Narrative and Discursive Approaches in Entrepreneurship

Narrative and Discursive Approaches in Entrepreneurship

A Second Movements in Entrepreneurship Book

Edited by Daniel Hjorth and Chris Steyaert

This is the second volume in a mini-series on movements in entrepreneurship. It aims to forward the study of entrepreneurship by stimulating and exploring new ideas and research practices in relation to new themes, theories, methods, pragmatic stances and contexts. The book explores different experiences and accounts of entrepreneurship, as well as reflections on ‘story telling’ in entrepreneurship research, discursive studies, and debates on how to interpret narrative and discursive work.

Chapter 5: Storytelling to be real: narrative, legitimacy building and venturing

Ellen O’Connor

Subjects: business and management, entrepreneurship, research methods in business and management, research methods, qualitative research methods, research methods in business and management


Ellen O’Connor INTRODUCTION Emerging organizations are elaborate fictions of proposed possible future states of existence (Gartner et al. 1992, p. 17). Before a company exists, it is a story about an imagined future. As the company comes into being, it still remains largely fictional although the entrepreneurs ‘act as if’ the imagined future is at hand (Gartner et al., 1992). But entrepreneurs are in the business of business, not storytelling, which depends on others’ believing and ‘buying in’ by investing money and/or other resources, for which they expect a return when belief becomes product and profit. Sociologists and organization theorists describe this as a process of legitimacy building (Suchman, 1995; Aldrich and Fiol, 1994). Suchman (1995, p. 582) emphasizes that in order to provide legitimacy, accounts about a company’s activities ‘must mesh both with the larger belief systems and with the experienced reality of the audience’s daily life’. This chapter presents this ‘meshing’ as a verbal process of intertextuality (see below). Entrepreneurs operate in a world of long-standing conversations. To achieve legitimacy, their conversations must engage with these pre-existing, ongoing, and encompassing conversations. The study answers calls for research on (1) the earliest phase of venturing (Schoonhoven and Romanelli, 2001b, p. 403; Aldrich, 2000, p. 14; Aldrich and Fiol, 1994, p. 664); (2) knowledge about the entrepreneur’s day-to-day work (Gartner et al., 1992, p. 238; Aldrich and Baker, 1997, p. 394; Katz and Gartner, 1988, p. 433); and (3) the processes by which an entrepreneur makes meaning (Aldrich and...

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