« Small enterprises and dynamics of the capitalism », by Cédric Perrin*
Small enterprises were for a long time neglected by economists and historians but also by the states. With the « industrial revolution », small enterprise seemed to be condemned to disappearance sooner or later. After the Second World War, the conceptual hegemony of the productivity and the quasi-absolute trust in the efficiency of the Fordist organization encouraged works focusing on the big enterprises, erected in their model, leaving the small one in the shadow. The apparent lack of available sources also led the researchers to favor case studies of big firms. Slower growth and challenging of the Fordist model in the 1970s, then the attention to territories contributed to review their role in the economy as well as in the history. De facto, two centuries of industrialization did not cause their death. In the 19th century, small enterprise was the industrial standard while big enterprise was the exception. It was only at the end of the 19th century or even later that the big enterprise appeared in many countries. These have developed dualist industrial structures; within some big enterprises co-exist a dense system of small and medium sized enterprises, in particular that of the industrial districts upon which the international firms were built. The flexibility of small enterprises do not only give them the capacity to absorb quickly innovations. Many important innovations, as the airplane, were at first overtaken by small enterprises. In some industries, they resisted better those crises that prevailed the biggest. So, small enterprises not only survive, they are on the contrary as one of the leader of the historic dynamics of the capitalism.
See also the special issue of Marché et Organisations Review: https://www.cairn.info/revue-marche-et-organisations-2017-3.htm
*Institutions and Historical Dynamics of the Economics and the Society (EDHES)