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‘Be what I hope to see you; an active tradesman and a noble virtuous character’ The construction of meaning and identity in an entrepreneurial career:

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Presentation on theme: "‘Be what I hope to see you; an active tradesman and a noble virtuous character’ The construction of meaning and identity in an entrepreneurial career:"— Presentation transcript:

1 ‘Be what I hope to see you; an active tradesman and a noble virtuous character’ The construction of meaning and identity in an entrepreneurial career: historical and narrative approaches

2 ‘I didn’t get where I am today’: narrating entrepreneurial lives Dr Andrew Popp University of Liverpool Management School

3 ‘I Didn’t Get Where I am Today’

4 ‘I DIDN’T GET WHERE I AM TODAY’ CJ’s (Rise and Fall of Reggie Perrin) entrepreneurial credo A perfect, if always ridiculous, teleology – CJ constantly narrates his entrepreneurial life backwards; from the pinnacle of what he has achieved Comic, but tapping into societal ‘myths’ of entrepreneurialism

5 The Entrepreneur 1.Role-defined: innovator vs. resource coordinator 2.Pre-determined: based on innate characteristics Risk tolerant Decisive Innovative; foresight Acquisitive Focused/targetted 3Pre-determined: based on social structures Better access to scarce resources (financial, connections, information): a structural explanation 4.Allied to socio-cultural myths of the entrepreneur 5.Intellectual traditions: methodological individualism/rational action

6 John Shaw of Wolverhampton Born Penn, Staffordshire, 1782, died 1858 Marries Elizabeth Wilkinson of Colne, Lancashire in 1813 Has 6 children In business by 1805, partnership of Shaw and Crane formed 1815, dissolved 1848 Founds T.E. Thompson and Co., Calcutta, 1834

7 The Shaw archive Extensive business records Wolverhampton Archives and Local Studies (WALS) Shaw and Wilkinson letters: total of 50 letters (WALS) Shaw letters: total of 119 letters, 78 between Shaw and his wife, 1810 – 1839 (University of Birmingham)

8 Business, Family, God, and Gender ‘ I have such an opinion of Industry that I think no person of either sex can be good if not industrious. We much wonder you dislike travelling; pluck up your spirits; put on a proper degree of modest assurance; and be what I hope to see you; an active tradesman and a noble virtuous character’ (15/6/1801) ‘My advice is to be warm in the pursuit of business, if you meet with repulses follow up and with cheerful countenance and modest resolution you will carry the point – you will say I know nothing about it, but this much I know, that if nature had form’d me of the other sex I would have made a handsome competency ere now (by the Blessing of God)’ (27/2/1802)

9 The Entrepreneurial Life The emotional Context for and the emotional Content of entrepreneurship – the experiential dimensions of the entrepreneurial life Three ‘dimensions’ of the letters 1.Their ‘texture’ (not themes) 2.Their relationship to time 3.Their relationship to place

10 Historical Ethnography Understanding entrepreneurship in terms of the meaning it has for actors Exploring how we deal with the issue of time, narrative and teleology in history

11 Self-identity ‘the self as reflexively understood by the person in terms of his or her biography … the capacity to keep a particular narrative going’ (Giddens, 1991) Three dimensions of self-identity As the making of narratives As relations with others in time and space Through emplotting, as an evaluative framework

12 ‘Storytelling’ Storytelling transforms (random) events and experiences into (meaningful) episodes Self-identity as rooted in language and its use Relationality emphasizes the dialogic As remembering/remaking: ‘In order to be experienced as a memory, … retrieved information must be recollected in the context of a particular time and place with some reference to oneself as a participant in the episode’ (Schacter, 1997)

13 Narrative: uses and abuses? Sense(self)-making vs. teleology Un/emplotting

14 Relational and temporal horizons Time not merely a background but constitutive Social roles as a resource for constructing self- identity (e.g. ‘the entrepreneur’) personae dramatis

15 Ethnography, identity and business history Entrepreneurial agency best conceptualized via narrative concepts of self-identity: ‘Ontological narratives … are the stories that social actors use to make sense of – indeed to act in – their lives’ (Somers, 1994) Escape from ‘individualist-objectivist’ constructions – ‘traitism’and ‘economism’

16 ‘Textures’ Love, affection, intimacy and tenderness The familiar and quotidian Sentiment, obligation, duty and friendship – ‘circles’ not networks The intermingling of preoccupations – the inseparability of the entrepreneurial self (e.g. from the self as son, husband and father)

17 Textures ‘ Your esteem and love I value – I prize more than any – more than even worldly goods’ ‘I have been sadly out of sorts today, could not help thinking … I was also home this day twelvemonth [past] and so I have thought I may have been today and am lost for a short time in the sweet caresses and endearments of wife and children – the worries and anxieties of business [forgotten] ‘Oh my dear John, I lay in bed thinking how I shall enjoy clasping you to my bosom calling you by all those names my affection can invent. I think of it till I almost imagine it a reality … I feel as if I never should be satisfied with kissing and embracing you so you must prepare yourself for it. Nay I even talk of eating you – but at this rate I shall frighten you so I had better hold my tongue till I have you safe here’(16/4/1816) ‘One night I dream’d that you were locked in my embrace. The pleasure I felt awoke me [and] I was disappointed to find it nothing but a dream’

18 Mother – and others ‘In all your time whether in business or otherwise engaged remember the eye of god is upon you – you will then never dare to do amiss’ (30/8/01) ‘you hurt me much to find your reluctance to travelling still continues; for goodness sake what are you; you are no Edwards, remember upon this your first journey … you will stamp your charisket for a tradesman’ (30/8/01) ‘I like him [Crane] very well – there seems something cheerful and open and good about him … he seems rather boyish, business seems to be his hobby horse’ (31/3/15)

19 Children ‘Betsey says we shall go a journey when Mamma and the boy come home. She says you are gone a journey to get orders. She is very cute and contented’ ‘all is quiet and still and as regular as the clock and our little Mary gets a great Mary – in other words she gets a bouncer a funny thing talking’ (19/10/31)

20 Provider ‘for in neglecting my business should I have your best interest at heart?’ ‘If we labour for the true riches the Lord will take that every other thing shall be added … It is every man’s duty to do the best he can for himself and family and to use the abilities Providence has bestow’d upon him to promote his own and their welfare’ ‘I am most miserable tired and flung out’

21 Time Spontaneity – in and of the moment Episodic and in the form of dialogue (necessarily) Elapse of time, accretion of memory and alienation from the past (remembering vs. experiencing) Some nostalgia and relatively scant regard for the future The letters narrate constantly from one moment to the next but are not themselves a narrative

22 Time, place and people Constant travelling – along familiar repeated circuits Wolverhampton, Goldthornhill (‘our friends’) Colne, Rochdale, Skipton, Buxton and Bridgnorth Places intimately bound with people, memory and time Dual embedding

23 Time and Place ‘I suppose there is a wonderful attraction in the plantation at Buxton where you and I used to roam and tell soft tales five and twenty years ago. I should hardly know the place again I suppose’ ‘this is a most delightful morning here – can you find time to walk upon the hills behind the Church, such a day as this will do you good and recall to recollection old times when we used to slide there’ ‘you can’t conceive how much you have been upon my thoughts since I left home, particularly so when revisiting those places we were at on our journey home’

24 Absence ‘How quick time flies and what little use I have made of it – very soon we shall have been married ten years and out of that time we have lived six of it together’ (11/1/23) ‘one thing however is consoling to the mind amidst all these vexations, that home loses nothing in all it fond attracting charms and endearments from absence’ ‘you are almost at home and the midst of Friends and so often in their sweet company’ (20/6/01)

25 Conclusions Is it these meanings and experiences rather than innate characteristics or pre-existing social structures that best explain entrepreneurial actions? Not moments of ‘heroic’ action but constantly lived and unfolding A history of entrepreneurship – not a theory Not just historically situated (context etc.) but sensitive to the un-emplotted, lived experience of the historical subject as entrepreneur No stabilization of meaning – no point from which to say ‘I didn’t get where I am today’. Self-identity is not static across the life-cycle


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