial innovation). This first section of this essay presents a reading of the figure of the “adventurous” entrepreneur via Richard Cantillon and Jean-Baptiste Say, a figure inserted into the broader context of a modernity frequently interpreted by commentators across the political spectrum as a machine designed precisely to foreclose “adventure” itself. The second and third sections of the essay follow this trope of entrepreneurial radicalism into the present conjuncture. Here, the method is less that of a textual genealogy than a dialectical criticism concerned with the surface of the era's common sense: its objects range from contemporary filmic representations of the entrepreneur to popular journalistic texts and memes. Tracked across all three sections are two sets of relations: 1) those pertaining to a taxonomy of risk, to the precise configuration of “dangers” thought to characterize the entrepreneurial horizon at a given moment in history and 2) those organized around a dialectics of sovereignty, around the entrepreneur's claim to a power or stature usually reserved for the “Great,” controversial founders of states. These lines of inquiry matter for the way they put pressure on the immediacy of our moment's core logics, For an order that envisions itself as perpetually deviant vis-à-vis its own protocols is one in which any clear distinction between an intolerable present and a possible, perhaps more just or alive, future has been dangerously deactivated.
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Andrew Pendakis; Sovereigns of Risk: The Birth of the Ontopreneur. South Atlantic Quarterly 1 July 2015; 114 (3): 595–610. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-3130767
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