Understanding the entrepreneur as socially constructed
The objective of this thesis, which combines two levels of analysis, is to explore the entrepreneur as a social construct and the socially constructed nature of entrepreneurship. It builds upon a limited number of extant studies considering the socially constructed nature of entrepreneurship by focusing upon achieving a Verstehen' of these 'constructions' as articulated in stories; thereby enhancing conceptual understanding. It achieves this by concentrating upon the key issues of constructionism, namely narrative and identity; and by triangulating these by using a qualitative approach and a variety of methodologies. These include social constructionism, semiotic analysis, biographical analysis, in-depth interviews, content analysis and action research. This approach is justified because, despite an increasing body of research into aspects entrepreneurial, our basic understanding of the many social facets which influence our perception of the entrepreneur remains unclear. Clarity of definition often eludes us, although we can describe and explain it in context. Consequentially, such constructions are subjective, descriptive, often nebulous and heavily reliant upon stereotype. By examining interrelated social constructs such as gender, class and ethnicity, which are embedded in and influenced by other constructs such as childhood, family, society, culture and so on this thesis extends our knowledge of entrepreneurial process. It allows us to understand subjective issues such as ethics, value, morality, legitimacy, traits, character and personality which become visible when articulated via narrative forms and storytelling mechanisms of myth, metaphor and fable. The findings suggest that our perception of entrepreneurs may owe more to narrative convention than to the lived experience of entrepreneurs. The review of academic literature, novels (fiction), biographies, autobiographies, newspaper articles, and a semiotic analysis of images and photographs associated with the entrepreneur found that although entrepreneurs are eulogised, not all practice moral entrepreneurship - thus signalling the many forms and functions of entrepreneurship, including the immoral, amoral and criminal. In identifying a universal storybook formula the thesis shows how entrepreneurial practice is influenced by heroic stereotyping and how entrepreneurship can be understood as a communicational construct; a living, evolving narrative; and enacted story. This formula spans different media with a consistency of themes and elements which demonstrates its socially constructed nature. The multi-methodology allows one to develop deeper understanding. The contribution of this thesis is the exploration of the philosophical, ideological and epistemological issues underpinning the ontology of entrepreneurship. This thesis by adapting a process of deconstructionism, analysis and reconstruction contributes by adopting a holistic approach uniting the constructionist and Verstehen' approaches as a heuristic tool through which to achieve a greater understanding of entrepreneurship as a socio-behavioural process. Moreover it considers entrepreneurial narrative as socially mediated behavioural scripts constructed from a wide range of inter-disciplinary knowledge best understood when assembled and read as a process. In taking cognisance of the individual entrepreneur as a person and in then examining psychological, sociological, demographic and linguistic factors affecting the application of entrepreneurship, the thesis maps entrepreneurial process as socially constructed. Mapping how social constructionism shapes perception necessitates looking at the practices and processes which constitute it as a socially negotiated interaction. This thesis extends knowledge of how social constructions are formed and perpetuated in society and displays originality by focusing on how social construction impact on the entrepreneurial process. The entrepreneur is often encountered in a literary format as a heroic male personage. Masculine ideology, rhetoric, mythology, and doxa reinforce this message marginalising female entrepreneurs with whom the construction may not resonate. Entrepreneurs are presented as 'likeable rogues' a perception reinforced by a semiotic pictorial format of 'bad boys' embedded in images of masculinity, class and criminality. This thesis bridges many theoretical approaches to entrepreneurship by using narrative and communication techniques to reveal how academic conceptualisations adhere to but differ from more popular concepts. The research develops a practical narrative based theory of entrepreneurship. This study presents the socially constructed nature of entrepreneurial knowledge and process in a way not done before. However, its most substantial contribution is that it takes the notion of entrepreneurial narrative, discourse, and constructions to a new level in taking cognisance of the plethora of plots, sub-plots and storylines which constitute the socially constructed narrative that is entrepreneurship.