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Stories of Entrepreneurs: Narrative Construction of Identities

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Diss. -- Turun kauppakorkeakoulu.
STORIES OF ENTREPRENEURS:
NARRATIVE CONSTRUCTION OF IDENTITIES
TURKU SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS AND BUSINESS
ADMINISTRATION, SMALL BUSINESS INSTITUTE
ULLA HYTTI
Sarja Ae1_2003
ISBN 951-564-137-3
ISSN 1459-4870
PREFACE
In the introduction to this study I write how I became a researcher out of
‘pure chance’. Chance or not, being a researcher is possibly the most in-
teresting and privileged profession in the world. Independent thinking
and freedom of action related to research is great. On the other hand,
many times this freedom is of course illusionary because you cannot even
go to the sauna without hearing the stories of the participants in your
head or thinking about the relevance of an article to your research. As I
discovered in this research the same illusionary freedom is a part of being
an entrepreneur and I have borrowed the concept from one of the partici-
pants in this study. At one point in my research journey I found myself
taking completely new paths as I was applying theories and methodolo-
gies that were new to me and to a large extent to entrepreneurship re-
search. Here also I can find an analogy to being an entrepreneur: if entre-
preneurs have taken this leap of faith by abandoning the safe and the fa-
miliar in the face of the new and alluring, why would not an entrepre-
neurship researcher. Presumably as a starting point, a thesis on entrepre-
neurship should strive to be innovative and entrepreneurial.
The journey has been fun and educational but not lonely. I have re-
ceived a lot of support from various places and people. Firstly, I’d like to
thank all the entrepreneurs participating in this study. All accepted with-
out much persuasion and those moments were the most rewarding ones in
this process. My sincerest thanks to the examiners of this study, Professor
Päivi Eriksson and Professor Robert Blackburn, for their excellent com-
ments that helped me to improve the research. I am very thankful that
Professor Anne Kovalainen agreed to be my supervisor. As an experi-
enced and well read academic she has had plenty of ideas to help me lay
the foundations for this research. Anne’s inspiring approach and her will-
ingness to please me by setting deadlines for each phase has kept this
process going. Without Anne’s support this research would not yet be
here and in this form, so thank you Anne for your significant input!
The reason why being a researcher has gradually become an interest-
ing career alternative is partly due to the magnificent working environ-
ment at the Small Business Institute. All these years Dr. Jarna Heinonen
has been my encouraging and inspiring boss, a role model and an impor-
tant influence in this study. The director of the Business Research and
Development Centre, Professor Antti Paasio has encouraged us all in en-
trepreneurial and innovative action and thinking. Thank you Jarna and
Antti! Furthermore, I’d like to thank the team in the Small Business Insti-
tute for the hilarious and buzzing years at the Institute. Thanks to Dr. Pasi
Malinen for your comments and the corrections you made to the refer-
ences in this study! I am happy to have been able to work with you.
My warmest thanks also to the Department of Management, Professor
Satu Lähteenmäki and fellow doctoral students for numerous inspiring
research seminars. During these years I have also participated in many
other workshops, conferences and courses in Barcelona, Venice, Jy-
väskylä and other interesting places. They have given me a lot of inspira-
tion and spurs of enthusiasm that were necessary for conducting this
piece of research. I want to thank all the teachers and other doctoral stu-
dents at those occasions for helping me to find my path as a researcher.
Furthermore, I would like to thank Karen Winnery for editing the lan-
guage of my thesis.
Important support both financially and morally has been given by the
Academy of Finland, the Finnish Cultural Foundation, the Foundation for
Economic Education, The Paulo Foundation, the Foundation for Com-
merce Education in Turku and the Education and Training Fund of the
1954 Business Graduates Meeting in Turku. They believed that my sub-
ject was worth studying and created the financial basis for conducting
this research.
Reading is an essential part of research and I developed an interest in
reading at home. From home I also gained the strong belief that I could
do whatever I wanted to do in life. Thanks to my parents Seija and
Hannu! In addition, I remember with warmth my late grandparents’, Ville
and Reetta Hytti, ‘scholarship fund’ during my school years. They cre-
ated a sense of belief that being successful in studies is a worthwhile ac-
tivity. I would also like to thank my niece Essi (and indirectly her par-
ents): you’re the world’s best niece! During the research process I also
ran into an entrepreneur in my personal life. Thank you Timo for your in-
terest towards my academic project and for increasing my understanding
of entrepreneurship but more importantly for everything else!
Turku, 21st of February 2003, on a sunny early Spring day.
Ulla Hytti
ESIPUHE
Tämän tutkimuksen johdannossa kerron kuinka ’sattumalta’ ajaudun tut-
kijaksi. Sattumaa tai ei niin tutkijan ammatti on ainakin hauska ammatti
ja olen usein kokenut olevani erittäin etuoikeutettu henkilö. Tutkijuuteen
liittyvä itsenäisen ajattelun ja toiminnan vapaus on hienoa. Toisaalta mo-
nesti se vapaus on tietenkin ’illusorista’, koska mitä vapautta se on, että
ei voi edes saunaan mennä ilman, että päässä vilisee haastateltavien puhe
tai luetun artikkelin merkitys omalle työlle. Tästä löytyy analogia yrittä-
jän vapauteen, ja olenkin tämän ’illusorinen vapaus’ –käsitteen lainannut
suoraan erään tähän tutkimukseen osallistuneen yrittäjän puheesta. Tut-
kimusprosessini jossakin vaiheessa löysin itseni kulkemassa täysin uusia
polkuja eli soveltamassa itselleni ja suurelta osin yrittäjyystutkimukselle-
kin uutta teoreettista näkökulmaa ja metodologista otetta. Myös tästä löy-
dän analogian tutkimuskohteisiini: jos yrittäjät ovat ottaneet ’loikan tun-
temattomaan’, hylänneet tutun ja turvallisen uuden ja houkuttelevan
edessä niin sen voi tehdä yrittäjyystutkijakin. Kaiketi lähtökohtaisesti väi-
töskirjan yrittäjyydestä pitäisi olla jollakin tavalla innovatiivinen ja yrittä-
jämäinen.
Matka on ollut hauska, opettava, muttei yksinäinen. Olen saanut tukea
suunnalta jos toiselta. Ensinnäkin kiitän kaikkia tutkimukseen osallistu-
neita yrittäjiä. Kaikki suostuivat haastatteluun ilman suurempaa suostut-
telua ja haastatteluhetket olivat tutkimukseni antoisimpia tilaisuuksia.
Lämpimät kiitokseni työni esitarkastajille professori Päivi Erikssonille ja
professori Robert Blackburnille ansiokkaista kommenteista, jotka auttoi-
vat minua viimeistelemään työni. Paljon saan kiittää siitä, että professori
Anne Kovalainen suostui tämän tutkimuksen ohjaajaksi. Hänen osaami-
sestaan ja lukeneisuudestaan on riittänyt tiiliä tämän tutkimuksen perus-
kiven muuraamiseksi. Annen kannustava ote ja sopeutuminen itselleni
tärkeiden aikataulujen tekemiseen on pitänyt prosessin liikkeessä. Ilman
Annen tukea tämä tutkimus ei olisi vielä tässä eikä tämänkaltainen, joten
kiitokset merkittävästä panoksestasi Anne!
Se, että en millään ole halunnut lähteä PK-Instituutista pois on var-
masti vaikuttanut ajautumiseeni (sosiaalistumiseeni?) tutkijaksi. Kaikki
nämä vuodet dosentti Jarna Heinonen on ollut erittäin innostava ja kan-
nustava pomoni, tutkijaroolimallini ja tutkimukseni taustavaikuttaja! Li-
säksi laitoksen johtaja professori Antti Paasio on kannustanut meitä kaik-
kia yrittäjämäiseen ja innovatiiviseen toimintaan. Suurkiitokset teille Jar-
na ja Antti! Lisäksi haluan kiittää kaikkia PK-Instituuttilaisia näistä ratki-
riemukkaista ja työntäyteisistä vuosista. Dosentti Pasi Maliselle kiitokset
tutkimukseeni antamistasi kommenteista ja lähdeluettelovirheiden korja-
uksista! Olen iloinen, että olen saanut tehdä töitä kanssanne!
Lämpimät kiitokset myös Johtamisen laitokselle ja professori Satu
Lähteenmäelle sekä muille laitoksen jatko-opiskelijoille inspiroivista tut-
kimusseminaareista. Vuosien kuluessa olen osallistunut myös muihin
työseminaareihin, tieteellisiin konferensseihin ja tutkimuskursseihin Bar-
celonassa, Venetsiassa, Jyväskylässä ja muissa mielenkiintoisissa pai-
koissa. Ne ovat antaneet paljon uusia virikkeitä ja uutta intoa tutkimuk-
sen tekemiseen. Tahdon kiittää kaikkien näiden kurssien ohjaajia ja muita
tohtoriopiskelijoita avustanne tutkijan polkuni löytymisessä! Lisäksi kii-
tokset Karen Winnerylle raportin kieliasun editoimisesta!
Tärkeän tukensa paitsi rahallisesti mutta myös kannustavassa mielessä
ovat tälle tutkimukselle antaneet Suomen Akatemia, Suomen Kulttuuri-
rahasto, Paulon Säätiö, Liikesivistysrahasto, Turun kauppaopetussäätiö ja
Turun Ekonomipäivien 1954 opinto- ja koulutusrahasto. Nämä tahot ovat
uskoneet, että aiheeni on tutkimisen arvoinen ja luoneet taloudellisen
pohjan tutkimuksen tekemiselle!
Lukeminen on olennainen osa tutkimista ja siihen minut opetettiin jo
kotona. Kotoa olen saanut lujan uskon myös siihen, että minä pystyn mi-
hin vain mitä ikinä haluan tehdä. Kiitos tästä vanhemmilleni Seijalle ja
Hannulle! Lisäksi muistan lämmöllä edesmenneiden isovanhempieni Vil-
le ja Reetta Hytin kouluaikojen ’stipendirahastoa’. He valoivat uskoa sii-
hen, että opinnoissa menestyminen on hienoa ja kannattavaa. Lisäksi ha-
luan kiittää veljentytärtäni Essiä (ja välillisesti hänen vanhempiaan): Olet
maailman paras veljentytär! Tutkimusprosessini kuluessa törmäsin yrittä-
jään myös henkilökohtaisessa elämässäni. Kiitos Timo mielenkiinnostasi
akateemista projektiani kohtaan ja yrittäjyyteen liittyvän ymmärrykseni
lisäämisestä, mutta ennen kaikkea siitä kaikesta muusta!
Turussa aurinkoisena kevättalven päivänä 21.2.2003
Ulla Hytti
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. ENTREPRENEURSHIP, NARRATIVES AND
IDENTITIES ............................................................................................. 13
1.1 My story of becoming a researcher engaging in this
study.................................................................................................. 13
1.2 Aims and research questions of the study.........................................17
2. IDENTITY ................................................................................................ 19
2.1 Making identities matter (borrowed from Williams)........................ 19
2.1.1 Being the same and different: constructing an
identity................................................................................. 20
2.1.2 Core, integral identity.......................................................... 21
2.1.3 Identities as constructions and deconstructions ..................22
2.1.4 Identities: One and many..................................................... 25
2.1.5 Identity as a life plan: from the past to the
future ................................................................................... 29
2.1.6 Self as narrative (from Polkinghorne)................................. 30
2.2 Discussion......................................................................................... 31
3. ENTREPRENEURSHIP ........................................................................... 35
3.1 Descartesian reading of entrepreneurs.............................................. 35
3.1.1 Beholders of mythical characteristics..................................35
3.1.2 Organising entrepreneurs into different types..................... 37
3.2 Social constructionist reading of entrepreneurs................................ 38
3.2.1 Entrepreneurship as a role................................................... 38
3.2.2 Entrepreneurship as a career / a profession......................... 39
3.2.3 Focusing entrepreneurial identities .....................................40
3.3 Entrepreneurial processes................................................................. 42
3.3.1 Behavioural approach to entrepreneurship.......................... 42
3.3.2 Entrepreneurial learning and sensemaking .........................43
3.3.3 Organising of entrepreneurship........................................... 44
3.3.4 Time and place – the context for
entrepreneurship .................................................................. 45
3.4 Abandoning A Theory and the Essential Entrepreneur.................... 48
4. NARRATIVE RESEARCH AND ITS RELEVANCE FOR
MY STUDY ..............................................................................................51
4.1 Introduction to narrative research..................................................... 51
4.2 Narratives as a method for collecting research material................... 54
4.2.1 Autobiograhical narratives and life-stories ......................... 55
4.2.2 Conducting the interviews................................................... 59
4.2.3 Bad material ........................................................................ 62
4.3 Narratives as a method of analysis ................................................... 62
4.3.1 Arranging material .............................................................. 68
4.3.2 Analysing material .............................................................. 69
4.3.3 On the matter of voice......................................................... 72
4.4 Narratives as a method for writing the report................................... 75
4.4.1 On the matter of place......................................................... 77
4.4.2 Presenting the research material.......................................... 79
4.5 Narratives in entrepreneurship research ........................................... 81
4.6 Drawing the boundaries of my study................................................ 84
4.6.1 Focusing on entrepreneurs ..................................................84
4.6.2 Limitations of narratives ..................................................... 85
4.7 Rethinking the questions of validity, reliability and
generalisability.................................................................................. 88
5. BUILDING BLOCKS FOR THE STORIES ............................................ 91
5.1 Choosing and locating entrepreneurs for the study .......................... 91
5.2 Story formats and ways of narrating................................................. 96
5.2.1 Different stories, not just different themes.......................... 96
5.2.2 Devices for constructing the stories .................................... 98
5.3 Contents of the entrepreneurial stories........................................... 100
5.3.1 Opportunities and escapes................................................. 100
5.3.1.1 Recognising opportunities .................................. 100
5.3.1.2 Escaping organisational life................................ 102
5.3.2 Trends of working life....................................................... 103
5.3.2.1 Ending the era of contracts for life ..................... 103
5.3.2.2 The ‘problem’ of ageing ..................................... 104
5.3.3 Entrepreneurial values: Freedom and
responsibility..................................................................... 105
5.3.4 Gender matters and family too.......................................... 106
5.3.5 Entrepreneurial success..................................................... 108
5.3.5.1 Making a living as a measure of success ............ 109
5.3.5.2 Social rewards..................................................... 109
5.3.5.3 Social meanings of money.................................. 109
5.3.6 Surviving failures and building for increased
security .............................................................................. 110
5.3.6.1 Bankruptcy as a learning experience .................. 110
5.3.6.2 Building security................................................. 111
5.3.7 Family business issues ......................................................112
5.3.7.1 Working in a family business.............................. 112
5.3.7.2 Business succession issues.................................. 112
6. STORIES OF ENTREPRENEURS ........................................................115
6.1 Rosemary’s Story............................................................................115
6.1.1 Presenting the scene .......................................................... 115
6.1.2 Opportunity presents itself ................................................ 119
6.1.3 Getting started – facing problems .....................................122
6.1.4 Together and alone............................................................ 126
6.1.5 Family matters................................................................... 128
6.1.6 Enjoying life as an entrepreneur........................................ 132
6.1.7 Preparing for retirement .................................................... 133
6.1.8 Discussion on Rosemary’s entrepreneurial
identity............................................................................... 138
6.2 Jonathan’s Story..............................................................................139
6.2.1 Presenting the scene .......................................................... 139
6.2.2 Exploring ideas; an opportunity presents itself................. 141
6.2.3 ‘Just in case’ – Jonathan’s life projects............................. 143
6.2.4 Doing well financially but struggling with
human relations ................................................................. 149
6.2.5 Preparing for sharing of wisdom....................................... 153
6.2.6 Important people for entrepreneurship.............................. 154
6.2.7 Enjoying the pragmatism of entrepreneurial
life...................................................................................... 155
6.2.8 Changing values and views............................................... 158
6.2.9 Discussion on Jonathan’s entrepreneurial
identity............................................................................... 159
6.3 Eliza’s story .................................................................................... 160
6.3.1 Presenting the Scene.......................................................... 160
6.3.2 Accidental designer........................................................... 162
6.3.3 Experimenting with entrepreneurship ............................... 163
6.3.4 Working in the family business......................................... 165
6.3.5 Going for the 2nd Round: Serious about
entrepreneurship ................................................................ 166
6.3.6 Life as an entrepreneur...................................................... 168
6.3.7 Mentoring relationship and networking ............................ 170
6.3.8 Creating a balance with entrepreneurship and
life...................................................................................... 172
6.3.9 Female entrepreneurship ................................................... 175
6.3.10 Building security ............................................................... 179
6.3.11 Discussion on Eliza’s entrepreneurial identity.................. 181
6.4 Diane’s Story .................................................................................. 182
6.4.1 Presenting the scene .......................................................... 182
6.4.2 Professional taking a sabbatical ........................................ 184
6.4.3 Starting up ......................................................................... 185
6.4.4 Gender matters .................................................................. 185
6.4.5 Creating a role for the network .........................................186
6.4.6 Working alone: mixing professional with
personal ............................................................................. 188
6.4.7 Family issues..................................................................... 189
6.4.8 Gender matters part II .......................................................191
6.4.9 Restless soul – the theory of six year periods ................... 193
6.4.10 Role of others: networking................................................ 195
6.4.11 Building the future as an entrepreneur.............................. 196
6.4.12 Discussion on Diane’s entrepreneurial identity ................199
6.5 Marge’s Story ................................................................................. 202
6.5.1 Presenting the scene .......................................................... 202
6.5.2 Weighing and pondering upon the idea ............................ 204
6.5.3 Betrayal of the working life ..............................................206
6.5.4 Reflecting on entrepreneurial identity............................... 209
6.5.5 Re-building the journalist identity..................................... 213
6.5.6 Constructing a positive future ........................................... 214
6.5.7 Discussion on Marge’s entrepreneurial identity................ 215
6.6 Timothy’s Story.............................................................................. 217
6.6.1 Presenting the scene .......................................................... 217
6.6.2 Starting up in the aftermath of the economic
recession............................................................................ 219
6.6.3 Learning entrepreneurial skills.......................................... 221
6.6.4 Constructing meaning for Timothy’s business
and entrepreneurship ......................................................... 222
6.6.5 Human resources............................................................... 227
6.6.6 Falsity of constructing a story: Business as
usual .................................................................................. 230
6.6.7 Family matters: Constructing a future against
wealth ................................................................................ 232
6.6.8 Entrepreneurship as a virtue.............................................. 233
6.6.9 Networking and bureaucracy ............................................234
6.6.10 Discussion on Timothy’s entrepreneurial
identity............................................................................... 235
6.7 Arthur’s Story................................................................................. 236
6.7.1 Presenting the scene .......................................................... 236
6.7.2 Setting up the company..................................................... 237
6.7.3 Accidental engineer........................................................... 238
6.7.4 Flying start for the company..............................................241
6.7.5 The Big Ban(g)kruptcy...................................................... 242
6.7.6 Continuing business activities, a new rule book
for the business but the stigma remains ............................247
6.7.7 Enjoying life as an entrepreneur: recognition,
nature of work and profits ................................................. 250
6.7.8 Keeping busy..................................................................... 253
6.7.9 Discussion on Arthur’s Entrepreneurial
Identity............................................................................... 254
6.8 Samuel’s story ................................................................................256
6.8.1 Presenting the Scene.......................................................... 257
6.8.2 Starting up ......................................................................... 259
6.8.3 Fast-growing business....................................................... 260
6.8.4 Enjoying life as an entrepreneur........................................ 264
6.8.5 Family issues..................................................................... 268
6.8.6 Constructing the future...................................................... 269
6.8.7 Discussion on Samuel’s entrepreneurial
identity............................................................................... 271
7. LEAVING THE SCENE......................................................................... 273
7.1 Summarising the aims of the research............................................ 273
7.2 Theoretical implications of the research......................................... 274
7.2.1 Contextualising knowledge............................................... 274
7.2.2 Stretching beyond method: problems and
solutions ............................................................................ 279
7.2.3 Application of the narrative method for theory................. 282
7.3 Suggestions for the next act............................................................ 291
REFERENCES............................................................................................... 295
APPENDIX 1: A LETTER TO THE PARTICIPANTS PRIOR
TO THE INTERVIEW............................................................................ 315
LIST OF FIGURES
Figure 1 The research approach and the main themes of the study ................. 18
Figure 2 Revisiting the research approach and the main themes of the
study.............................................................................................. 273
LIST OF TABLES
Table 1 The story of Rosemary – early days of entrepreneurship.................... 67
Table 2 Presenting the entrepreneurs and their enterprises in the study.......... 95
13
1. ENTREPRENEURSHIP, NARRATIVES
AND IDENTITIES
1.1 My story of becoming a researcher engaging in this study
When finalising my Master’s degree and the thesis that went with it I felt
sick and tired of research. I had struggled with my thesis for about two
years and finally I just wrote it up to get it done with before going to
study in France for a year. When graduating from the university I really
did not have an idea of what I wanted to do with my life professionally. I
had no passion for direct marketing or personnel management, for ac-
counting or anything else for that matter. I felt more like the Jane-of-all-
trades whom I believed could develop an interest and be reasonably good
at most things. For this reason it was difficult for me to try to convince
potential employers that I was ‘their girl’ and I kept going from one in-
terview to another. To my friends and relatives I responded that I was
willing to try anything but research. Later when things turned out as they
did I realised I had forgotten about the old James Bond wisdom ‘Never
say never’.
At that point in my life my future boss from the Small Business Insti-
tute called me and asked me if I wanted to come and work with the Insti-
tute for a month as a research assistant conducting some telephone inter-
views for a project. I had sent my CV to the centre applying for a non-
research related post, and she spotted me from the pile because of my ex-
perience of working in telesales and surveys. I accepted with the idea that
‘a month wouldn't kill me’, and it was better to do something than noth-
ing. At the end of the month I realised I had enjoyed the time at the Insti-
tute; working with intelligent, dynamic, youthful and nice people. It was
pleasant to work in an inspiring environment where my ability as a fast
learner and efficiency in completing the tasks I was assigned to was ap-
preciated and I was asked to stay within the Institute. I was glad that my
skills had been spotted but I was highly sceptical, or even refused to
think about doctoral studies. I have been working in the Small Business
Institute since 1996, and nearly all my contacts with entrepreneurs are a
result of this working relationship. My role in the institute has always in-
volved holding interviews with entrepreneurs for various projects and
under various subjects. I enjoyed meeting and talking to entrepreneurs
and listening to their stories.
14
In 1998 I had my second never say never experience as I suddenly de-
cided to continue my studies and enrolled in our school as a doctoral stu-
dent. I had realised that it does not pay off to be working at a university
without a PhD and I was not willing to quit my job or leave my col-
leagues. So I made my first attempt at a research proposal. In that pro-
posal I proposed to study the effects of entrepreneurship education – so
in a way I was already interested in how entrepreneurs are being ‘made’.
Later, I started thinking about whether I could study entrepreneurs more
holistically in their development processes and my supervisor suggested
the idea of identity to me. Nevertheless, I was still interested in actually
investigating the process of a person becoming an entrepreneur and I
planned to conduct a longitudinal study of entrepreneurs participating in
an entrepreneurship education programme, and to investigate their iden-
tity development as they shift from being non-entrepreneurs to being en-
trepreneurs. As a result I went to meet some people who had decided to
take part in a programme at the Small Business Institute to gather pre-
understanding of my subjects, the future entrepreneurs. During that proc-
ess I learned that becoming an entrepreneur may or may not take place
during a one-year course, and for some the overall process can take many
years. Therefore I realised that it might be impossible for me to find peo-
ple that would definitely become entrepreneurs or for whom it might
happen during a reasonable timeframe. In addition I became critical of
my own naïve assumption that I would be able to study identities through
constant observation.
...“nothing ever happens right where and when the researcher is
observing. All important events happen at some other time, other
place. Although in the beginning researchers tend to be taken by
panic and try to chase “the action,” in time they learn that impor-
tant events are made into such in accounts. Nobody is aware that
an important event is happening when it takes place,”
(Czarniawska 1998, 29)
About the same time a fellow doctoral student confronted me in a doc-
toral tutorial by asking to explain what really interests me in my research,
what is the driving force of my study. My meetings and interviews with
entrepreneurs had assured me that entrepreneurs are special kind of peo-
ple. They are often very charismatic and meeting them is a very powerful
experience even to the extent that sometimes it is difficult to fit in the
same room with them. During my dissertation process I became inter-
ested in how this happens – are they as sometimes told mythical persons
that are born with exceptional charisma and characteristics, or is it some-
15
thing that develops during the course of their life as entrepreneurs
through the experiences they face. My own experiences of my career
choice and development coloured my thinking and my readings of the ar-
ticles that aimed at conveying ideas such as ‘people become entrepre-
neurs if the value added exceeds that of wage work’ or ‘people become
entrepreneurs if they factually possess certain inner characteristics’ be-
came highly critical. The results of these studies have not been encourag-
ing and I felt that the existing research was really missing something. The
epistemological and ontological assumptions made in those studies
seemed to suggest to me that they had taken the wrong path. Interest-
ingly, the entrepreneurs in my study also contested the existence of
‘mythical entrepreneurs’ or related ‘attributes’. One of the interviewees
posed me a question before the interview: ‘Are you interested in entre-
preneurs as these mythical people that are often discussed?’ My answer
was that my aim was to the contrary.
Personally, I feel I am growing into research – I am gradually becom-
ing a researcher by acting as one and it is inspired by my learning who I
can be and how I can be a researcher. I do not seem to be fitting into the
stereotypical researcher ideal or image: I am not a thinker, I am a doer.
Could this be the process that entrepreneurs go through themselves? That
they become who they are – competent, skilled entrepreneurs by acting as
such? It is through understanding my own life and career that I look at
the lives and careers of entrepreneurs. One of the entrepreneurs I inter-
viewed said after the interview that ‘I think being a researcher is very
similar with being an entrepreneur’. I felt exhilarated because those were
my thoughts exactly. The elements of risk and uncertainty are present in
both projects, the process of creating a service/product or a study has a
lot in common and the need for joy of independence is integral to both.
These analogies create common ground. I can and may draw on my own
experiences as a starting point to understand the entrepreneurs. Still,
those experiences I draw on are mine, not the entrepreneurs’. I cannot put
myself in the shoes of an entrepreneur, nor in the shoes of another re-
searcher for that matter, I observe and experience the world from my own
shoes.
My research project started to develop its form – I wanted to learn
how entrepreneurial identities were being developed by looking at entre-
preneur's own constructions – self-narratives – of how they became en-
trepreneurs. I reasoned that I would see that their lives as entrepreneurs
and their stories of being entrepreneurs are interrelated.
In order to realise the aims of this study, I decided to interview eight
entrepreneurs from various fields and with different backgrounds. Al-
16
though the stories may share some similarities they are all different at the
outset, illustrating and pointing towards the different routes to entrepre-
neurship that there are currently available, e.g. becoming an entrepreneur
at a young age or at a more mature age, from employment / unemploy-
ment / university, etc. I will give detailed information on the entrepre-
neurs later in this report (Chapters 5 and 6) but here I will present them
briefly in order to allow the readers to get acquainted with the characters
in this story as they appear in the Chapters 2, 3 and 4. The characters in
this story are:
Rosemary, an engineer with long experience in the textile in-
dustry. After the relocation of her former employer nearly 20
years ago she decided to set up a textile firm. Currently Rose-
mary devotes some of her time to informing and educating
young entrepreneurs through mentoring and networking.
Jonathan, a former philosophy student who engaged in different
projects during his university years to raise money collegially
for student friends and to engage in meaningful work. Then, a
translation assignment is received that serves as the break-
through for his future entrepreneurial career and after a few
years in the business Jonathan finally quits his teaching job.
Eliza, a designer who has experience of freelance work and en-
trepreneurship as well as a working as an employed designer.
Currently Eliza is working as a sole entrepreneur in a successful
business but ensures she has time for leisure as well.
Marge, a journalist who has had temporary jobs in unrewarding
work environments followed by periods of unemployment and
further education courses. To resolve her growing dissatisfac-
tion with her employment situation Marge sets up her own
company and starts selling her services to different magazines
and newspapers.
Diane, a marketing professional who has had different posts in
different organisations. After the bankruptcy of her former em-
ployer she decides to go into a business on her own providing
training services especially for female entrepreneurs. Currently
Diane is facing some difficulties in managing the business due
to an illness in the family.
Timothy, a business student who graduated from the university
during the recession and in the absence of other alternatives he
formed a multimedia company with three other student friends.
Today Timothy is motivated by the opportunity of finding solu-
tions for his customers’ problems and needs.
17
Arthur, a metal shop worker who gradually over the years edu-
cated himself to become a university engineer and worked as a
CEO in an engineering company. Not sharing the same values
as the owner of the company Arthur decides to leave the com-
pany and is followed by some other employees to set up a new
firm. After some successful years the firm goes bankrupt in the
midst of the recession but the activities continue. Currently the
business is running smoothly.
Samuel, a scientist who after finishing his PhD decided to start
up a biotechnology company with two former colleagues. The
company underwent massive growth. Samuel is searching for
his place in the growing company and finds the personnel man-
agement side of the business to be the most challenging one.
1.2 Aims and research questions of the study
In the previous chapter I write a story of how I became interested in my
research area and I drew lose links between the key concepts – entrepre-
neurship, identity and narratives – in my study. My research question is
how does an individual construct being an entrepreneur. It must be
noted, however, that I do not believe that the entrepreneurial identity
covers the whole identity of the individual but there is room for other
identities as well. In this study, I will discuss the key concepts and the
links between these concepts. All of these concepts are also their own re-
search areas, but curiously enough none of them can be seen to represent
a very developed area with strict and well-grounded definitions and es-
tablished traditions. All of them are elusive as concepts (it is hard to pin-
point what is exactly meant by entrepreneurship, identity or narrative),
and entrepreneurship, identity and narrative research can all have various
forms – they can be portrayed as umbrellas for a wide variety of research
traditions, methods and areas. The research approach and the main
themes are visualised in Figure 1.
18
Figure 1 The research approach and the main themes of the study
It is these themes that will be at the centre of the theoretical and meth-
odological discussion of the report. In the theoretical part I will discuss
what the concept of identity is that I will use in this study. I will also in-
vestigate some of the reasons behind the popularity of identity research at
the moment (Chapter 2). In Chapter 3, I will investigate how entrepre-
neurship has been studied and how my approach relates to the previous
studies with specific emphasis on the points of debate. The identity ap-
proach that purports that we are constantly changing and renegotiating
our identity in our interaction with the social context reflects my view of
entrepreneurs: entrepreneurs negotiate their entrepreneurial identities,
and aim to present themselves as good entrepreneurs whose lives are
meaningful and make sense. Thus my methodological choices need to re-
flect these assumptions and I discuss the narrative method chosen and its
relevance for my study of studying entrepreneurial identities in Chapter
4.
In Chapter 5, I will briefly present the participants in this study as well
as provide a short introduction to the themes discussed. Thus, the aim of
the Chapter is to give an overview of the building blocks of the stories. It
is then in Chapter 6 where the stories of entrepreneurs are presented indi-
vidually, which provides connections to the themes and between the sto-
ries. Finally, in Chapter 7, I will discuss the research results and the con-
tribution of this study.
theory
How an individual
constructs being
an entrepreneur?
identity
theory
entrepreneurship
narrative as
method and theory
How an individual
constructs being
an entrepreneur?
theory
How an individual
constructs being
an entrepreneur?
identity
theory
entrepreneurship
narrative as
method and theory
How an individual
constructs being
an entrepreneur?
19
2. IDENTITY
2.1 Making identities matter (borrowed from Williams)
As embodied people, we are unquestionably whole entities – we have
been born at a given time and place and ever since, we have lived our
lives by inhabiting the same body. However, our bodies do not remain
the same throughout our lives although we do not replace them. Our bod-
ies grow and shrink and our faces change over time even if some charac-
teristics remain recognisable throughout our lives. “I know that I am my-
self because my substance is this particular body that has continued
through time” (Polkinghorne 1988, 147). However, we believe that there
is more to us than just bodies – we have minds, souls, feelings and
thoughts and we have an identity. In this chapter I will discuss what con-
stitutes an identity, and how we may study identities.
What is the need to problematise the existence of identity in the first
place; why should we bother about identities, why are they brought into
focus? Is identity development a naturally occurring phenomenon, or is it
a socially constructed one? Why have identities emerged as a research
question within the social sciences, or why in our everyday lives do we
seem to be challenged to answer the questions of who we are all the
time? It is often asserted that traditional societies did not face the ques-
tion because they did not make the question of individual identity a mat-
ter of reflection or an issue of serious doubt. In the pre-modern times the
choice and negotiation were not part of the identity development process
and hence, they were unproblematic. Stuart Hall (1999) sees that the
source for the pre-modern identities was tradition, and this tradition was
not challenged. As an example, a maid in the pre-modern times did not
strive to climb the social ladder so there was no place for the transforma-
tion or negotiation of her identity and no room for an identity crisis. So,
one can argue that the stable arrangements of identities became a subject
of concern with modernisation. The massive political, social and eco-
nomical changes taking place did have an effect on identities. For exam-
ple, contemporary working life requires individuals to engage in portfolio
careers as opposed to the old ideal of having one upward career in one
organisation, thus, contesting the stability of the professional identity.
This said I share an understanding of identity development as taking
place in the social context. (Williams 2000, 35-36.) Following the ideas
presented by Berger, Berger and Kellner in 1974 Williams (2000, 38) ar-
20
gues that the identities of individuals in modern society are in a state of
permanent crisis. Modern society is a segmented one based on profes-
sional specialisation and social differentiation. This creates the obligation
that our identities are subject to constant pressure for change and multi-
plication, and they are made subject to negotiation. It could be argued,
however, that the strong career identities and identities that we have de-
rived from our professions have come to matter more and more, and they
provide a lot of social support. For example, I assume that every re-
searcher has been questioned on the nature of their field of expertise un-
der the assumption that as a researcher one has an improved access to
knowledge and can therefore be expected to provide true information of
any matter.
“In other words, identity is not categorized a noun but a way of
being-in-relation-to-others as we contest and negotiate who we are
in responsive ways.” (Cunliffe 2001, 361)
2.1.1 Being the same and different: constructing an identity
Many writers have refused to define the concept of identity due to its elu-
sive nature and it has often been substituted with the notions of self and
subjectivity. Williams (2000, 3) acknowledges this difficulty but sees that
it is worth the effort to try to do it. The simple idea of identity is indeed
the “sameness” – that over time an individual’s actions can be seen to be
that of one singular person. We can say that we know who we are, and
hence, we claim knowledge of our own identity. Similarly, we may claim
the knowledge of the identity of others by saying that we know who they
are but what constitutes this knowledge? How can it be made a subject to
study within the human sciences?
Chandler (2000, 209-231) discusses what he calls the paradox of being
the same and changing over time. He emphasises the meaning of being
the same – “whenever and wherever selves are to be considered, they
must, in some arguable way, also be understood to remain the same”
(Chandler 2000, 211). In his commentary to Chandler’s article Sarbin
claims that the paradox can actually be solved by making a distinction
between personal (or what Sarbin calls human) identity and social iden-
tity. The former addresses the question ‘what am I?’ whereas the latter
addresses the question ‘Who am I?’ The epistemological perspective is
not either/or but both/and. (Sarbin 2000, 253-254.) So, we remain both
the same and at the same time we change. The same distinction is also
made by Williams (2000) who provides a thorough discussion, firstly, of
the history of identity research and, secondly, of the emergence of and
21
understanding of identities. He sees that identity research revolves
around two types of questions 1) who is he as a person, and provides ex-
amples of what he calls ‘the metaphysical discussion’ beginning with
Descartes and ending in Hegel and Nietzche, and 2) ‘who am I?’ which is
answered by the sociological discussion. The latter is made explicit, for
example, in the following definition: Identity is “a typified self at a stage
in the life course situated in a context of organised social relationships”
(Weigert – Teitge - Teitge 1986, 53 quoting Stone – Faberman 1970).
2.1.2 Core, integral identity
My analogy of the body to that of identity can also be investigated his-
torically. The body was not of interest to Descartes as the Cartesian self
relies on the premise that the self is equipped with reason, consciousness
and capacity to take action. “Eco cogito, ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I
am”). The Cartesian self is founded and centred on the practices and
products of thought which is separate from and superior to the body. The
centre of the Cartesian self is composed of a core that originates at the
birth of a human being, and begins to grow and develop in its unique
way. The essence of the core, however, remains stable. This idea is an es-
sentialist one; a person is believed to have a substantial existence. The
Cartesian self is a disembodied and asocial identity – every person inhab-
its his or her own area and cannot be affected by other participant sub-
jects. (Hall S. 1999, 31,Williams 2000, 13-17.) In this line of thinking a
person is also capable of knowing the true self that constitutes their iden-
tity (Polkinghorne 1988, 148).
Although the idea of the Cartesian self has received a lot of criticism it
still lives as the counterpart or the mirror of contemporary discussion.
Weigert et al (1986) make the distinction between self and identity by
stating that an individual has one self that becomes situationally typified
through a variety of identities. The personal identity in the Goffmanian
view refers to the unique – the self that can be considered as the source
for identities, the ‘private area’. Like Goffman many other writers refer
to the existence of a core – although they do not claim that it is stable or
even in some cases researchable but implicitly its existence is assumed.
For example, Harré’s ideas of two identity projects – personal and social
identity project – and the role of narratives in mediating between the two
share the same implicit idea of the existence of a core. Furthermore, it
seems that it is typical for us human beings to account for our experience
of ourselves in an individualistic way: as if we all existed from birth as
separate, isolated individuals already containing ‘minds’ or ‘mentalities’
22
wholly within ourselves, set against a material world itself devoid of any
mental processes. We talk this way about ourselves because we are
trapped within what can be thought of as a ‘text’, culturally developed
textual resources – the text of ‘possessive’ individualism. (Shotter 1989.)
Locke’s contribution to the discussion of identities in my reading is
the idea of memory. He saw that identity is constituted and sustained by a
set of recalled experiences unique to the person, and the person remains
the same as long as this recollection is retained. (Hall S. 1999, 32, Wil-
liams 2000, 18.) This is an interesting aspect. In the cases of persons suf-
fering from Alzheimer’s disease or other illnesses of that kind whereby
the person’s ability to remember is reduced, relatives are often quoted of
saying the ill person is no longer the same – they have indeed changed
because they no longer remember who they are and their recollection is
being challenged. As my study focuses strongly on the recollection and
the narratives around and about that recollection I must acknowledge that
memory plays a part in the construction of identities. For the sake of clar-
ity I will emphasise that I do not aim for the true memory or an authentic
recollection of experiences but the ability of remembering in general. In
this sense the ideas of Hume (in Williams 2000, 20) are closer to my
study than that of Locke – memory contributes to the construction of
identity and is not a mechanism by which identity is discovered.
2.1.3 Identities as constructions and deconstructions
In the realm of discussing the ’representational crisis’ and the
(in)capability of researchers to capture the lived experience one is also
tempted to ask who is the subject, and does the subject have direct access
to his or her lived experiences. In traditional ethnographies and many
other qualitative studies, the literal translation of talk is seen to equal
lived experience and its representation. This idea has been challenged by
claiming that language and speech do not mirror experience. The text, the
representation of the talk, is crafted by the writer, not the participant. The
experience, the talk about the experience and the text created are being
separated. (Denzin 1997, 3-5.) Identity development is a constant self-
organising cycle between self-experience (I) and the explanations and in-
terpretations developing on the basis of I-constructions (Me). Identity
always develops in a psychosocial context in the meaning-making proc-
esses with regard to other people and culture. There are no fixed, exter-
nally or internally given meanings, but they are being constructed in a
dialogue between ideas and the world. (Niemi 2001, 18-19, Bruner 1986,
158.) In this view, identities are not created internally in the entrepre-
23
neur’s mind, nor externally by the society and its structure but con-
structed dialogically between entrepreneurs and others in everyday con-
versations and life (Cunliffe 2001, 354).
In opposition to earlier writers the idea of the intersubjective nature
was introduced by Hegel and Nietzche. In Hegel’s ideas full conscious-
ness of self is impossible without the responses of others. He also pro-
vided an understanding of identity being more of an action than a product
of thought. (Williams 2000, 21-30.) This is the sociological subject; the
subject is constructed in relation to meaningful others. This idea under-
lines the view that identity is being built in relation to others, it is shaped
in a dialogue with others. (Hall S. 1999, 22.)
The concept of self deals no longer with the discovery of the core, in-
nate self but it is the construction built on other people’s reactions and at-
titudes towards a person and is subject to change as the responses of oth-
ers change their characters (Polkinghorne 1988, 150). Identity is not
something pre-given and fixed, but constructed and maintained in social
relationships. This social constructionist approach rejects the idea that an
individual is a unique, stable and whole entity, and adopts the idea that an
individual should be seen as a socio-historical and socio-cultural product.
(Weigert et al 1986.) Many others have also discussed the idea that iden-
tities are, in fact, constructed – and challenged the Cartesian point-of-
view that selves exist inside ourselves as something unique and distinc-
tive that guarantee our personal identities. Another question is whether
we are free to construct our identities or whether our identities are being
constructed in relation to others (Shotter 1989). In this study, I will rely
on the notion of identity is constructed in relation to others. In the analy-
sis, for example, I will investigate how the participants construct their
identities in relation to my own presence.
The post-modern subject presents a radical view on the social and rela-
tional character of identity where the subject is no longer a subject in it-
self but rather a place in the language. Subject is not an essentialist, but a
polyphonique one. The structuralists following de Saussure understand
language as a social not individual phenomenon and, therefore, language
precedes us. We cannot in any way be the constructs of language but
rather language constructs us. An individual cannot attach the meanings
to their identities, so an individual cannot control what his words really
mean. Words do not mean anything, but the meaning comes from inter-
textuality, the relationships between words. In this line of thinking
agency follows structure (adopted from Barthes 1993 in Heikkinen 2001,
114-115). The most influential writer representing this idea is Michel
Foucault. If his text were to be read radically he seems to exaggerate the
24
coherence and power of the disciplinary forces and practices that create
and sustain identity and subjectivity. A more liberal interpretation allows
room for local and varied practices and the existence of natural and social
phenomena that these practices are forced to accommodate. (Williams
2000, 64.) The postmodernists following Lyotard and Derrida understand
identities as deconstruction and abandon the ideas of unity, totality and
sameness. The postmodernists therefore attack the unified self and its
identity. There is an absence of ‘being’ behind ‘doing’ (from Nietzche).
Past and integration of the new with the old is not relevant. In its extreme
identity becomes merely a play or an image of identity as performance
and in a way a person may construct his own identity. The meaning of
identity is reduced to a point where action happens to take place. (Hall S.
1999, 40-44, Williams 2000, 58-73.) The post-modern seems to present a
negation of identity but at the same time it fails to substitute it with an-
other concept (Hall S. 1999, 246).
I refute the idea of postmodernism or post-structuralism that it is pos-
sible to choose an identity and to freely create an identity. This I derive
from my understanding that identities are constructed through interaction
with others. In this sense, identity is formulated in the Hegelian sense
against ‘the other’ whether that be our own historical past or in the pre-
sent character of contemporary social formation. An individual cannot re-
late him- or herself to others just as he or she pleases because individuals
are not related to others from their own perspectives, but the relationships
are shared. Thus, Shotter (1989) argues that an individual is performing
in the situation with the knowledge and expectation that others will
surely intervene in some way if he or she does something ‘wrong’. This
idea presented by Shotter (1989) seems to be quite extreme as it assumes
an identity that constantly scans and reflects the actions of others. In ad-
dition, it is not a given that others will intervene. Nevertheless, it is an
important notion in the sense that it shares an understanding that how
others might respond to us is a part of who they are to us and clearly we
compose ourselves differently for different audiences. In those interac-
tions and relationships individuals inform others how to be, which means
that human beings are produced by other such beings (Shotter 1989, 143-
149.) Richard Jenkins (2000) discusses in his article the mechanisms be-
tween (group) identification (internal process of ‘us’) and categorisation
(external process by ‘them’), and he claims that external categorisations
are significant in processes of internal identification, and the external
categorisations either wholly or partly are in fact internalised into self
definitions (Jenkins 2000, 21).
25
In addition, our ways of talking are not neutral, but they perform dif-
ferent forms of social relationships, different statuses, different ways of
‘positioning’ ourselves in relation to others, different patterns of rights
and privileges, duties and obligations. Although entrepreneurs in this
study talk in many ways of their entrepreneurship I still claim that they
cannot talk in just any way, for example, all of them describe their activi-
ties to be meaningful and important both for them and implicitly for soci-
ety (see also Johansson 1997). We often express ourselves in ways ap-
proved of by others. We feel that our reality must be of a certain kind.
We talk as if our experience of our reality is constituted for us largely by
the already established ways in which we talk in our attempts to account
for ourselves. (Shotter 1989, 143-149.) These ideas are helpful in analys-
ing the interviews in my study. In all of the interviews I ask the entrepre-
neurs what is the best thing about being an entrepreneur, and nearly all
start with the laconic but powerful statement: ‘Freedom!’ I do not want to
challenge this and maybe the understanding of the individuals interpreta-
tion of ‘freedom’ will provide a new understanding of the kind of free-
dom the entrepreneurs attach to the idea, but it also seems to be ‘the
thing’ to talk about. In a way this could also be interpreted from the point
of view of the importance of opposition or differentiation in the forma-
tion and maintenance of social identity, of being a member in the group
of entrepreneurs (Carr 1986, 158).
2.1.4 Identities: One and many
In her methodological paper Blumenthal (1999, 380-381) asks why re-
searchers assume that there is one identity when she herself intuitively
can at one point of time identify the many identities that she has as an
academic and as a mother. On the one hand we acknowledge the exis-
tence of multiple identities; that individuals are faced with the task of
continually managing multiple identities within and across situations
(Weigert et al 1986) and in situations where the multiple identities may
conflict (Pratt - Foreman 2000). On the other hand, it seems that our ap-
proaches and research designs are not well suited to accommodate this
idea. However, there are exceptions. May (2001, 67) studies how lone
motherhood is constructed in written life-stories of Swedish speaking
women in Finland. This is in contrast to many other studies on lone
motherhood that create a social category out of lone motherhood and lone
motherhood becomes the lens through which all other aspects of
women’s lives are investigated. May takes another point-of-view: she
looks at the lives of women who happen to be lone mothers (they claim
26
that position in their stories they write to researchers), and looks at the
lone motherhood as embedded in the whole.
…,“solely focusing on lone motherhood in a woman’s life risks
reducing her to a social phenomenon, forgetting that she is a per-
son, an individual with more aspects to her identity and life than
just lone motherhood.” (May 2001, 67)
This is a very interesting idea and its implications for my study are
worth exploring. In my study, I take the entrepreneurship as a lens, i.e. I
ask my interviewees to narrate their entrepreneurial lives. I am however,
interested in exploring how the entrepreneurial identity relates to the
whole – to other aspects of their identities and lives (being mothers and
fathers, daughters, professionals). A similar approach has been taken by
Lindgren (2000) in her study of female teachers who became entrepre-
neurs by starting their own private schools. So although my focus is that
of an entrepreneurial identity, my research calls for adopting a more ho-
listic perspective by ‘zooming out’ of that particular category to under-
standing the personal lives of the entrepreneurs as a whole.
For my study, the most interesting part in the discussion of identity
deals with identity as a social position. Social identity reflects the fact
that individuals regularly identify themselves, and are identified by oth-
ers, with reference to a set of standardized categories or positions. Social
identity refers to group memberships (e.g. gender, occupation). However,
gender and occupation construct our identities to different degrees – our
gender is normally always visible to others and we carry it with us from
one encounter to another, but our occupation may be hidden in some en-
counters. Williams (2000) argues that the idea of choosing our identities
and the existence of pre-determined identifiable categories are not con-
tradictory but in fact
…“the fragmented nature of contemporary social experience re-
flects and facilitates the increased importance of differentiated
identities that contain attributes, experiences and projects that
category members share in common. [] Searching for and achiev-
ing an identity according to this image is simply to search for the
category to which one really belongs and finding from its charac-
teristics who one really is. In contemporary societies, the list of
categorical and positional identities is well-known and is accorded
practical significance through attentiveness of individuals to the
identity matters”. (Williams, 2000, 49)
27
I think Hermans (2001a, 2001 b) takes the idea of coexistence of one
and many even further. Hermans theoretically combines two very differ-
ent theories of self into one – what he calls the dialogical self. The Jame-
sian self of continuity, sense of sameness through time, distinctiveness
from others and a sense of personal volition (continuous appropriation
and rejection of thoughts) is reflected and the Bakhtian views on self; the
polyphonic self where it is possible to differentiate between the inner
world of one and the same individual in the form of inter-personal rela-
tionships. However, James also acknowledges the existence of multiple
selves but through social roles/selves. Hermans combines these two in
the dialogical self that is conceptualised as “a dynamic multiplicity of
relatively autonomous I-positions. In this conception, the I has the possi-
bility to move from one spatial position to another in accordance with
changes in situation and time” (Hermans 2001a, 248). In his views, the
unity of the self as closely related to continuity does not contradict the
existence of multiplicity, which is closely related to discontinuity. An-
other feature of the dialogical self is the coexistence of time and space. It
is this spatial nature that calls for the use of the dynamic terms of ‘posi-
tion’ and ‘positioning’ as opposed to the traditional term of ‘role’. The
dialogical self assumes that there are several I-positions that we can oc-
cupy. The I-positions can also agree, disagree, contradict, understand,
misunderstand, question and challenge the I in another position. The
existence of multiple identities has been accepted elsewhere but this is
followed by the idea that those identities must be managed. The Herman-
sian idea that we can occupy different I-positions, and in that sense those
different I-positions need not to be managed since the dialogical self is
tied to a particular position in space and time. (Hermans 2001a, 243-
250.) Analysing contradictions or ambivalence in the identity talk could be
the solution to understanding multiple identities (Blumenthal 1999, 386).
The answers of the narrator may be different depending from what point
of view the person is narrating from – from example whether as a mother
or a professional. Given the changes that have taken place in the current
employment culture whereby individuals are seen more as resources that
can fulfil a particular need and than can be dismissed if not needed any-
more, the category of ‘freelancer’ or ‘entrepreneur’ may turn out to be the
important stabilising effect on an individual’s life and the social category
that the individual him- or herself has control over. This idea is derived
from one of the interviewees in my study: the narrator Marge felt impor-
tant when she set up her own company and she could relate herself to that
social position in the long term, and this category could not be denied her
by anybody else. So social categorisation provided a sense of stability
28
and rootedness, a sense of significant differences, a sense of history and
continuity and a sense of the destiny and mission (Smith cited in Wil-
liams 2000, 50) although the idea of becoming an entrepreneur due to the
increased security is contrary to current thinking, and may also be seen to
be contradictory in the narrator’s account.
However, the problems attached to temporary work and to the con-
struction of a stable social identity have been identified previously. These
individuals do not have the same opportunities as others to gain support
from stable groups in the workplace since their work is more focused on
goals and tasks, short-term personal interaction, effectiveness, rationality
and immediate responsibility. (Lindgren – Wåhlin 2001, 358.)
In my study, I ask the interviewees to adopt a particular identity posi-
tion, as I am interested in their identities as entrepreneurs so my request
could be considered as an invitation, acceptance or re-enforcement of
their identities as entrepreneurs. This means that the participants do not
speak from just any position, but on this particular site they talk as ‘en-
trepreneurs’ (see also Meriläinen 2000, 419). None of them refused this
position and, thus, they accepted the identity (label?) that I suggested for
them and narrated their identities from this position (see also Warren –
Fassett 2002). In Cohen and Musson's (2000) study this was not the case.
They studied the construction of professional identity of 24 women who
had moved from employment to self-employment and their understanding
and identification of the term ‘entrepreneur’ and in fact, the majority of
these women did not identify themselves with the term. The respondents
fell into two large groupings – firstly to those who considered the term
positively, but felt excluded from it, and secondly, to those who saw it
negatively and did not want to be associated with the term. This finding
points out if nothing else the cultural differences. Firstly, Finnish lan-
guage does not separate the terms entrepreneur and manager-owner, but
uses the word ‘yrittäjä’ interchangeably between the two and the differ-
ences between the two need to be supported by explanations (as in fact
the entrepreneurs in my study do!). Secondly, the concept ‘entrepreneur’
is viewed very positively in Finland that is the general attitudes towards
entrepreneurship are rather positive (Hyrsky 1999, Arenius – Autio 1999,
Arenius – Autio – Kovalainen 2001) as opposed to the explanation given
in the UK study where the image of entrepreneur is considered exploita-
tive and is associated particularly with the 1980s’ and Thatcher’s Britain.
Similarly, my study also dealt with male entrepreneurs and employers so
it covered a wider range of entrepreneurs than in the Cohen and Musson
(2000) article. Nevertheless, the female sole entrepreneurs that were part
of my study did not refute the use of the term. In this sense I could argue
29
that this echoes the positive attitudes towards entrepreneurship in
Finland, and the position of an entrepreneur is easily adopted.
2.1.5 Identity as a life plan: from the past to the future
Locke emphasised past recollection and at the same time failed to give
any place for future projection in identity matters (Williams 2000, 81).
Future has only lately been given meaning in the identity discussion by
claiming that identity in fact is not a state, but it is a project, a subjective
achievement, a personal search. Berger et al say that the role is played by
individuals’ own life plans. Their projection of their own biography is
what relates them to the meaning of society. The life plan is the primary
source of identity in modern society and the variety of modern identities
can be seen to reflect the idea of a life plan. There seems to be openness;
i.e. people seem to be open to change and transformation in identity
throughout their lives. When this is taken in the context of careers and
professional choices there is even a normatively laid out principle gov-
erning current thinking: We are instructed to be open to the idea of hav-
ing more than one career and it is estimated that every person in the cur-
rent society will have three or four careers in their lifetime. Biography
can be seen as ‘the realisation of a number of possible identities’ (Berger
et al 1974, 73 cited in Williams 2000, 40). Human beings are capable of
envisioning alternatives – to conceive other ways of acting and being
(Bruner 1990, 110). The realisation of the self gathers together what has
been, in order to imagine what one will be and to judge whether one
wants to be this (Polkinghorne 1988, 154).
This idea is also helpful in analysing and interpreting my data. I dis-
cuss the future with all of the entrepreneurs and they see their future as
continuing being entrepreneurs, or at least they have great difficulty in
seeing themselves working for other employers. If they were no longer
being entrepreneurs they would prefer to engage in other future projects
(e.g. retirement, or another entrepreneurial project). Bruner (1990, 109)
cites Gergen in saying that human reflexivity allows us to turn around the
past and alter the present in its light, or to alter the past in the light of the
present. Neither the past nor the present stays fixed in this reflexivity.
Similarly, our aspirations of the future need to be seen in the light of the
present. For remaining the same and retaining the entrepreneurial posi-
tion negotiated in the interview and to give meaning to being an entre-
preneur now it seems that it is impossible to narrate that one could work
as an employee in the future. Nevertheless, some of the entrepreneurs in
the study have abandoned the entrepreneurial position at least for a short
30
period of time but these are narrated either as ‘an experiment’ that led
back to entrepreneurship, or as a must due to a personal life situation but
the future is always in entrepreneurship.
Fournier and Lightfoot (1997) are interested in how people engineer or
produce a sense of being a family business owner. In their study it is sug-
gested that the universal truth of conflicts between family and business
are mythical but owner-managers applied discursive strategies to weave
family and business together by flexibly and continually rearranging the
components to provide coherent, contextual accounts of their actions.
(Fournier – Lightfoot 1997, 30-31.) This focus on how people construct
identities for themselves leads us to the notion of identity work. Identity
work is about the way people position themselves in discourse, how they
attach themselves to certain issues, using and combining texts and mate-
rials, to articulate and give meanings for themselves and their actions.
Identity is constructed through a positioning in discourse, as a perform-
ance created and sustained through textual labour. Identity is not pre-
given or fixed – it is always emergent. Identity is continuously produced
and negotiated through talk and theorising.
Lindgren and Wåhlin (2001) have particularly looked at identity con-
struction of individuals (although not particularly entrepreneurs) who
have changed organisations frequently i.e. what they call boundary-
crossing individuals. They see that it is these individuals who need to be
particularly reflexive about their lives and themselves compared to oth-
ers, i.e. their identity work is being facilitated and reinforced and, thus, it
can also be made a subject of study. Their empirical material consists of
spontaneous accounts of individuals of their ‘journeys’ through work life.
The metaphor of a journey was chosen to emphasise the emerging and
ongoing nature of identity construction.
2.1.6 Self as narrative (from Polkinghorne)
I rely on the idea of narrative identity – the idea that identity is the prod-
uct of, and realised in, narrative accounts of individuals’ past, present
and future. The narrative account is linked to the action – I do not con-
sider it as a mere product of the human thought but much of what is be-
ing narrated are stories of what has happened, taken place, what actions
were taken to lead to a particular situation. (Bruner 1990, 105.) In this
sense only those aspects that are publicly validated become really fateful,
because only they enter the interactional reality out of which identities
are constructed.
31
“Wishful thinking bears no offspring, but our actions and appear-
ances become our fate. To be an identified self is to be a displayed
self” (Weigert et al 1986, 40-50).
Bruner (1990, 111) states that the narrative turn in investigating the
self emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He refers to psychoana-
lysts Spence and Schafer and their attempts to reconstruct pasts with their
patients to help them; the idea of narrative rather than historical truth.
The often cited quote from Polkinghorne (1988, 150) succinctly captures
the idea of the narrative construction of identity:
“..we achieve our personal identities and self-concept through the
use of narrative configuration, and make our existence into a
whole by understanding it as an expression of a single unfolding
and developing story. We are in the middle of the stories and can-
not be sure how they end; we are constantly having to revise the
plot as new events are added to our lives. Self, then, is not a static
thing nor a substance, but a configuring of personal events into a
historical unity which includes not only what one has been but
also anticipations of what one will be.”
The past, present and future tenses bring forward another important
tool for analysing and understanding life narratives. A child recognises
that the self and the other are of the same kind. It is only with time that it
is relevant to make a distinction between the experiencing I of the early
years and the objective Me that emerges. Children learn to construct their
self-stories through the medium of narrativising experience with others.
This means taking an external perspective on the experience, which is
constructed through verbal accounts and constitutes the objective me of
the autobiographical life story. (Nelson 2000, 191-192.) The narrator tells
the story in the here and now and the protagonist acting in the story is the
character of the past or the future (there and then). The self as narrator
not only tells the story but he or she also justifies why it was necessary
that life had gone a particular way. (Bruner 1990, 121.)
2.2 Discussion
To summarise, my approach to identity is that of construction, not of
searching for a stable identity. Similar to the ideas presented by Alvesson
and Kärreman (2001) I am not studying which of the attributes stay stable
but by what means attributes are stabilised and achieved. Returning to the
problem introduced by Williams (1999) – what constitutes knowing, and
32
how can it be constructed into an object of study? I will adopt the idea
first presented by Locke and Hume of memory but I link it to the per-
sonal biographies remembered and told to me by the interviewees. I am
looking at the socially constructed identities of the entrepreneurs as con-
stituted through linguistics acts and practices, the narrative conversa-
tional identity developed in the interaction between the interviewee and
myself the researcher. I do not share the idea that the entrepreneurs in the
study reveal, or that I am able to capture the true core selves of the entre-
preneurs –who they really are, but rather I see the process approaching
the moral project: I study what the entrepreneurs would like me to know
of themselves, their being ‘good people’ and maybe their orientation and
commitment towards something rather than what they are at the moment.
I refute the views of a fixed and stable identity but share an understand-
ing of identity development – change – which takes place in the social
context. In this sense an individual may have multiple identities that must
be managed or need to coexist within the same identity. That identity
must be consistent over time covering the past, present and future, i.e.
life must be made meaningful.
In Chapter 4, I will give detailed information of why I chose to study
identities through narrative research but as an introductory note; many
writers have pointed out the benefits of narrative research in studies deal-
ing with identity – some are even proposing clear suggestions for the in-
creased use of life histories in identity research (Goodson 2001, 129).
This is because the narrative approach gives prominence to human
agency and imagination (Riesmann 1993, 5). The process of identity
creation or development could be understood as a process of self-
reflection that unfolds in the interaction between the self and its social
context (Wåhlin 1999, 115). Life-stories are tools for life-management,
arenas for identity work, where one deals with the relation of the past to
the present, searches for the already been and experienced in order to un-
derstand and structure the present guided by the wisdom of emotions
(Vilkko 1997, 52). In the approach chosen the researcher begins with an
understanding of the fragmented nature of identity and builds a text that
enables readers to see how the author / narrator / speaker has created a
particular identity that is fraught with contested meanings. The challenge
for the researcher is to come to terms with alternative realities different
from his or her own, not to exoticise them. The researcher reflects back
on why some issues and questions are important in terms of a particular
identity and others are not. The relationship of the researcher / author to
the individual and to the text should be questioned and analysed. (Silver-
man 2000, 548.)
33
“Thus a singular view of why someone acted in a particular way is
rejected in favor of the creation of alternative interpretation that
take into account the fluid nature of identity and the role of the re-
searcher/author in the development of a text.” (Tierney 2000, 539)
34
35
3. ENTREPRENEURSHIP
There is a long tradition within entrepreneurship research to focus on in-
dividuals, i.e. to take the entrepreneur as the unit of analysis in studies.
This is also the choice I have taken in this study but in the following I
will explain how my approach differs from the traditional approach and
why.
3.1 Descartesian reading of entrepreneurs
3.1.1 Beholders of mythical characteristics
Harré (1998, 10) suggests that there are two kinds of main stories told
about human beings: one places the individual, the person in a moralistic
story and in the other the individual is as an organism in a biological and
molecular story. In my reading the research in entrepreneurship, as sto-
ries told about entrepreneurs, can be divided into these general story for-
mats. Most of the research about entrepreneurs falls into the latter cate-
gory. In the trait theory, individuals are a sum of their traits, and their be-
haviour is being largely determined by these internal characteristics. So
their entrepreneurship is the result of the laws of nature: innate character-
istics that determine behaviour. Until the 1990’s the characteristics of en-
trepreneurs were under investigation with the aim of identifying charac-
teristics that are common to all entrepreneurs. (Gartner 1988, 1989, Bird
1989, Kovalainen 1989, Boyd – Vozikis 1994, Baron 1998) In this im-
age, entrepreneurs are solid and unfragmented agents and the individual
is entirely synonymous with his or her disposition and people are always
authentic and true to themselves. These studies suggest, for example, that
entrepreneurs have a strong need for achievement, that they perceive the
outcomes of an event to be within their personal control and understand-
ing and that entrepreneurial self-efficacy1 is a distinct characteristic of
entrepreneurs (Brockhaus et al 1982, Chen et al 1998, Kovalainen 1989).
Thus, the trait theorists seem to have adopted a very Descartesian ap-
proach to self (Wetherell – Potter 1989, 206-219). Discovering that the
1 Self-efficacy is an individual’s cognitive estimate of his or her own capabilities to mobilise
motivation, cognitive resources, and courses of action needed to exercise control over events in
their lives. It is assumed that individuals tend to choose situations where they exercise high per-
sonal control and avoid situations where they have low control.
36
characteristics frequently found in entrepreneurs tended to be similar to
that of e.g. creative personalities led to comparisons between entrepre-
neurs and non-entrepreneurs but provided another problem: the heteroge-
neity of entrepreneurs made it more common to find greater differences
among entrepreneurs themselves than between other groups of people,
e.g. managers (Gartner 1988, 1989, Bird 1989, Boyd – Vozikis 1994,
Baron 1998).
Through these studies we have come to know entrepreneurs as the be-
holders of certain mythical characteristics representing The Entrepreneur
as Mitchell (1997) ironically points out “as the stork-like deliver of new
business, the entrepreneur acts as a mythic character. Somehow s/he sin-
gle-handedly “creates new enterprise”2 through the use of extraordinary
powers. Mere mortals need not apply.” (Mitchell 1997, 122 emphasis,
reference and quotation marks in the original). Thus, I claim that the trait
and characteristics theory has contributed to the mystification of entre-
preneurs, which is not very constructive. First of all, it makes entrepre-
neurship rather inaccessible to us ‘mere mortals’ both as a career choice
or even as data for research. If understanding is shared only by entrepre-
neurs and cannot be understood by non-entrepreneurs the entrepreneur
remains a mythical, extraordinary person. Furthermore, although we have
reached an understanding that the psychological traits’ studies have not
provided very strong results it is also argued that had these results been
sound in profiling an entrepreneur, they would not have been very useful
as the characteristics are considered to be static and stale end-results, not
something achieved through, for example, training and development. On
the other hand, if the proper set of characteristics had been identified in
research it would have lacked predictive power in any case – the psycho-
logical characteristics almost never have a determining influence on the
decision to become an entrepreneur but the situation-specific variables
are more important in influencing the decision (Davidsson 2002, 6-7).
Still they continue to be measured. More generally, in the realm of social
sciences it could be argued that there are no deterministic causal relation-
ships but the relationships can only be probabilistic because of the exis-
tence of the voluntary component in action (Hall J.R. 1999, 139-140).
Therefore, an individual with a low risk-taking propensity, external locus
of control and low need for achievement may still want to pursue the en-
trepreneurial career and similarly an individual with the right set of en-
trepreneurial characteristics may refuse to act as an entrepreneur or the
2 Low, M.B. – MacMillan, I.C. (1988) Entrepreneurship: Past research and future challenges.
Journal of Management, Vol. 14, No. 2, p. 139-161.
37
option may not even ever cross his mind. So, “social theories describe
only tendencies, not outcomes” (Hall J.R. 1999, 140).
3.1.2 Organising entrepreneurs into different types
Failing to provide a universal characteristics profile of entrepreneurs, en-
trepreneurship researchers have also been interested in understanding
why all entrepreneurs are not alike, and how these differences could be
studied and explained. This has led to the development of archetypes of
entrepreneurial identities such as a classic entrepreneur, an artisan entre-
preneur, etc. (Pitt 1998, 402). In Finland, it is through these entrepreneu-
rial types that the entrepreneurial identities have been touched upon in
entrepreneurship research. In their study Vesalainen – Pihkala (1997)
present five different entrepreneurial identities: 1) classical entrepreneur,
2) farmer, 3) intrapreneur, 4) custopreneur and 5) non-entrepreneur iden-
tity (see also a similar type of categorisation of entrepreneurial identities
in Melin 2001, 171). Similarly, in her discussion of career anchors and
their relation to the different identities (or types) of entrepreneurial ca-
reers, Lähteenmäki (1997) identifies four main anchors that are easily
linked to the pursuing of entrepreneurial career at some point in the indi-
vidual’s career (Technical – functional anchor, Leadership anchor, Crea-
tivity – entrepreneurship anchor and Challenges – self-development -
anchor). In addition, the four remaining anchors (Independence anchor,
Devotion, desire to help anchor, Security anchor and Life-balance an-
chor) are seen to be more rare in relation to entrepreneurs, for example,
an entrepreneur is not seen to be security oriented or be devoted to lead-
ing a balanced life. This could be a point of argument when discussing
my material as for Marge the issue of regaining security in her life is a
major motivator towards her entrepreneurial career (6.5, p. 202) and for
Eliza, the issue of life-balance is an important factor in her life (6.3, p.
160). Similarly, in another study it is argued that securing the care-taking
identity was an important element in the construction of the entrepreneu-
rial career story of a nurse starting up a care centre for the elderly. By be-
coming an entrepreneur she could carry out the caring activities in an
ethical manner. (Harju – Hytti – Korvela – Mäki 2002.) It could be that it
is the turbulence in working life and the related impacts on individual ca-
reers that also help other than the ‘most typical’ entrepreneurs to engage
in entrepreneurial careers, thus, changing our understanding of what a
‘typical’ entrepreneur is; i.e. the types that have been presented in other
studies cannot be considered as fixed but fluid and under constantly open
to renegotiation.
38
Therefore, from the identity approach applied in my study these ‘iden-
tities’ or types as I have chosen to call them here reflect the realist, Des-
cartesian view of identities where an identity is considered to be a fixed
state of existence (compare to p. 21). The above studies have referred to
the entrepreneurial types and the difficulty or easiness of individuals to
identify themselves with these different types. The idea of identification
is, nevertheless, interesting. It is suggested, firstly, that to become an en-
trepreneur an individual needs to see that the option exists and, secondly,
that a person needs to identify him-or herself with a certain type of an en-
trepreneur in order to become one. (Vesalainen et al 1997, Leskinen
1999, 63, Vesalainen – Pihkala – Jokinen 1999.) As a result, Åkerberg
(1999, 10) suggests that individually meaningful role models and govern-
ing stereotypes are of interest when studying entrepreneurship especially
because in the area of entrepreneurship a lot of stereotypes and institu-
tional thought structures exist. Others can serve as models because their
lives already serve as an accomplishment (Carr 1986, 113). However, en-
trepreneurial types are suggested to provide only superficial explanations
and the necessity to provide richer, subtler and contextually grounded ex-
planation is put forward (Pitt 1998, 402). A certain type of entrepreneur
may provide a starting point for identification but the identification does
not end there, entrepreneurs will make sense of their entrepreneurship
through integrating it into their lives and other identities. For example,
Marge applies the type of an entrepreneur providing professional services
in her entrepreneurial identity story but it nevertheless needs to coexist
with her past journalist career and identity (6.5, p. 202).
3.2 Social constructionist reading of entrepreneurs
3.2.1 Entrepreneurship as a role
The so-called trait studies aimed to capture something that is more or less
static, and the underlying assumption was that entrepreneurs are born as
entrepreneurs, or at least entrepreneurial characteristics develop very
early in the life of the individual. With the help of the identity theory we
may abandon these assumptions. This approach enables us to view the
individual holistically and may well help us to interpret some of the deci-
sions and actions more accurately than by looking only at the individual
as an entity that is an entrepreneur (a fixed state of existence) (See also
Gartner 1988). The Goffmanian tradition of looking at identity as repre-
sentations of self, or as roles is also an interesting point-of-view as it
39
could involve the potential of treating the entrepreneurial role as one of
the roles of the individual among the other potential roles (that of parent,
daughter/son, scout leader, etc.). In organisational studies the profes-
sional or occupational identity is considered very important, and it may
be more important to the individual than an identity based on gender, age,
race etc. (Ashforth – Kreiner 1999, Hogg – Terry 2000). The participants
in this study frequently make use of other roles in constructing their
story; for example being a mother and a wife is woven into the entrepre-
neurial stories of the women researched.
The view that identities are constructed and enacted to specific audi-
ences and specific situations could be helpful when studying the emer-
gence of entrepreneurship or nascent entrepreneurs. It acknowledges
their struggle for the legitimacy of their business, which is highly linked
to the legitimacy of the person as a potential supplier, bank loan applicant
etc. and will require the nascent entrepreneur to act non-equivocally in
equivocal situations (Katz - Gartner 1988, Gartner et al 1992). In this
study, the participants engage in portraying themselves as good and pro-
fessional entrepreneurs by applying different strategies, for example, tell-
ing stories of themselves as young, naïve and unprofessional protagonists
and underlining the difference between the past and now.
From this perspective the individual enacts and performs an entrepre-
neurial role. Role theorists argue that the self is a social product. People
have different parts to play in society, which require different manifesta-
tions of self or different personalities, and individuals have the ability to
play many parts and assume many guises. The individual is fragmented
into a multiple set of possibly discordant identities. (Wetherell – Potter
1989, 206-219.) This strand of research – although strong within psy-
chology – has not so far gained so much interest in entrepreneurship.
3.2.2 Entrepreneurship as a career / a profession
The role theory assumes that being an entrepreneur is one the roles an in-
dividual has. Investigating entrepreneurship from the career perspective
implies that becoming or acting as an entrepreneur is a career move like
the choice of any other profession rather than as a singular unique event
(Lähteenmäki 1997, 131-132). Dyer (1994) also suggests that there
should be research into entrepreneurial careers and offers many alterna-
tives for such studies, for example, research on factors influencing and
motivating someone to start an entrepreneurial career, research on so-
cialisation processes for entrepreneurs, different orientations towards ca-
reer, significant roles assumed by entrepreneurs during their careers and
40
better understanding of the dilemmas of accommodating different roles.
(Dyer 1994, 7-21.)
This approach might also help to demystify entrepreneurship by taking
it as a phase in the career of a person. So far this approach is not very
widely studied but given the changes in organisational life it will increase
its importance in the future. (See e.g. Dyer 1994, Cohen – Mallon 2001,
Mallon - Cohen 2001.) From this perspective it is also possible to inves-
tigate entrepreneurship as an escape from something (dissatisfaction with
organisational life, lack of further opportunities for career progression)
rather than a keen interest towards entrepreneurship. Traditionally there
have been studies both in the field of entrepreneurship and career theo-
ries through the push and pull dichotomy. However, this seems to be too
reductionist an approach and it could be more interesting to study them as
opposite sides of the same coin, both being present in all of the entrepre-
neurial decisions. This could be seen for example in the story of Jonathan
(6.2, p. 139) where he describes entrepreneurship as a highly attractive
career alternative by painting the alternative futures in the organisational
environment (university, school) in an undesirable light. The important
insight given by this kind of reasoning, however, stems from not mystify-
ing or glorifying the move into entrepreneurship.
3.2.3 Focusing entrepreneurial identities
Although research dealing with entrepreneurs and their identities is still
very limited, there are some interesting pieces of research done in the
field. The prominence of linking identity theory and entrepreneurship re-
search has been acknowledged. Wåhlin (1999, 136) writes that
“the need for connections between recent development in identity
theory and entrepreneurship, in order to open up new spaces and
challenges for theorising about entrepreneurship. The process of
becoming an entrepreneur cannot be reduced to a question of a ra-
tional choice in a society with changing conditions for working
life”.
Fournier and Lightfoot (1997) are interested in how people themselves
construct an entrepreneurial identity through identity work by investigat-
ing how owner-managers experience a family business and how they
constitute themselves as family business owners. This approach, there-
fore, at least partially frees the researchers from pre-setting the categories
and imposing their own constructions on the participants. An interesting
question related to the difficulty of defining an entrepreneur is; do we
41
need overall, universal definitions of entrepreneurship, or are we, rather,
encouraged to seek the definitions the practitioners themselves use (and
how these definitions will eventually change over time)? Performative
definitions are based on an assumption that the phenomenon is too elu-
sive and, therefore, a description of its characteristics is impossible
(Czarniawska-Joerges 1991, 287, Kostera 1997, 347). An important as-
pect of entrepreneurship research of identity development is that it in-
volves an idea that making sense of entrepreneurs requires knowledge of
how the owner-managers make sense of themselves (Kelemen –
Lightfoot 2000, 88). In this study I have applied a loose framework for
locating the entrepreneurs for the study but it is the aim of the study to
analyse the content and meaning given to entrepreneurship by the partici-
pants.
Another interesting implication of identity to entrepreneurship and its
definition is distinguishing between the identity (the production of an
idealised conception of what an entrepreneur is?) and its practical treat-
ment in the field. In this line of thinking the concept is being negotiated
constantly by various partners (public opinion, authorities, scholars, etc.),
and in practice the idea is then applied to individual cases by e.g. social
security offices, tax authorities in different ways (Phillips – Hardy 1997).
Therefore, it could be useful to study not only how the entrepreneurs de-
fine themselves, but also how other people, especially those that interact
with entrepreneurs, see and define entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs in
different situations. In this study, however, it is the entrepreneurs and
their self-definitions that are focused on. The participants, however, en-
gage in their stories to portray how and under which conditions their en-
trepreneurial identity has been accepted in the field.
Johansson (1997, 1999) looks at identities of entrepreneurs as clients
to advice and consultancy services. His work provides some interesting
ideas on the use of multi-perspectives in the study of identities as he uses
three different approaches - normative, narrative and Foucauldian power
approach to analysing identities of the entrepreneurs as clients. He analy-
ses stories of entrepreneurs and seeks to uncover hidden meanings in
their concepts of advising. He sees the stories of entrepreneurs as a
means of constructing identities of entrepreneurs as clients.
Lindgren (2000) studied the identity development of female teachers
starting up private schools and hence also adopting the entrepreneurial
position. In her study it is possible to find similarities and differences be-
tween the participants but regarding the entrepreneurship the common
element was that it was constructed as ‘a humane entrepreneurship in an
idealised form’ where caring for others, in this case school children, was
42
the primary goal and the entrepreneurship was not the end in itself but a
means to fulfil the primary aim (see also Harju et al 2002). The under-
standing derived suggests that it may not be relevant to always consider
the entrepreneurial identity representing the business side as the primary
one but it may be adopted to secure and realise another identity (see for
example story of Marge (6.5, p. 202). Thus, the focusing on the amalgam
of identities is more interesting than focusing on only one of them.
3.3 Entrepreneurial processes
3.3.1 Behavioural approach to entrepreneurship
As a general criticism to studying characteristics of entrepreneurs Gartner
(1988) points out that by aiming to answer why certain individuals start
firms has somehow led to the situation that we as entrepreneurship re-
searchers have aimed to answer the question with who (see also
Kovalainen 1989). Instead, Gartner suggests we turn to the behavioural
approach, and look at what entrepreneurs do, and view the creation of an
organisation as a dynamic process of which the entrepreneur is a part
(Gartner 1988). The suggestion has been taken seriously and entrepre-
neurship has recently been studied especially as an intentional, planned
behaviour. In its simplest form intentions predict behaviour whilst some
attitudes predict intentions. Yet, interestingly intentions and attitudes
were seen to be dependent on situation and person. There is a conceptual
overlap between intentions and opportunity identification. Intentions rep-
resent a vehicle for gaining new insights into the processes by which we
identify opportunities. (Krueger et al 2000.)
Accordingly, Shane and Venkatamaran (2000) suggest that the focus
of entrepreneurship research should be on the opportunities and on dis-
covery, assessment and exploitation of those opportunities. Individuals
should be seen as people discovering and exploiting opportunities. Thus,
currently entrepreneurship researchers should study entrepreneurship as
an action not through individual or individual characteristics (Shane -
Venkatamaran 2000, Low – MacMillan 1988). The question arises that
will these suggestions by Gartner (1988) and Shane & Venkatamaran
(2000) leave any room for studying the individual? In Gartner’s (2001)
interpretation, Shane and Venkatamaran focus on individuals and oppor-
tunities (see also Shane – Venkatamaran 2002) but in my interpretation
the suggestions made by Shane and Venkatamaran do not really take the
individual into the focus – they focus on the process of which the indi-
43
vidual is a part, and it is not about the entrepreneur and his process of be-
coming and acting as an entrepreneur, which is my focus in this study. To
take an analogy from the film industry the difference between the two is
that of the leading and supporting role.
Ucbasaran, Westhead and Wright (2001) suggest the contextual and
process issues are of importance. In the article, the authors also suggest
that there is a need to study entrepreneurial success also from the indi-
vidual level (entrepreneur). This is because the ‘objective’ financial per-
formance characteristics (turnover, growth figures) may be a mismatch
with the personal expectations, skills and aspirations of the individual en-
trepreneur. If the entrepreneur who has set-up the business does not want
to expand the enterprise, the growth of the company could be considered
as a failure of the entrepreneur to control his company. Failures and exits
are difficult to study from a firm level as there are no universally ac-
cepted definitions and an entrepreneur’s exit from the company may re-
sult of other reasons than a failure of any kind, e.g. from simply his or her
wish to invest in another more lucrative business. Hence, qualitative ap-
proaches are called for, that would allow for the separation of the contri-
bution of individual entrepreneurs from the entrepreneurial process and
performance. (Ucbasaran et al 2001, 68-69.) In this study I have focused
on the entrepreneur, the individual, and it is through the individual’s
story that I have analysed the entrepreneurial process. In these stories, I
will also discuss factual data (like turnover, number of employees) in or-
der to inform the reader of the context that is also applied in the interpre-
tation of the stories.
3.3.2 Entrepreneurial learning and sensemaking
Entrepreneurial learning is often understood as a form of experiential
learning (following mostly trial and error decision making). It is sug-
gested that entrepreneurs learn by experimenting. The very simple con-
clusion made on this is that if a particular experiment is a success, they
will repeat it and if it is a failure, they will learn from it and not repeat it
(Minniti – Bygrave 2001, 13-14). The idea proposed is that through ex-
perimentation, the abilities and skills of the individual are improved and
an entrepreneur learns to become a (better) entrepreneur. However, for
the purpose of my study entrepreneurial learning is not just acquiring
some skills or learning to act in a particular way but is also about learning
who we can be, about constructing identities of who we want to be and
working towards enacting these storied identities. Learning is a form of
becoming, a future-oriented thinking process of creating a prospective
44
reality where knowing, acting and sense-making are interconnected (Rae
2000, 151). In this sense it is recognised that there is no obvious point at
which one suddenly becomes an ‘entrepreneur’ and it may even be ar-
gued that the most significant learning takes place and continues to take
place after entry into the entrepreneurial position (Watson 2001, 222).
For example, Marge felt that due to her background her entrepreneurial
identity was quite weak. However, after working as an entrepreneur for a
year she is much more confident as a person and in her entrepreneurial
role or identity.
Furthermore, researchers have suggested that we should study how we
learn to perceive the opportunities for entrepreneurship (Krueger et al
2000). Looking at identity development and entrepreneurship process as
a sense-making process could reveal something in this sense as well.
Sense-making means that a reality is an ongoing accomplishment that
emerges from efforts to create order and make retrospective sense of
what occurs. Sense-making emphasises that people try to make things ra-
tionally accountable to themselves and others. (Weick 1993.) Most sense-
making research has focused on how people come to understand those
events in which they are currently, or have in the past, participated, how
individuals attempt to structure the unknown. A useful way of under-
standing sense-making is as a narrative process. Sense-making is accom-
plished through narratives, which make the unexpected expectable and
which assist individuals to map their reality (Brown 2000).
3.3.3 Organising of entrepreneurship
In this study I have adopted the view that language is a constituent of our
actions, and indeed a word is a deed (Steyart 1995, 82). In this vein, it
must be noted that the language of entrepreneurship needs to be dynamic,
not static. Therefore, some researchers in the field have applied the con-
cept of ‘entrepreneuring’ as opposed to ‘entrepreneurship’ to reflect the
process view of entrepreneurship. Earlier I criticised the characteristics'
studies for their static view on entrepreneurship, which left me with a
need to offer a solution. Steyart (1995) proposes that organising of the
entrepreneurship can be concretised through five subdilemmas; 1) moti-
vation dilemma, 2) rout dilemma, 3) route dilemma, 4) time dilemma and
5) management/non-management dilemma (285-305). The use of dilem-
mas is appropriate since it enables a view on the process of entrepreneur-
ing and entrepreneurial decision-making not as a static, linear, on/off,
and/or process and decisions but rather highlights the discontinuities,
paradoxes and dualities inherent in the entrepreneuring process (Steyart
45
1995, 82). For example, in the motivation dilemma the entrepreneur is
confronted with questions and doubts at the personal level when ponder-
ing whether to start or not. The entrepreneur constructs arguments if and
how the enterprise can be started with talks with professionals and
friends similarly considering the option of not getting started at all. This
general formulation can take many forms. For example, the decision of
becoming an entrepreneur may be facilitated and the risks lowered by the
entrepreneur remaining at his previous job while starting the business ac-
tivities as in the story of Jonathan in this study (6.2, p. 139). From this
example it is also made evident that the motivation dilemma is not only
present before launching a venture but it is maintained in the process.
Similarly, financial or other difficulties or attractive job offers may cause
the entrepreneur to ponder about his or her career, whether to continue as
an entrepreneur or go work somewhere else. (Stayart 1995, 286-287.)
This is a very interesting idea that I have also aimed at incorporating it
into my study: the entrepreneurial processes are filled with paradoxes and
dilemmas.
3.3.4 Time and place – the context for entrepreneurship
The entrepreneurs have been studied and research results reported as if
the entrepreneurs and related research results could be transferable into
any context or environment. Yet we know that entrepreneurial activity
differs both in quality and quantity between nations and even regions in a
given country and in different times.
I agree with previous writers that analysing the process and the context
are also of importance and this insight is incorporated in my approach
(Low – MacMillan 1988, Shane - Venkatamaran 2000, Ucbasaran et al
2001). The focus when studying the development of entrepreneurial iden-
tity will be the interaction of the individual and his/her environment. This
approach enables us to take into consideration the values, attitudes, and
beliefs towards entrepreneurship; the enterprise discourse in the current
Finnish society. The paradox at the moment is that in Finland we seem to
be very positive of the idea of entrepreneurship in general, yet very few
follow the path and actually become entrepreneurs (Arenius – Autio
1999, Arenius et al 2001, see also Mäki – Vafidis 2000).
Time in entrepreneurship can be linked to two separate processes.
Firstly, the meanings and contents for entrepreneurship in different
places can change over time. For example in Finland, there has been a
dramatic change in the general attitudes, both political and laymen’s atti-
tudes towards entrepreneurship. Until the 1990s’ entrepreneurial activity
46
was not generally appreciated but entrepreneurs were regarded as excep-
tional and somewhat obsessive people. On one hand, succeeding as an
entrepreneur was resented by other people as a sort of ‘begrudgery’, and
on the other hand, unsuccessful endeavours may have caused embarrass-
ment or ridicule. The severe economic depression in the early 1990s’,
however, changed the story completely. (Hyrsky 1999, 16.) Now entre-
preneurship is brought forward as a solution to nearly all problems con-
fronting the economy (Hyrsky 1999, 31), such as unemployment and re-
structuring taking place in large companies and in the public sector that
are seen to leave room for more entrepreneurs. This current positive atti-
tude is reflected in the interviews I carried out. The entrepreneurs share a
belief that politicians and, for example, former school friends value en-
trepreneurship. Time is, however, present in the stories in other ways: for
example, the entrepreneurs are of different ages, and hence they have
made their educational choices in different times – some routes that
would currently be ‘possible’ for a young man or woman were not so-
cially accepted in another time.
Another aspect of time deals with the process nature of entrepreneur-
ship. For a long time entrepreneurship researchers have been encouraged
to take a more dynamic view of entrepreneurship as a process that occurs
over time (Low – MacMillan 1988). This need is grounded in thinking
that over time entrepreneurship does not remain stale but it changes.
Some researchers that translate entrepreneurship as merely a new venture
creation claim that the entrepreneurship ceases to exist at the expense of
small business management (Carland et al 1984, Stewart et al 1999).
Those who focus on entrepreneurs, however, see that as the business
grows or matures the entrepreneur needs to assume new roles and the
balance between the entrepreneurial roles with his or her other roles
changes (Dyer 1994). The entrepreneurial stories that I present in this
study will give strong support to this proposition. In the more mature
businesses the entrepreneurs are adopting new roles that focus outside
rather than inside the company whereas in the young start-up companies
the focus is very much on assuring the continuity of the business and
struggling with the everyday problems which leaves little room for re-
flecting one’s own role in the company.
Generally the need to conduct more studies with a process focus has
induced the need for longitudinal research settings. However, efforts in
this line have been rather modest due to difficulties in carrying them out.
In my study the process aspect is incorporated but not as a longitudinal
setting. The stories of entrepreneurs cover the past, present and future of
their entrepreneurial life.
47
In their theoretical model explaining why and how individuals decide
to become entrepreneurs, Minniti and Bygrave (1999) incorporated place
in the model. Besides the initial subjective endowment of the person, the
objective and community-specific institutional and economic circum-
stances as well as the existing level of entrepreneurial activity in that
community - as subjectively perceived and evaluated by the individual -
are taken into consideration. The argument is that
“…the level of entrepreneurship also causes the development of a
“culture” of entrepreneurship and, therefore, that the level of en-
trepreneurial activity itself, together with legal and economic fac-
tors, is an important explanatory variable of entrepreneurship lev-
els’. In other words, we suggest that entrepreneurship, like many
other phenomena, creates a “memory” of itself which, becoming a
social habit, influences individual behavior.” (Minniti-Bygrave
1999, 47-48 quotation marks in the original)
It is possible to make two different observations from this idea –
firstly, that it is not the same to be an entrepreneur in any environment
but different communities provide different opportunities for it and, sec-
ondly, that it makes a difference how an individual perceives and evalu-
ates the existence of entrepreneurial activity in the community. This idea
is also useful as a background assumption for my study although I reject
the aims of generalisation and causality. I would also add that not even
the economic environment is an ‘objective’ factor in the ‘model’, but it
also needs to be subjectively perceived by the entrepreneurs.
To summarise, the stories in this study are open to different interpreta-
tions that link to the time and place for entrepreneurship. Firstly, they can
be read as contemporary stories reflecting the place (Finland, a particular
region) and time (covering the period from the mid 1980’s until the turn
of the century) that provide the basis for particular entrepreneurial sto-
ries: stories of redundancy and unemployment, of a bankruptcy, of high-
tech entrepreneurs. Secondly, the individual stories incorporate elements
that reflect time and place as important elements in their stories (a com-
munity gives boundaries to occupational choices available, or the eco-
nomic situation at the time limits career alternatives) and thirdly, the in-
dividual stories provide readings of how time and narrative are applied to
make sense of the entrepreneurship and to tell a story of how the entre-
preneurship has changed with the time and the experience and learning
which has taken place.
48
3.4 Abandoning A Theory and the Essential Entrepreneur
Throughout the history of entrepreneurship research the need to develop
an entrepreneurship theory or a paradigm has been put forward as an
ideal and ultimate aim for the field (Bygrave 1989, 7). Entrepreneurship
researchers have been frustrated with the very profound problems at-
tached to the field of research. These include e.g. the lack of agreed-upon
definitions (Carland et al 1988), heterogeneity of the field, very complex
relationships and a large number of potential contingencies of the phe-
nomena to be studied. Due to these problems it has been concluded that
there is no unifying theory (Davidsson 1992). Until recently this lack of a
theory was considered to be a problem that needed to be urgently re-
solved by creating one in order to amplify the importance of entrepre-
neurship as a distinct academic field. Therefore, entrepreneurship re-
search (like areas such as humanities, education, management) was un-
derstood to be in the pre-paradigmatic phase both in content and in meth-
ods in the Kuhnian sense (Tranfield – Starkey 1998, 344).
However, much of the frustration about the ‘infancy’ of entrepreneur-
ship research seems to be based on much more pragmatic reasons than
the academic and theoretical urge to develop the field as a science. Since
the field has not been able to develop agreed-upon definitions and meth-
ods its place in the university hierarchy is quite weak and, therefore, the
entrepreneurship research community’s frustration is linked to the minor
role it is awarded in the rankings, prestige and respect within the univer-
sities as a field of research. (See for example Low 2001) I have no doubt
that this is true, however, I am not at all convinced that we should norma-
tively try to arrive at a consensus merely to strengthen our own status.
Turning back to the more theoretical discussion it seems that the turn
of the century also turned another page in entrepreneurship theory devel-
opment. Gartner (2001, 27-39) and Kovalainen (2001) quite clearly point
out that in fact we have a field with a divergence and multitude of both
theoretical assumptions and methods that are grounded in very different
ontological and epistemological assumptions and, thus, they cannot be
grouped into or even be seen leading to a comprehensive theory of entre-
preneurship. Furthermore, Steyart and Bouwen (2000) suggest that the
drive towards the unification and formulation of an overall theory should
be abandoned and we should radically choose the situation where we aim
at producing locally valid accounts (see also Eriksson – Pietiläinen
2001a). So, the achievement of a unified entrepreneurship theory is an il-
lusion and can never be reached. Clearly, this abandonment of “A theory”
49
gives room for other, complementary point-of-views (Gartner 2001, 27-
28).
This discussion can be analysed in reference to Bygrave’s (1989) arti-
cle written more than ten years ago. Although Bygrave does not abandon
the entrepreneurship paradigm as a goal, he clearly points out that ‘less
physics envy, more empirical models, more field research, more longitu-
dinal studies’ are in order at this stage of entrepreneurship research and
less emphasis should be given to normative demands or artificial theo-
retical models for an overarching entrepreneurship theory.
The alternative of developing ‘a theory of entrepreneurship’ would in
my mind be the more open and frequent use of other disciplines to study
the phenomenon of entrepreneurship. Naturally, the former studies in the
field have borrowed from other fields, such as psychology, sociology and
economics. However, the problem has been that this ‘base’ has been for-
gotten and entrepreneurship research that has roots in the e.g. psycho-
logical traits studies has not maintained the link to psychology but the
theory development has continued within entrepreneurship research. This
has meant that often researchers in entrepreneurship have been ignorant
about developments occurring in the field of psychology (e.g. Gartner
1989, 28). Thus, I suggest that theories of entrepreneurship should be
grounded in psychology and sociology and other fields of research, such
as economics. However, the aim cannot be building separate islands and
stand-alone fields like ‘psychology in entrepreneurship’ but the true na-
ture and power of entrepreneurship as an interdisciplinary field needs to
be embraced by building stronger links between these different fields
(Gartner 1989, 28, Blackburn 2001, 4-5). In this study the suggestion is
taken into practice by investigating links between identity theories, entre-
preneurship theories and narrative research.
So far this study has focused on two broad domains of research in
which I want to anchor my research, namely identity and entrepreneur-
ship discussion. In the identity chapter I hypothesised that identity devel-
opment takes place in a social context and my view of the entrepreneur is
reflected in the identity discussion: an entrepreneur is not a fixed and
static category but it is subject to changes and renegotiations, and it is
these definitions that are focused on in the analysis. In the identity ap-
proach it is the entrepreneurs that are the focus and their accounts of who
they are and how they have come to see and understand themselves in
this way. The entrepreneurs actively engage in portraying themselves as
good entrepreneurs or more generally as good people whose lives make
sense.
50
I am not attempting to profile the Entrepreneur or even provide classi-
fications for Entrepreneurs. The group of people that mutually call them-
selves ‘entrepreneurs’ – the label that I have at least assigned them, may
and will have different images of what entrepreneurship is all about, may
more or less desire to emulate that image, may be labelled by others dif-
ferently (Blumenthal 1999, 390). In fact I lean towards the epistemologi-
cal starting point that due to the (fluid) nature of knowing, the existence
of multiple, fragmented, multilayered, conceptual and contextual nature
of current identities, it is not possible to arrive at such a portrait of the
Entrepreneur. I do not strive for it due to the impossibility of ever achiev-
ing it. I refuse the realist and essentialist search of entrepreneurial iden-
tity – and following Gartner’s (1988) title I also claim that ‘Who is the
Entrepreneur is the wrong question”. He concludes his article by stating
that ’the entrepreneur is not a fixed state of existence, rather entrepre-
neurship is a role that individuals undertake to create organisations’
which led him to prioritise the process of entrepreneurship over the indi-
vidual (See also Shane – Venkatamaran 2000). The next obvious ques-
tion then is how to study these processes of meaningmaking and con-
struction of identities?
Within entrepreneurship research Blackburn (2001, 6) and Gibb (2000,
30) suggest that the life-cycles of enterprises and entrepreneurs should be
made the focus in research because basic assumptions regarding for ex-
ample business exits and failures are often false but they need to be in-
vestigated from a process perspective. The entrepreneur might not cease
from trading or engaging in entrepreneurial ventures but could be a serial
entrepreneur, or even in the case of financial failure there might be a
myriad of reasons that led to the failure. Blackburn (2000) and Gibb
(2001), therefore, suggest that we should understand more about the en-
trepreneurs, their attitudes and their reasons for closing down a business
in the business exit case, thus, providing a basis for the study of the indi-
vidual’s processes rather than the business process. In this study, the fo-
cus is on the individuals while their businesses remain in the background.
In this study I will apply the narrative approach to the study of entre-
preneurs (individuals) that I present in detail in the next chapter. The ad-
vantage of the narrative approach is that the question of whether entre-
preneurs are born or made is made redundant and interest lies in the con-
struction and enactment of entrepreneurial identities (Rae 2000, 146).
Narratives offer access to the most fundamental and important form of
human cognition – that of understanding our lives and ourselves (Dra-
kopoulou Dodd 2002, 522).
51
4. NARRATIVE RESEARCH AND ITS
RELEVANCE FOR MY STUDY
4.1 Introduction to narrative research
The array of methodological problems in entrepreneurship research is
well documented in various articles and books and I have discussed these
problems in Chapter 3 starting from p. 35. The aim of this chapter is to
discuss the potential of narrative research in overcoming some of the
problems attached to entrepreneurship studies, and to provide new insight
into entrepreneurship through narrative research. I also present the rea-
sons for and benefits of my methodological choices, but I try also to dis-
cuss some limitations that these choices create.
Any methodological choices and decisions are consciously or uncon-
sciously based on epistemological and ontological choices. Epistemo-
logical and ontological commitments have implications, firstly, on the re-
search process and analysis of empirical data, secondly, on the choice of
research problems and, thirdly, on the ways we ask the research questions
and in the ways we address them (Kovalainen 2000). Many current writ-
ers in social sciences have quoted the idea of narrative knowing pre-
sented by Jerome Bruner (1986, 1990) (see e.g. Murray 1989, Johansson
1997, Czarniawska-Joerges 1995, Czarniawska 1999). Bruner (1986)
contrasts narrative knowing with the traditional logico-scientific form of
knowing. Narrative knowing is connected to the idea that the world is so-
cially constructed by means of language. We use language to build narra-
tives out of the stream of our ideas and things we do or things that hap-
pen to us. Czarniawska (1999) claims that the narrative mode of knowing
consists of organising one’s own experience with the help of a scheme
that assumes the intentionality and intelligibility of human action. Narra-
tive is the fundamental scheme for linking individual human actions and
events into interrelated aspects of an understandable composite (Polking-
horne 1988, 13). Riessman (1993, 3) defines narratives as talk organised
around consequential events. A teller in the conversation takes a listener
into a past time or world and recapitulates what happened by making a
point, often a moral one. It is easy to illustrate this by using an example
from my own field study:
1) The first shipment of material was spoiled.
2) Entrepreneur cried.
52
When the events 1 and 2 are built into an understandable narrative
‘The first shipment of material was spoiled, which made the entrepreneur
cry’ we understand that these two events are interrelated and the entre-
preneur is not crying out of joy or due to some family matter.
Narrative mode of knowing relies on sequentiality and the temporal
ordering of events suggests some causality. Narrative has a plot, a story-
teller and an assumed reader, i.e. the discourse is linked to a particular
situation. (Czarniawska-Joerges 1995.) Narrative research is not a par-
ticular method, but it encompasses various types of studies, which also
implies that there is a disagreement about the precise definition of narra-
tive. However, according to Riessman (1993), scholars agree that se-
quence is necessary, if not sufficient, for narrative. In this sense a narra-
tive is always an answer to the question – ‘and then what happened’? On
the other hand, there are views that the theme over-rides time – an epi-
sodic narrative is woven together through a theme rather than by time. In
this study I work on the basis that narratives are thematical and sequen-
tial. I am interested both in the themes the entrepreneurs include in their
stories and the ways the entrepreneurs construct their meaning in time
(what led to what).
A narrative explanation or interpretation consists of attempts to relate
an event to human projects ‘She did not get the job because the ageist,
racist and chauvinist management chose a young male graduate for the
job’ instead of recognising the event as a general law or a category ‘It is
difficult for unemployed women over 40 to get a permanent job’. Sense-
making, on the other hand, refers to the attempts to integrate new events
into the plot in a way that it becomes understandable in relation to the
context of what has happened (Imitating Czarniawska’s (1998, 5) exam-
ples based on my own research material).
The story is told to particular people. In telling about an experience, an
individual is also creating a self – how she or he wants to be known by
the audience. (Riessman 1993, 10.) We all seek to present ourselves to
other people that we are good people. Entrepreneurs in today’s society
are primarily considered as ‘the good people’, providers of jobs and
wealth for their communities. However, narratives can also be used to
frame less morally accepted actions in a way to make sense at a given
moment in the past and they also provide a means of separating ourselves
from that past. ‘When I was younger and started up the company, I made
some stupid mistakes, but they were an important learning experiences,
and now I know better.’ Also Johansson (1997, 270) attaches the narra-
tives to the search for a moral meaning of life. The narrative form of
knowing strives for a morally functioning idea. In this study this is ana-
53
lysed in the ways the entrepreneurs contribute to developing an ideal for
an entrepreneur, the good entrepreneur.
It must be noted, however, that although narrative provides a tool for
meaning making, i.e. giving meaning to life events and happenings, these
meanings need not to be coherent, unitary and fixed but contradictory,
blurred and elusive. The participants may introduce a particular event,
which may have had both positive and negative implications on one’s life
depending on the point-of-view. Blumenthal (1999, 380) expected to re-
ceive coherent and linear stories of mothers she had in her study, but in
the end was faced with contradicting answers. The contradictions direct
our attention towards the dynamic nature of the meaning-making process.
Similarly, Cary (1999, 413) was baffled with the unexpected story. In my
research process I was surprised by the reluctance of some of my inter-
viewees to engage in a story-telling format that I was expecting. They ini-
tiated another kind of story that I was prepared to listen to, which was
disturbing at the time of the interview but later was applied in the analy-
sis.
What is the difference between narrative and other types of qualitative
research? An ethnography is a written representation of a culture or se-
lected aspects of a culture (lately it has also been used to study certain
professions or organisations). Interpretation is the consummate goal of
ethnography, because meaning is understood in the social construction
realm, where knowledge is significant if it is meaningful. (Berger –
Luckman 1976, Van Maanen 1988, 1-12, Rosen 1991.) Riessman
(1993,4) distinguishes between ethnographies and narrative research
based on their different focuses on events; ethnographic studies focus on
the events, not the stories people tell about the events, which is the focus
in narrative studies. When drawing the boundaries of various textual
analyses applied in social sciences, such as semiotics, hermeneutics, dis-
course and conversation analysis that share the same idea of social con-
structivism as narrative research, the latter is interested in how the people
themselves interpret events and it is then for researchers to interpret these
interpretations. (Riessman 1993, 5.) Narration, rather than just the text, is
a starting point in narrative research that embraces also the setting and
situation of the story (Deuten – Rip 2000).
Narrative research can, therefore, be seen as an umbrella that covers a
multitude of possibilities to carry out research. However, there are some
elements that help us to classify narrative research, and to point out the
differences between different kinds of narrative research. So, a researcher
may apply a narrative methodology in research in different ways. Narra-
tives could refer to a method for data collection, or the way of reporting
54
the research results or it could also be about conceptualising (entrepre-
neurial) life as story-making and entrepreneurship theory as storyreading
and reflection in the form of literary critique. (See also Czarniawska-
Joerges 1995 and Czarniawska 1998, 14-17 for discussion on narratives
in organisation studies.) In the following sections I will discuss the role
of narrative research in more detail by presenting how I see the role of
narrative research for my study and the ways of doing it.
4.2 Narratives as a method for collecting research material
Narratives have become a popular source of data in many areas of re-
search. There are several methods to collect ‘narrative’ data. In the case
of entrepreneurs as in this study, a researcher may choose to explore a
multitude of different data that are available without much effort – the
stories of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship can be found in newspa-
pers, politicians write and give speeches on entrepreneurs and policy-
makers write policy-documents that could be approached as narratives. It
would also be possible to invite entrepreneurs to write about their entre-
preneurial experiences that could be used in the study as textual narra-
tives.
The option that I chose was to gather narratives through narrative in-
terviewing. In the interviews, the researcher asks questions like ‘Could
you tell me about that particular event or time?’ where the interviewees
are invited to provide narratives, not just short answers to the questions.
In extreme forms of narrative interviewing the researcher merely states
the topic for the interview and gives the interviewee the total freedom to
narrate whatever he or she wants. On the other hand, even thematical in-
terviews have been used as a source for narratives (e.g. Hänninen 1999).
However, if there are easier ways of gathering narrative data – why con-
duct interviews? Czarniawska (1998, 20) points out several advantages of
doing field-work, but what is relevant in my study is that by going to the
field it is possible to study the actual production of the narratives and not
just the end product, as e.g. in the case of written accounts. The way the
story is being told to a particular audience becomes the focus of interest.
On the other hand, when studying e.g. letters that are written to the re-
searcher there are also some hints and traces of the production that may
be analysed (Vilkko 1997, Kuula 1999).
Narrative interviewing (as opposed to thematic interviewing) offers
some advantages in the interview. The plot and the main concepts are
chosen by the person being interviewed rather than the researcher, and
55
when the interview deals with actual, past events a researcher avoids hy-
pothetical questions like ‘what would you do if you became an entrepre-
neur?’ or ‘how do you make decisions as an entrepreneur?’ but the per-
sons narrate their thoughts and the events that have taken place.
(Czarniawska 1998, 29.) Sometimes narrative interviewing, story-telling
or open-ended interviewing are mistakenly believed to overcome all the
problems attached to qualitative thematic interviews as they are presented
as a method for not imposing and reproducing the categories the inter-
viewer forces on the research participant (Silverman 1985, 162-163,
1993, 95-96). Sometimes, the narratives and stories reproduced are con-
sidered to reflect experiences in a more true-to-experience-like-way and a
way of coming closer to the true experience (Mishler 1986, 67, Riessman
1993, 46). Thus, the stories are seen to carry a magical potential and ac-
cess to reveal the truth, the true experience of the narrator. In this study I
try to avoid any such claims. Firstly, the interview settings are artificial at
least in the sense that they are interview settings. I have approached all
my participants as a researcher, a doctoral student who wants to interview
them. Secondly, since I framed the context for the interviews and high-
lighted my particular interest to the interviewees this served as a cue in
the interviews and my categories structure the interviews – they are not
just any constructs or any life stories, the life stories narrated reflect the
particular ‘demand’ and are constructed against that demand. Thus, I try
to avoid taking the interview data at face value, but I will examine and
probe it, particularly in relation to the tensions and contradictions, which
they reveal (see also Cohen – Musson 2000, 36). For example, the fre-
quent use of humour and irony in the story of Timothy (6.6, p. 217) is
taken as a point of analysis to understand the irony that is used to mark
the contradiction in the story.
4.2.1 Autobiograhical narratives and life-stories
One particular type of narrative used as a source is biographies or autobi-
ographies – oral or written narratives of people’s lives. One of the pri-
mary sources in life histories in sociology is found in Thomas and Za-
niecki’s study in 1918-20 that is said to have ‘established the life history
as a bona fide research device’ but interest did not last long because in
the 1930s sociologists became more interested in statistical methods on
one hand and in ethnographies (situation) on the other. Even turning
away from positivist assumptions did not lead to more frequent use of
life histories but theories of interactionism and ethnomethodology –
linked to situation and occasion. Life history work was not accepted in
56
modern research because it continuously failed to pass the objectivity
test. It was not until the advent of postmodernism and poststructuralism
that life stories were adopted particularly in sociological studies, gender
studies, cultural studies and literature theory. (Goodson 2001, 130-137.)
Goodson (2001, 139) distinguishes life stories and narratives from life
histories. The life story is the first layer – the rendering of the lived ex-
perience into a life story. The second layer is the life history – placing the
life story into an historical context. This definition of life history makes
sense but simultaneously creates a problem. If the lives and identities of
people are not cohesive and coherent but as I will suggest in this study
lives are fragmented and we need to struggle with existence and the ex-
ploration of multiple identities what is then the (singular) historical con-
text that Goodson refers to? Quite often the two terms (life story and life
history) are applied interchangeably (Atkinson 2002, 125).
With regard to autobiographies or life-stories produced in interviews
we need to ask at least two different questions, firstly, what is the as-
sumed link between the story being told and the life itself and secondly,
whether the story is ‘true’ and by what standards could it be regarded as
true. There are different approaches in understanding the relation of life
and story. Sometimes the relation is seen to be that human life is some-
thing that can be told and depicted in stories. In other words, story fol-
lows life. From another point-of-view stories are considered as ideals that
we try to live up to. In this sense life follows stories. A common element
for both of these approaches is that life and story are separable. From an
hermeneutical point-of-view story and life are internally related, one does
not exist without the other. Human life is interpreted in stories and hu-
man life is a process of narrative interpretation. In a way narrative is seen
to be constitutive of human experience and action. (Carr 1986, 61,
Widdershoven 1993, 1-2, Riessman 1993, 21.) Narrative coherence is the
norm or the rule in two senses; firstly in the rather colloquial sense that it
is normal, things hang out, we manage, our world is not a chaos most of
the time and secondly, in a way that it is the standard against we mirror
our lives. When things fall apart it is by reference to our story-like pro-
jections that they do so. Thus, the unity of the self could also be seen as
an achievement. Things need to make sense, so we strive for coherence
of ourselves. We never quite achieve it but we need to be telling and re-
telling the story of who we are and what we will be. (Carr 1986, 90-97.)
This is reflected in a study by Kelemen and Lightfoot (2000) who view
identity as a narrative construction that is a product of the self’s reflexive
process. This approach acknowledges that individuals are not only con-
strained by the events and lived experiences, but also by the limited rep-
57
ertoire of available and sanctioned stories they can use to interpret and
communicate their experiences.
The difference between the biographies and autobiographies is linked
to the discussion of trueness in the narratives. The links between memory
and history are brought forward. The portal approach assumes that life
histories are containers of memories that can be rendered in the interview
(linked to the idea of true accounts) and the process examines the cultural
scripts and narrative devices speakers use to make sense of their own life
experiences. (Tierney 2000, 544-546.) There is a long history in bio-
graphical studies in Finland (for example Roos 1987, 1988) to presup-
pose that the material tells something about the actual events that have
taken place and the meanings the person attaches to them (Hänninen
1999). These studies assume a realist point-of-view as the stories of
events are considered ‘true’, which allows the use of triangulation be-
tween stories told by different people with other evidence or the use of
the interpreter’s theoretical understanding as a method for validating the
truthfulness of the stories in the interpretation. An example of this is
given by Lieblich (1993) of her reasoning to verify whether the story told
by Natasha is true or not;
“The admission that she did change “only” vis-à-vis her parents,
sounded naïve to me, because as a psychologist I obviously con-
sider this area to be at the core of people’s personalities and of
utmost significance for their transition to adulthood.” (Lieblich
1993, 114 quotation marks in the original)
The implications of this notion are that Natasha herself is not self-
evidently aware of her changing and, therefore, she is not able to tell the
true story, whereas the author as a psychologist may apply her general
understanding of human personality, her expertise and theoretical knowl-
edge to create a true or at least a truer story than Natasha. The authority
lies with the author rather than the narrator.
In her dissertation Hänninen (1999) applies the concept of ‘inner nar-
rative’ to make a point that she is interested in something that reflects au-
thentically the thoughts and thinking of the person. She considers it im-
portant that the interviewed people tell stories to the researcher that are
close to the stories that they would tell themselves. In this line of thinking
the stories are considered as a window to a person’s mind. (Hänninen
1999, 118.) It is relatively easy to provide epistemological and ontologi-
cal criticism to this kind of presumption by saying that it is not possible
for a researcher to get access to people’s minds or that the individual
mind is just a illusionary product of modernity. She herself acknowledges
58
this criticism, but she does not consider the polarisation of inner and
outer narratives as a very fruitful approach, because the very fact that we
can understand each other through language means that there must be
some links between the two and the fact that the individual mind is a
product of its time does not make it an illusion. (Hänninen 1999, 29.) I
see the value of her approach and work, but what would be the benefit of
this idea of ‘inner narrative’ for my study? For me acting as an entrepre-
neur it is interesting especially from the point-of-view of how it is pre-
sented and represented to other people, how and what entrepreneurs nar-
rate to me (or other people) about their entrepreneurship. Whether this
narrative is close to the narratives they tell themselves is not very inter-
esting.
I will adopt another angle when considering the truthfulness of the
auto-biographies in my study.
“Interpretation should be able to recognize the various levels of
expression and eventually find through other sources, as well, the
historical contexts wherein they make sense. The guiding principle
could be that all autobiographical material is true; it is up to the in-
terpreter to discover in which sense, where, for which purpose.”
(Passerini, 1989, 197 quoted in May 1999, 51)
In the media, there are a lot of stories of entrepreneurs. In this sense
one might ask why is it important for me to produce these additional sto-
ries. In the media, the biographies of the ‘greats’ are often written with a
single view and they are presented as super people (Pietiläinen 2001, 87).
This unity and interconnection, the story-likedness, is not something that
we should expect to find in elements that comprise such a life (events,
experiences and action) (Carr 1986, 79-80). This is also a directive for
the analysis and presenting the data, whether one directs one’s attention
towards the coherence of the stories, or the frictions, contradictions and
ambiguity (see also Grant – Perren 2002). The search for the complete
and coherent is a delusion although many people narrate their lives aspir-
ing for coherence, for a unitary self. Should we as researchers “reject”
this social construction of self (as Lieblich did in her study)? Goodson
(2001, 138) provides another angle;
“Rejection is not the issue here, for life history work should,
where possible, refuse to play postmodern God. Life history work
is interested in the way people actually do narrate their lives, not
in the way they should.”
59
Interestingly, the idea of a ‘true’ account may also distract the person
being interviewed. In Johansson’s (1997) study one of the entrepreneurs
is less willing to tell his story, because he fears that he is not able to
memorise the events correctly and to provide factual experiences, that he
is not able to provide a truthful account of his past. This was also the case
with Timothy in my research: ‘It would be false to tell about some par-
ticular events…’ and after the interview he confirms again ‘If you need to
check some questions, please call me. Sometimes I think differently of
things on different days, and you may want to verify some particular
points.’ This could be interpreted to be the reflection of our interview so-
ciety where interviews are commonly applied to make sense of our lives,
for example, in the media apparently opening a window into the life,
feelings and thoughts, (Silverman 2000, 822-823) that Timothy reinter-
prets as a false attempt by declining the idea that by telling about events
he could make me understand what it is being an entrepreneur.
4.2.2 Conducting the interviews
Although in life story interviews the respondent is free to craft their nar-
ratives and to construct the interviews, they are not without constraints
(see for discussion on the conditions for life story constructions Andrle
2001, 817). I called or e-mailed to the entrepreneurs to participate in the
study – all of them accepted. When calling or sending an e-mail to the
people that I wanted to interview I said I was working in the Small Busi-
ness Institute of Turku School of Economics and Business Administra-
tion, and I was interested in studying (stories of) entrepreneurs. I also ex-
plained that I would not have a set of questions but my interviews would
centre on discussion. After the first interview I wrote an explanatory let-
ter of my approach and I sent it to all of the other participants. In this let-
ter (Annex 1) I explain a little bit more of my approach and my interests.
In the interviews there were many occasions where the entrepreneurs re-
sponded to that letter rather than told whatever they wanted to tell or re-
plied to my immediate questions in the interview. Also before the inter-
view I briefly explained my approach, that I was interviewing different
kind of entrepreneurs with different backgrounds and different kind of
stories to tell. So, long before the interviewee said anything the frame-
work for the interview was already set: the interviewees adopted the posi-
tion of an entrepreneur who was telling a story to a researcher interested
in and with a positive attitude towards entrepreneurship. This in fact re-
quired the interviewee to tell his or her story in a particular way either by
60
conforming to what the interviewee thought I would expect or by taking a
stand against that expectation.
The interviews took about 1-2,5 hours but the time spent on the inter-
views feels different. In the short ones the participant is often responding
very quickly and with short answers but even in the case of longer an-
swers no time is spent on reflecting, all the answers come ‘prepackaged’.
On the other hand in the longer interviews the participants take time to
think about things and try to be analytical about their answers, to reflect
on them and to offer some explanations.
In most interviews I speak relatively little and the entrepreneurs en-
gage in long ‘monologues’ and I only utter mmmmh, yes, …’ to tell them
that I have understood, this is interesting. Sometimes I am surprised and I
say ‘Really?’ which hints that I am interested in that particular topic. If I
have a question the entrepreneur normally cuts my question and starts re-
plying to it. Sometimes this leads to a situation whereby she or he an-
swers another question that I really wanted to ask.
The rule of ‘not speaking’ is, however, cut in the case of Timothy.
Timothy refuses to tell ‘a story’ since he believes it would prove false. In
the interview I also tell that I’ve graduated from the same school as he
has and we have a mutual friend/colleague. These issues influence the in-
terview in that not only entrepreneurship is focused on but also the Mas-
ter’s studies in the Turku School of Economics and Business Administra-
tion, of which we are both ‘experts’. Timothy asks me questions like
what do you think [about entrepreneurship]’? ‘Are there any courses in
entrepreneurship now [in Turku School of Economics and Business Ad-
ministration]? It seems that Timothy is not happy with his role in the in-
terview as the ‘lonely narrator’ who reveals the truth about being an en-
trepreneur, which he claims he is not able to do. Hence, I shift my posi-
tion from a listener to a more active participant in the interview, and we
discuss for example entrepreneurship studies in ‘our’ school and how
they could be made more attractive to students.
Each interview session is a unique one because each participant is dif-
ferent from the next one but also because my role changes in the process.
In the first interviews I was more scared about issues that might arise,
how to find the thread in the interview as I could not hide behind a set of
preset themes or questions and whether they would speak of things I
wanted them to tell. My personal notes to myself after the first interview
are quite revealing about the turmoil I was going through.
‘The interview is quite irrational; partly it is about Rosemary tell-
ing her story, partly it is geared by my questions from here and
there. I feel stunned and I wonder if I caught everything that I was
61
supposed to. I hope the tape-recorder was working. Confusing but
I forgive myself (the first interview).’ (My notes written after
Rosemary’s interview)
It seems that I am disappointed with the interview in many ways. It is
irrational to me as it was not a story told solely by Rosemary, but I par-
ticipated in it. My way of participation also irritates me as I am not able
to maintain a (chronological?) order in my questions but seem to be ask-
ing questions in a random order. Seemingly I had hoped to be involved in
constructing a story that would be logical and chronological. This creates
a feeling of being stunned and wondering if I was able to ‘catch’ every-
thing that I was supposed to.
It is important to notice that not only the identities of the entrepreneurs
are being constructed in the interviews but also mine. There are direct or
more vague comments that are being addressed to me as a certain kind of
a person: my identity is being constructed. In most cases the identity is
that of a researcher, for example,
You’ll also become very wise if you’re methodologically up-to-
date so you’ll go on with a reputation of a wise person the rest of
your life afterwards. (Arthur)
If you finalise the research your reward will be you not being
forced to apply for lots of grants, won't it. The application, it must
be a horrible side of it [research] and well to my understanding
quite often in your business laughter more time is spent on apply-
ing for grants than doing the work, it cannot be the purpose, it
must be humiliating, miserable and demotivating when you think
that you would like to reach a research result. (Timothy)
On the other hand I am also paralleled with a 25 year-old-chick in high-
heels:
I thought then sorry that you’re here now of course that a 25-
year-old-chick comes in her high-heels to babble or to explain to
me how the school needs to be run. (Jonathan)
I will discuss the interview settings in more detail in the Chapter 4.4.2,
p. 79 and in the beginning of each entrepreneurial story in Chapter 6, p.
115.
62
4.2.3 Bad material
Any researcher conducting qualitative research must deal with the ques-
tion of dealing with bad material, i.e. in my case my aim is to collect the
stories of the entrepreneurs but what if there is no story or the story is
thin? The first option that comes to mind is to dismiss any such material,
not to include the narrative in the research. This, however, poses a prob-
lem. I have quoted Goodson (2001, 138) above: “Life history work is in-
terested in the way people actually do narrate their lives, not in the way
they should.” If I dismiss the thin narratives am I not at the same time
suggesting that the individual has told his or her story the wrong way, in
a way that does not fit my expectation (see also May 2001, 255-257) and
hence I exclude it from my material. So, I decided to have another angle
on it. Samuel’s story could be labelled as ‘bad material’ as it was struc-
tured more like a question and answer-type of situation where I was in
the role of a researcher and he was the respondent. In addition, his an-
swers were short or at least were lacking personal elements, storylike in-
cidents and the overall story could be labelled thin (Geertz 1973). The in-
teresting question is whether the participants or individuals in general
have the same opportunity to tell their story at all times? It is possible to
play with the ideas leading to the mutual problems between Samuel and
myself to construct a rich entrepreneurial life story for Samuel. Firstly,
the situation at the enterprise was very hectic after the massive growth it
had witnessed and Samuel was really busy, finding himself in the eye of
the storm and having no place to tell his story. As a result, he had ignored
my letter of advice, and, thus, he was not geared towards the ‘mood’ nec-
essary for storytelling. Alternatively, he may have read my invitation but
being in the midst of things he could not enter into it. He was not able to
distance himself from the activities but was in the middle of it and conse-
quently there was not yet any story to tell but it would come later
(Czarniawska 1998, 29). Or, being a researcher himself Samuel knew
what research was all about, but coming from the life sciences he could
not understand my invitation to tell a story as a legitimate one but as-
sumed that I was after the ‘facts’ and the ‘truth’.
4.3 Narratives as a method of analysis
The realist analysis is the prevailing form of analysis – by that I mean
that the answers of the respondents are understood to reflect the reality –
their truthfulness or untruthfulness is under scrutiny in the analysis. In
63
this type of analysis the triangulation of for example interview answers is
relevant. In the context of my study the approach would indicate for ex-
ample the use of interviews with other people than just the entrepreneur
about his or her life to validate the answers. The realist approach is not
the only alternative, however. In the narrative analysis, the interviews –
the talk and text produced – are analysed by understanding the partici-
pants’ answers as cultural stories. (Silverman 2000, 824-825.)
Tierney (1999, 307) in his editorial introduction to a special issue of
life history research writes:
“The times are unsettled because what social scientists thought
they knew, they no longer know. What one assumed was the cor-
rect way to present data is no longer accepted without question;
even the idea of data raises postmodern eyebrows where one
questions the meaning of what makes a fact a fact, what makes a
text a text.” (Emphasis in the original)
So, the challenge of coping with narrative methods could be labelled
as a way of living with ambiguity (Cary 1999, 422). We cannot normalise
the stories that are being told, brush off the contradictions by authorising
our voice over that of the speaker (‘I know she said that but in reality she
means other things’). We need to thrive on ambivalence and ambiguity,
be aware and be reflective about the interpretations we make. The use of
narrative analysis as a method implies firstly that what is being spoken is
not the only focus of our interest, but also the way of speaking. This leads
us to think that our ways of talking are not neutral, but they propose dif-
ferent roles we have and take, different positions against others and pat-
terns of rights, privileges and obligations (Shotter 1989, 149). Language
has three different functions; 1) referential meaning (what is said), 2) in-
terpersonal function (role relationships between partners) and 3) textual
function (structure and how parts of text are connected synthetically and
semantically) (Riessman 1993, 21). Therefore, I attempt to investigate
both the way of speaking and talking and the contents of the speech
whilst also keeping in mind my own role as a researcher in the process.
The aim of narrative studies is to see how respondents in interviews
impose order on the flow of experience to make sense of events and ac-
tions in their lives. Why was the story told that way? Traditional qualita-
tive analyses often fracture the text in the service of interpretation and
generalisation. Researchers analyse themes – what is being spoken – and
they organise their reports around these themes. However, as many writ-
ers have found, the narrative forms are essential meaning-making struc-
tures, hence, these structures need to be preserved, not fractured. (Riess-
64
man 1993, 2-4.) Then both the ‘what’ and ‘how’ become central in the
analysis. On the other hand, besides order and flow with the form of
well-developed stories it is interesting to look also at the frictions in
autobiographies. In the autobiographical texts that Vilkko (1997, 166-
172) studied the results of memorising are portrayed in text, but also the
process of memorising and even structures of it can be found from the
texts. This idea of two different times being present in the narrative is an
interesting aspect – the time of remembering (present) and the time of the
event (past). Thirdly, one can also see that life story interviews also re-
veal something about the future.
“A life history is like a boomerang; it is thrown from the present
into the past and returns with a force bearing it into the future, but
the direction and the force is determined by the present and by the
form of the life history (the boomerang) itself.” (Järvinen, 2000,
385)
The person telling the story is no longer the same as during the event
of the story. In the present we need to explain our motives and meanings
of the past in a way that lead to the present. So lived life can never be re-
capitulated fully but it can only be understood in terms of how it is nar-
rated today. (Järvinen 2000, 385.)
One of the most important features of narratives and narrative analysis
is the concept of time. It is considered, firstly, that narrative is the pri-
mary way of organising experience of time as well as social existence.
Secondly, only from the perspective of the end do the beginning and the
middle make sense. (Carr 1986, 4-9.) However, without the past and fu-
ture there can be no present and thus no experience at all. It is therefore
suggested that ‘we can no more conceive of an experience empty of fu-
ture than one empty of past’ (Carr 1986, 29). The notion of time is there-
fore crucial in structuring our experience.
How can we then identify narratives from a long flow of speech?
Riessman (1993, 16) indicates that sometimes tellers indicate that a story
is coming with entry and exit talk ‘this reminds me of a particular
event...’ However, narratives in interviews are rarely so clearly bounded
and locating them requires the use of the interpretative practices of the
researcher. Not all narratives in interviews are stories in the linguistic
sense of the term – there are also e.g. habitual narratives (events happen
over and over with no peak in the action), hypothetical narratives (things
that did not happen) and topic-centred narratives.
The aim and challenge of the analysis of the experience is to identify
similarities across the moments into an aggregate, a summation.
65
“In the end, the analyst creates a metastory about what happened
by telling what the interview narratives signify, editing and re-
shaping what was told and turning it into a hybrid story.” (Riess-
man 1993, 13)
In her analysis Vilkko (1997, 165) detected that some stories or pas-
sages in the stories had been told many times before and that they seemed
to have become crystallised myths. An example of this can be found from
my own study. Overall Rosemary’s story that I analysed seemed a very
nice, well-developed story. Being involved in some working groups and
projects the story-teller had told the story many times, and these stories
had developed into crystallised mini-stories that she had told at many oc-
casions. I performed an Internet search and I found a few presentations
from Rosemary on the Internet-sites and publications. In those stories I
detected some stories that were identical to those that she told me, and
these stories included nearly the same phrasings that I had in my inter-
view material although these mini-stories were written by third persons,
journalists.
EXAMPLE 1:3
The materials that I had ordered from abroad arrived in time but to my
horror in the first experiments I noticed they had been spoiled. When the
others had left home I sat on the pile of materials and cried. How on
earth would I ever make it as an entrepreneur when the start was like
this. Now Roses Ltd4 is doing fine.
EXAMPLE 2
I bought the materials from abroad and noticed that they were spoiled.
As a bonus [in the negative sense] there was also a devaluation. Then I
sat on the pile of materials and swore that if some day I made it, I would
surely help other entrepreneurs.
EXAMPLE 3:
When the first shipment of materials arrived from abroad it was noticed
that it was spoiled. When the crew had gone in the evening I sat on the
piles of materials and cried. I thought I will never make it as an entre-
preneur if the start is this difficult. Then and there I made the promise
that if I somehow survived myself I will help others.
3 Since I want to protect the identity of the respondent the sources for these extracts have not
been presented in this report.
4 The name of the company is fictional.
66
EXAMPLE 4: [Interview material] (see also 6.1, p. 115)
But you can imagine Ulla my feeling when the first shipment arrived, and
I made all the tests, for example how it [the material] tolerates water,
how it keeps the colour and then I noticed that it loses colour. When all
the others had left the factory at the end of the day to go home I sat on
the piles of materials and I cried. I thought that I would never make it as
an entrepreneur if the start is like this, losing all the loan money and all,
and I cannot even use the materials. But then I pulled myself together,
and I have not cried since because of entrepreneurship although I have
cried and sometimes laughed for other reasons.
How to analyse and interpret this? The first interpretation is that the
event was important for Rosemary and, therefore, it is important for her
to tell of this event when asked to talk about her entrepreneurial life and
the early years. The similarity of the narratives would, however, suggest
that it is indeed a crystallised story, nearly a myth (a source of strength
for the teller?) – an integral part of the teller’s personal narrative reserve.
This is a story that is easy to like – it presents the entrepreneur as a very
human and vulnerable, but a strong person, because she has been able to
overcome this dramatic problem. Therefore, in the stories written about
Rosemary this very story is presented. Rosemary herself has told – and
probably also read – this story many times. However, the narrative plot –
especially the immediate ending - is not exactly the same in all of the sto-
ries, which demonstrates the possibility of creating (by Rosemary) or
reading of (by reporters) different versions of the same basic plot to dif-
ferent audiences. Although I do not know who is the writer of these dif-
ferent endings of the narratives regarding the destroyed materials, at least
these examples show that different endings are possible even in the case
of a crystallised, mythical story. (Table 1, p. 67)
67
Table 1 The story of Rosemary – early days of entrepreneurship (based
on Labov’s model from Riessman 1993, 35)
Ex1 Ex2 Ex3 Ex4
Orientation /
beginning
Materials ar-
rive from
abroad
She bought
the materials
from abroad.
Materials ar-
rive from
abroad
Materials
arrive
Complicating
Action /
Problem
Materials are
spoiled.
Materials are
spoiled.
Materials are
spoiled.
Materials
are spoiled.
Others leave
the factory
Others leave
the factory
Others
leave the
factory
Rosemary
sits on the
piles of mate-
rials and
cries:
Rosemary sit
on the piles of
materials and
cries:
Rosemary
sits on the
piles of mate-
rials and
cries:
Rosemary
sits on the
piles of ma-
terials and
cries:
“How will I
ever make it
as an entre-
preneur if it is
so hard?”
…and swears
that if she now
makes it
“How will I
ever make it
as an entre-
preneur if it is
so hard” and
she swears
that if she
now makes it
Rosemary
thinks that
she will
never make
it as an en-
trepreneur if
the begin-
ning is so
hard.
Resolution /
Coda
The company
is doing fine.
…she will help
others to sur-
vive.
…she will
help others to
survive.
She pulls
herself to-
gether, and
has not
cried be-
cause of
her com-
pany ever
since.
In addition, a researcher must be prepared that the material will consist
of different life-stories - some are in themselves more narrative than
other narratives (‘stories of how the entrepreneur became an entrepreneur
and how it has gone afterwards’), where there is an identifiable plot and
the narrator links some events or issues that have been meaningful for her
entrepreneurial career. Other ‘life-stories’ lack almost completely any
plotted structure, but they are more fragmented talk around entrepreneur-
ship and the enterprise. However, as Järvinen (2000, 389) points out it is
very natural for researchers to consider the most coherent interviews as
the most credible and useful, because they give immediate meaning and
the interviewees co-operate with the interviewer and enter into an objec-
tification of themselves, their past and their problems. In my study, I have
chosen to look at the individual stories of the entrepreneurs as they are,
68
aiming to analyse not only the contents but also the ways they narrate the
stories.
4.3.1 Arranging material
After most interviews I made some notes about the interview; about my
feelings or positions I had taken or about other things I thought relevant
for the analysis. What seems curious now is that after each interview I
thought that the interview had brought forward at least one interesting is-
sue that would enlighten the entrepreneurship phenomenon: either by de-
stroying or at least questioning some of the ‘old myths’ related to entre-
preneurship or giving deeper meaning to the ‘myths’ or research results
found in other studies. I felt exhilarated – ‘this is good stuff’. I felt that
the interviews were the closest I could currently get to being an entrepre-
neur – hearing those stories and experiences and trying to empathise and
understand the meaning of those stories and events for the people I talked
to. I tried not to be critical or show the very human ‘besserwisser’ by
judging the events and the meanings. These are the stories these people
want to tell me – it is not my job to tell whether they are true but my job
is to account for why it is these are the stories they wanted to tell and
why they are told in this way.
After the interviews I transcribed the tapes into text. This I tried to do
as carefully as I could by using ‘plain’ text, meaning that I did not apply a
notation system linked with discourse or conversational analysis (Psathas
1995, Jokinen – Juhila 1999). I did not use any help for transcribing
which was a conscious decision stemming from the idea that I really
needed to know my material to be able to do the analysis. Although tran-
scribing is an arduous task – an interview of about two hours took me
more than two days to transcribe, especially if the voice of the speaker
was low or blurred, I fully enjoyed the moments with the interviews as it
gave me a chance of speculating on the analysis. During the interviews I
was focused on trying to follow the story-line to be able to maintain the
discussion and I sometimes missed some interesting small things that I
was able to capture while transcribing. Although I felt that all of the in-
terviews were very interesting, some became dearer to me than others,
and within all of the interviews I had my favourite stories. I fully enjoyed
the sequences that would cast new insight on the existing understanding
and common beliefs about entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. ‘Entre-
preneurs do not have to work 24 hours a day’, ‘even a green philosopher
can become an innovative entrepreneur’, ‘becoming an entrepreneur can
also be translated as a form of social safety’… On the other hand, I was
69
surprised by the strong presence of family in the female narratives and I
resented the men for not naming their spouses as important people for
their entrepreneurial careers. Therefore, the arranging of material formed
a part of the analysis.
4.3.2 Analysing material
In this study, I rely on the social constructionist view on narratives where
the world is seen to be a constituent of individual and socially con-
structed realities, and narratives are subjective accounts reified as objec-
tive knowledge and acts of sense-making (Boje et al 2002). In this view,
talk is seen to be more figurative and poetic than representational ‘not
about what is it but what might be’ (Cunliffe 2001, 357). Stretching this
idea to identities the question is rephrased to cover not only ‘who am I
but also who I might be’ (Rae 2000). In this way, people are seen to ‘au-
thor’ realities, deal with dilemmas of ‘who to be’, and persuade others to
talk or act in different ways.
Self-evident truth of interviews, for example, the media aims to de-
liver us immediate ‘personal’ experience yet what they – we – want is a
simple repetition of familiar tales. Maybe we feel that people are at their
most authentic when they are, in effect, reproducing a cultural script. In-
terview accounts are not representations of the world; interviews can be
seen to possess properties of all social interaction deriving from both par-
ties’ employment of their every-day common sense knowledge of social
structures. It follows that such properties be investigated and not treated
as a ‘problem’. (Silverman 1993, 96-97.)
The storied, performative approach to narrative suggests that we need
to pursue the ‘messy’ approach to reading and writing as opposed to the
structured analysis – the messyapproach embraces experimental, expe-
riential, and critical readings that are always incomplete, personal, self-
reflexive, and resistant to totalising strategies.” (Denzin 1997, 246).
My interests in this study are grounded on different sets of questions
that I aim to pose to my research material (see for example Jokinen - Ju-
hila 1999, Janesick 2000, 387-388):
1) what is being said (the contents; what kind of meanings the par-
ticipants give to entrepreneurial identity)?
2) how it is being said (the format; what kind of strategies, tools and
structures are being applied in conveying the meaning)?
3) what are points of tension: what does not fit, what are the con-
flicting points?
70
4) what is the role of the participant – researcher interaction in the
meaning making process?
In the analysis I posed these different questions to my research mate-
rial. As a result I wrote new texts of the transcribed interview texts. This
writing served as a way of analysing the interview text. Next I read both
the original transcribed texts and my new stories that I had written in or-
der to produce the stories in their current form (Chapter 6). The writing
of the stories is not just a ‘writing up’ activity but in writing the stories
the analysis continues. In fact, I wrote the stories many times in order to
make them interesting to read but also to clearly, yet subtly bring forward
the discussions I wanted to raise with the stories. I will give here an ex-
ample of the original text and the written first-round analysis and the out-
come (the story), Arthur’s story (6.7, p. 236), which can be read later in
this study. It is of course difficult and even impossible to give detailed
and conclusive examples of the analytical tools and the process the re-
searcher utilises when engaging in narrative research since the method
relies on the idea that the researcher is the analytical tool that reads the
text, visualises the interview situation and context (feelings, sounds,
physical movements) and brings in both her personal understanding and
theoretical discussions all at the same time into the iterative analytical
process but these examples, however, illustrate briefly the process and
method of analysing.
Translated transcribed interview text with Arthur: Then I studied besides
working to become a university engineer. This was the accident. It was
not goal-oriented but, but always phase after phase a new view opened
that was narrow and then I used the view. I did not care so much about
the career but I did what looked interesting. I have not regretted it - I
may be a bit poorer but richer in experience. I have the longest possible
academic education if you count these years, so that this high school
track is a real fast track.
Written analysis: He became a university engineer by accident - he de-
fines it as non goal-oriented activity, but phase after phase, a new but
narrow window of opportunity emerged and he took advantage of these
opportunities, not thinking about his career but doing what seemed to be
interesting. Arthur seems to interpret himself that he did not see the big
picture ever – that when training to become a technician, he never
planned on becoming an engineer or of going to the university but each
step was necessary for the emergence of the next step. This reinforces the
definition of an ‘accident’ introduced by Arthur previously; accident is
71
something that is not sought for, aimed at. In the following, Arthur talks
about the ‘fast track’ and it is visible to him now since he has seen his
daughter take it [talks about it later].
When writing the analysis I aimed at directing my attention not just on
the section I was reading there and then but on the overall interview and
the ways the participant points forward or backward to the themes dis-
cussed. I also looked at very carefully at my own interventions in the in-
terviews and the kind of responses they generated from the participant. I
also tried to link the analysis to the more theoretical questions that were
possible to pose of the interview text. From the extract the interest of nar-
rative research on the interpretations of the participant becomes clear and
is later subject to further analysis.
I analyse the self-narratives from the point-of-view that these are the
stories the entrepreneurs wanted to tell me and it is up to me to discover
why it is these stories (and not some others) that are told in this situation
in the particular way that they are told. I attempt to avoid ‘why’ questions
that deal with cause-effect relations (e.g. I am not asking why these en-
trepreneurs have become entrepreneurs) but I focus on how life is struc-
tured and constructed into a verbal account - auto-biography – of the per-
son and how to read it (a similar approach has been adopted by Vilkko
1997). In Carr’s (1986, 31) terms “to understand an action is to know not
what caused it but rather what justified it either in general or in the eyes
of the agent”. Autobiographies serve as constructions that are made out
of life events. The life histories are the starting points for our work and
they are already removed from their life experiences – they are lives in-
terpreted and made textual (Goodson 2001, 138). The teller moulds the
autobiography to fit into a given occasion, to the given audience – in that
sense the life story has not happened in reality, but rather the story is
happening to the person who tells it (Vilkko 1997, 90). Interviewees are
not so much repositories of knowledge as they are constructors of knowl-
edge in cooperation with interviewers. Thus, interviews are sites of
knowledge production. The present interviews are not the first occasions
when the narrators have related their life stories and inquired into the
causes and consequences of their behaviour. Thus, the self-portraits
given must be seen as only one link in a long chain of identity negotia-
tions in the interviewee’s life. Life story narratives are not just ways of
telling one’s life to others, they are a means of consolidation, strengthen-
ing certain parts of our identity and ignoring others. (Järvinen 2000, 370-
391.)
72
I have already stated that narrative analysis is open to the environment,
the context which includes the interview setting but also other settings,
such as the industry of the entrepreneur, the historical time which is
linked for example in the case of my study to the societal and environ-
mental factors influencing entrepreneurship. Hence, the narrative analysis
applied in this study represents the holistic-content approach – my objec-
tive is to analyse the material (stories of entrepreneurs) to develop a new
story. It differs from the narrative tradition, for example, in the linguistic
and literary sciences where the focus has been on investigating the linear
sequences of the events. (See Table 1, p. 67 for this type of analysis). In
the narrative analysis here, the focus has been on the experiences and
events that are investigated by posing different questions to the text
(Ollerenshaw – Cresswell 2002, 343).
4.3.3 On the matter of voice
The researcher’s voice has become a matter of some debate in the field of
social sciences lately (e.g. Hatch 1996). In the beginning of my study, my
naïve assumption was that I participate in the interviews only as a listener
leaving the entrepreneurs relatively free to craft their stories because of
my approach (non-thematised interviews). The further I progressed in my
understanding of the type of research endeavour I was engaged in, the
more I understood my own role in creating the material and not just dis-
covering it. Although intellectually I understood it I did not feel person-
ally altogether comfortable with this idea. I wanted to tell the stories of
entrepreneurs not my own, I wanted to expose them and not myself to the
general public. I wanted to be the mediator of understanding, not the
creator of it. There are two main reasons why such an attempt is doomed
to fail. The first reason deals with the crisis of representation (Denzin
1997, 3, Lincoln – Denzin 2000, 1050-1051). This crisis has arisen be-
cause qualitative researchers no longer believe that they can capture lived
experience, but the experience is created in the social text written by the
researcher.
Secondly, as already pointed out the interviews are not without con-
straints because of the interview setting – there is an asymmetric inter-
viewing format that remains visible in the one-way issuing of questions
(see also Roulston et al 2001, 749) that is partially broken only on a few
occasions in a few interviews because the interviewees wanted to have
feedback and interaction. In fact, they sometimes ask for my intervention
directly in the interviews but more commonly a pause in the narration of
an interviewee would create a space for my intervention. Although it may
73
be possible to conduct interviews merely by turning on the recorder and
not giving any cues to the interviewee during the interview, this may re-
sult in ‘wooden’ interviews or uncomfortable situations for both the re-
searcher and the interviewee because participants seek direction from in-
terlocutors as to the nature and topic of talk. (Roulston et al 2001, 768.)
Sometimes, however, I was mistaken in my intervention as the pause in-
dicated only a space for thinking about something, reflecting on a par-
ticular issue and not a cue for a question on my behalf. There are traces
of these in the interviews. Roulston, Baker and Liljestrom (2001) provide
an interesting account of how interview talk is co-produced and managed
within a socially situated setting. In the article the special emphasis is on
the case of complaints: how the researchers create slots for research par-
ticipants to generate complaints and how they are able to generate spe-
cific types of accounts from the respondents, whereas the respondents
may also actively resist the researcher’s direction. Roulston et al (2001)
use the conversation analysis method in their attempt to analyse the re-
searcher’s work in generating data. This particular method studies talk-
in-interaction and aims to identify and analyse the rules, machinery and
structures that constitute orderliness. Thus, the task of the analyst is to
analyse the ways in which order is being produced in the interaction.
(Psathas 1995.) When transcribing the interviews into texts I was startled
with my own involvement in the production of the data. Hence my inter-
est lies more in how the meanings are constructed in the interaction be-
tween the participant and myself. I will analyse the meaning construction
from the interaction point-of-view (Jokinen 1999, 45): the cues I give the
participant to tell her or his story in a particular way, whether it is ac-
cepted/rejected or the way I respond to the participant.
Already my presumptions and pre-understanding of the subject direct
me towards a particular area and direction. During the first interview I
am most drawn to issues centred on the early days of the company, the
start up phase. Given that some enterprises were set up in the early 1980s
these issues are no longer the closest to the entrepreneur. Rosemary for
example wanted to talk about other issues, but during the interview I kept
drawing the discussion back to the issues related to the start-up phase
(6.1, p. 115). It is only after the interview that I realised this and noticed
that it is the ‘other’ things than the start-up that are the most interesting
issues in the story (for example preparing for the retirement by inventing
all sorts of activities). In the following interviews I am, thus, more open
to the themes the participants want to talk about.
I seem to have had a clear understanding that I was interested in the
establishment of the firm, and the related problems and struggles. It is
74
during my analysis of the stories that it suddenly dawns on me that I am
hoping to hear stories of struggles and problems as clearly they make bet-
ter stories. People reveal more feelings and emotions when talking about
problems than when talking about having it easy ‘it is going OK, it is
fine, it is nice’. In analysing the interviews I also notice that I find it dif-
ficult to accept some of the stories whereas others make sense. For ex-
ample, Jonathan’s story of setting up his first firm without any immediate
need is particularly confusing for me. I do not accept the notion very eas-
ily but I ask Jonathan to elaborate on the issue:
Then when you said that you set up the company for some poten-
tial [need], without any real…could you think about where the
impulse came from? Why did you think that it would be needed?
(My question at Jonathan’s interview after he has repeated many
times that the company was set up just in case it would be needed)
I am really baffled with the idea that anybody would want ‘to set up a
firm just in case’ that surely there first needs to be the idea before setting
up the company. The break in the logical, chronological order (that is in
my mind) is broken, and I need to make sense of it, to find the real reason
that Jonathan hides.
It should be noted that when we are recounting to others what we are
living through and what we are doing, it is constitutive of the experience.
Most people have had the experience that they do not really know what
they think or mean before they try to communicate it to others. Further-
more, when the telling of a story is met with questions or criticism the
story is being organised or reorganised. In a way, on these occasions life
can have new meanings that the narrator has not been aware of before.
(Carr 1986, 112.) If we take Carr’s ideas and the examples I have given
before it seems clear that I am imposing my voice over the participants.
In this study, I have made the decision to talk to the participants only
once and I have analysed those stories. The stories are being generated on
that occasion for an audience consisting of the entrepreneur, myself and
possibly other parties who are not there (for example, business partners,
employees, bank managers or other people in the close networks of the
entrepreneurs). The stories cover more or less the lifespans of the indi-
viduals as entrepreneurs having connections to other identity positions in
a compressed format. In the analysis I take these compressed stories as
my starting point, these are the stories they have wanted to tell me in the
first and only meeting with me, a researcher interested in entrepreneurial
stories. In the analysis, however, I am quite insecure about how much I
should say based on these interviews. If I am the research instrument in
75
the analysis am I allowed (or even supposed to) to use my full imagina-
tion as well as all the theoretical and practical understanding I have in the
analysis in order to generate alternative interpretations of the stories and
the events narrated in these stories? How will the entrepreneurs feel
when reading these stories that I have authored to be a part of my disser-
tation? Am I invading their personal space and giving new meanings to
their lives that they do not recognise or outright refuse to accept? How
will I justify my interpretations?
It is in the writing that I can try to offer the readers the opportunity of
exploring the relationship between myself and those being researched as
well as the field, ‘the context’ in trying to convey an understanding of the
research and especially of the interviews as social settings that are inhab-
ited by embodied, emotional and physical selves that work to shape, chal-
lenge, reproduce our identities (Coffey 1999, 8). I did not try to misun-
derstand anything although I most certainly have either due to my igno-
rance of what it is to be an entrepreneur or due to other reasons blocking
my view of the world or limiting me to see things in a particular light. Al-
though I can try to empathise or take different views on a particular event
or issue I am nevertheless bounded by my own capabilities, thinking and
personal background and history.
4.4 Narratives as a method for writing the report
Although many writers informed by Bruner have contradicted narrative
knowing with the logo-scientific mode of knowing, in fact boundaries
between narrative knowledge and scientific knowledge are artificial, be-
cause scientific knowledge can only be represented through narrative
knowledge (De Cock 2000). Scientific reports have a narrative structure.
The task of the researcher is to tell a good story where the events are its
facts, and the point is its theory. A story without a point is meaningless,
as are field reports that are not informed by theoretical insight.
(Czarniawska-Joerges 1995, Czarniawska 1999, 14-23.) In order to create
a believable argument, different presentational strategies, points-of-view
and metaphors are applied and selected, which is an example of how the
different narrative structures are being weighed and selected. In addition,
the presentation of previous academic research and highlighting the defi-
ciencies or gaps could be seen as a way to prepare the audience for the
solving of these problems later in the study, and as such to be a specific
narrative structure inherent to research reports (Aro 1999, 31-32). There-
76
fore, all scientific reports are being crafted, they do miraculously appear
on paper out of nowhere.
There are, however, writers that take the narrative form of writing sci-
entific reports even more literally. Good storytelling has become the nec-
essary element in writing an interpretative research report. Rich descrip-
tions will unveil the dynamics of the phenomena and will help others to
identify similar dynamics in their own research or in their daily lives
(Dyer – Wilkins 1991). A good story is somewhat uncertain and open to
variant readings (Chia 1995). An important part of narrative is suspense,
its unpredictability and the surprises that occur. The ability to create an
interesting puzzle is a task for the researcher. The first act must not fore-
tell the third and the second may only suggest it (Czarniawska-Joerges
1995). Realisation that writing is our main activity seems to be growing
together with reflection upon how we write; a) what textual devices are
used or could be used in writing and b) what are possible criteria for
good writing (Chia 1995, Czarniawska 1995).
Realistic studies are often written in a dispassionate third-person
voice. The absence of the author is obvious, yet the researcher has the fi-
nal word on the culture and how it should be interpreted. The realist tale
offers one reading and provides fact to support it. The distinguishing
characteristics of confessional tales are their highly personalised styles
and their self-absorbed mandates. Fieldworkers show their concern for
the looseness and open nature of their work. Authors are always close at
hand and their writings intend to show how particular works came into
being. There is an intimacy shared with readers. The impressionist tales
set out to startle the audience with words, metaphors, phrasings, imagery
and most critically the expansive recall of the fieldwork experience. They
are put together and told in the first person. Narrative rationality is more
of a concern than argumentation. The standards are largely those of inter-
est (does it attract?), coherence (does it hang together?), and fidelity
(does it seem true?) The main obligation of the impressionist is to keep
the audience alert and interested (Van Maanen 1988, Czarniawska-
Joerges 1995).
The boundaries of fact and fiction have become increasingly blurred.
Social scientists as well as some writers work to develop an understand-
ing of social reality. The alternative discourse practices of narrative fic-
tion allows us to see an object – the subjective experience of life – that
can be easily obscured by the more traditional social sciences approach.
Combining the texts of this alternative discourse with the traditional texts
of theory opens up a new arena of intertextuality allowing the conversa-
77
tion of the theory to move in new directions and to reveal new aspects.
(Van Maanen 1988, Rosen 1991, Phillips 1995.)
The discussion presented shows that after years of following the lead
of natural sciences many of the social sciences have found each other.
The social sciences took a linguistic turn in the 1970’s and 1980’s and
seem to be taking a literary turn in the 1990´s (Watson 1995,
Czarniawska 1999). The literary genre has also been criticised as an at-
tempt to convey an impression of self-conscious cleverness. The use of
reflexive devices (presenting author) with little attention being paid to the
reader retains the naïve belief in the possibility of writing truer texts. An
understanding of the text as an element in the author – reader community
is the next step to take (Chia 1995). The reader is an agent of the text
also. Written texts are created within, and against, particular traditions
and audiences. The meaning of a text is always the meaning to someone.
(Riessman 1993, 14.)
4.4.1 On the matter of place
“There are no stories out there waiting to be told and no certain
truths waiting to be recorded; there are only stories yet to be con-
structed.” (Denzin 1997, 267)
Qualitative researchers also fail to acknowledge their own participa-
tion in the constitution of social reality. The researcher is deemed capable
of rendering the truth and writing about it in the qualitative scientific re-
port (Knights 1992). The social scientific researcher is placed in a privi-
leged and pivotal position in the production of knowledge. By prioritising
the experience of the professional stranger over that of the native (par-
ticipants inform whilst researchers interpret) and by theorising parts as
micro-cosmos or analogies of the whole, distinctive interpretative strate-
gies are enacted. Interpretative theorising is expressing a culture as sub-
ordinate to structure, interpretation is superior to representation and the
narrator’s voice is prioritised over informants or readers. (Jeffcut 1994.)
Some writers make strong claims that we should be reflexive about
our stand in the research whether it is the realist or the subjectivist stand.
So far, the researchers with a subjectivist stand have indeed taken a stand
and e.g. written themselves as characters in their researcher reports. Mary
Jo Hatch’s claim is that the position from where one sees (data collec-
tion) does not necessarily define the position from where one says (re-
porting). “The construction of the narrator in the narrative act mediates
the relationship between seeing and saying, and in this way the relation-
78
ship between the researcher and the scientific work is constructed from
the positions of both seeing and saying.” (Hatch 1996, 367)
In this sense, epistemology and reflexivity are separated into inde-
pendent spheres although both deal with the constitution of the researcher
in relation to his or her work (Hatch 1996, 371). In his commentary on
Hatch’s essay, van Maanen (1996, 377) explains the non-reflexivity of
researchers by the institutionalisation of writing practices within research
communities, and suggests that “authors must find voices and perspec-
tives acceptable to a given community and adopt a rhetorical strategy
that allows them to become a part of that community”. This argumenta-
tion seems quite weak as it directs us to protect and maintain ‘status quo’
and does not leave room for experimentation, crossing boundaries and
challenging current writing practices. It may be very pragmatic advice for
researchers in the climate of ‘publish or perish’ since naturally it will be
easier to get published in a given community by adopting the norms of
that community but it is no guarantee of good writing and at least not of
developing writing skills.
Every piece of writing has an author. Whether this author is visible in
the text or not has been the issue of some debate lately. To use the first
person approach of the author in a research report is translated as missing
authority, objectivity and persuasion. Yet, plain speaking is simply a rhe-
torical alternative (academic rhetoric) not a turning away from the rheto-
ric. (Watson 1995.) There is a reasonable requirement that the writer be
reflexive about the representations she or he has produced. The illusion
of objectivity is no more than an authorial strategy (Brown 2000). Tier-
ney (1999, 308) suggests that writers should make use of this new under-
standing and really insert themselves in the text and make more extensive
use of the narrative range of the authorial voice.
Narrative research opens up the possibility to present many voices to
readers but whom do these voices belong to? Our representations are of-
ten in competition with the informants themselves. Do we silence them
by speaking in their place? Or do we represent them more fully than any-
body else (Czarniawska-Joerges 1995)? It is suggested that future inter-
pretative studies will be polyphonic, heteroglossic, multigenre construc-
tions and will include the author’s voice and own emotional reactions.
The conversations, voices, attitudes, visual genres, gestures, reactions,
and concerns of the daily lives of the people with whom the author par-
ticipates will take form as a narrative and discourse in the text – there
will be a story line. The junctures between analytic, fictive, poetic, narra-
tive and critical genres will be marked clearly in the text, but will cohabit
the same volume. (Rose 1990, Jeffcut 1994, Czarniawska 1999, 24-25,
79
Brown 2000.) Albeit appealing suggestions producing an immediate re-
sponse of ‘this is the way I want to write’ they will inevitably lead to
feelings of insecurity and frustration for researchers engaging in this type
of research – the researcher must rely on their personal wisdom, skills
and creativity to allow room for the different multi-layered accounts that
inhabit different voices, and therefore be constantly reflexive about their
interpretations: ‘is this enough and is this good enough?’
4.4.2 Presenting the research material
The decision about the way to present my material was a long process.
Although in narrative research there are no rules it seems that there are
some conventions in the sense that many narrative research reports are
written in a way where the research material is presented as stories con-
nected to the individual research participants (Johannisson 1997, Ylijoki
1998, Kurvinen 1999, Katila 2000) although other ways of reporting are
found (Vilkko 1997, Kuula 1999). Originally I did not like the idea of
presenting the ‘stories of entrepreneurs’ as I thought it would help mys-
tify the individuals as opposed to the themes/issues that might be shared
although interpreted differently by the participants, so I was first tempted
to discuss the themes in the forefront. However, I felt that there was no
escape from the individual nature of these stories being embedded and
contextual. I realised that I would have to introduce the entrepreneurs as
concrete flesh and blood individuals and at least partially link them to the
themes. This created a concern that the research would be uncommunica-
tive, or at least difficult to read and to follow as all the characters in the
stories would appear in the various themes and the reader would have to
follow very carefully in order to link each entrepreneur to the knowledge
created. Since I was not willing to divide the stories into anonymous
events that could have happened to just anybody at any time I decided to
present the material as individual stories after all.
The way these stories are then narrated in this study varies from one
story to another but there are some common elements. I begin all the sto-
ries by presenting the scene, I do not call them ‘opening narratives’ as is
customary for example in ethnographic research in describing how the
researchers entered the field and what kind of relationships were being
developed towards the natives (Pratt 1986, 32, Eräsaari 1995, 48) be-
cause I find it useful to also talk about the closing scenes; issues dis-
cussed or things that happened after turning off the tape-recorder. Never-
theless, it is in these scenes that I aim to anchor the stories to the intense
and personal experience of the fieldwork (Pratt 1986, 32). In addition,
80
my presentations of the scenes are much thinner and shorter than for ex-
ample Eräsaari (1995) has in her dissertation study where she takes the
access to study public sector organisations as an example of the practices
within the bureaucracies to refuse access, for example, showing a piece
of paper to legitimise access is more acceptable than trying to explain the
business in talk (ibid. 15-19). It is in these scenes that I try to make it un-
derstandable to the reader how I came across these participants and why I
decided to interview them and not other entrepreneurs. It is in these
scenes that I try to convey a feeling of being there for the readers and to
create a space for the readers to empathise with my anxieties of being late
or unprepared, or feeling happy, enthusiastic or amused with the power
relations I experienced in these scenes. I also aimed to visualise the
scenes and the people in order to create an understanding of the entrepre-
neurs as flesh and blood people, not just talking heads.
The aim in narrative research to provide rich, real-like and compelling
stories sets some boundaries for the number of stories it is possible to
present in one study. In her study of entrepreneurs that had gone through
bankruptcy and the role of religiousness in the role passage, Lampela-
Kivistö interviewed 31 entrepreneurs some of whom she interviewed
twice, which resulted in 57 interviews and 1800 pages of transcribed text
(Lampela-Kivistö 2000, 69-70). In her study the research results are pre-
sented mainly as typologies, for example, she first divides the entrepre-
neurs in her study to two sub-groups; those who cherish entrepreneurship
as the only career alternative and those who have many career alterna-
tives. The only career alternative group is then further divided into ‘born
entrepreneurs’, ‘inadaptable’ and ‘grown entrepreneurs’ (Lampela-
Kivistö 2000, 69-70). Albeit interesting these typologies also solidify en-
trepreneurial identities and they cannot be sensitive to the analysis of
how these identities or roles are being constructed including the frictions
and paradoxes in those stories, which is the aim of my study.
When writing the stories I made it my explicit aim to not try to break
the meaning-making structures of the participants but preserve them and
let the readers see how the stories are made from the interviews, how the
meanings are created. This can be seen from the stories in the temporal
notions of ‘next’, ‘later’, ‘towards the end of the interview’ where I aim
to give the reader a chance to follow how the story is constructed in time.
In the sections where I feel that my question or intervention is important
for the construction of the story I include that in the writing of the story.
As a result of my choice, the stories of the entrepreneurs that I present
here are rather long. Another alternative would have been to exercise a
more ‘editorial’ approach in the writing of the stories by emphasising the
81
most important events or themes and by erasing the less important ones.
My choice is however grounded on the idea that I do not want to create
stories that are neat and tidy, stripped of inconsistencies, sidetracks and
mundane events and open up to the reader at first reading. I feel that this
is particularly important when writing stories of entrepreneurs when the
media and biographical literature continues to broadcast these stories that
are ‘story-like’, complete and coherent, reducing the stories to categories
of success or failure or emphasising the extraordinary over the mundane
(Carr 1986, 79-80).
In this study I have chosen to present all the stories that I collected for
the thesis. An interesting question is therefore if had been able to present
only half of the stories or to take out one or two would I have reached
more or less at the conclusions? I feel that each of these stories intro-
duces something new and relevant; in some cases it is the contents
whereas in others it is the way the story is narrated and in some, the way
the story is co-constructed in the interview situation. Thus, each of these
stories shed light on the issues I focused on in my analysis and hence, I
feel that arguably I could not exclude any of them.
4.5 Narratives in entrepreneurship research
According to Bygrave (1989, 7-8) entrepreneurship begins with a dis-
jointed, discontinuous, non-linear and often unique event that cannot be
studied successfully with methods designed to study smooth, linear and
continuous events. Thus, the phenomenon calls for research methods that
are subtle enough to capture the complex, sensitive and highly personal
topics. Recently, the necessity to create new non-functionalist theories
and understanding of entrepreneurship has also been advocated (Grant –
Perren 2002, 202). Therefore, the narrative approach in entrepreneurship
research that has so far been quite limited is gathering more and more in-
terest. Some writers consider the role of narrative research as pivotal for
the development of entrepreneurship research. In fact, in their epistemo-
logical reflections regarding entrepreneurship research Steyart – Bouwen
(2000) claim that the attempts to study entrepreneurs and entrepreneur-
ship from a logo-scientific perspective are doomed from the very begin-
ning. This is because they fail to acknowledge the creative and proces-
sual nature of entrepreneurship where the researchers are as much crea-
tors as representators of the reality they study. In addition, they claim that
the universality principle of research needs to be reconsidered, as entre-
preneurship is more a multi-perspectivist reality than a one-truth science.
82
As an alternative it is suggested that a story is a suitable epistemological
category for the local and contextualised knowledge entrepreneurship re-
search can aim for. In more practical terms the narrative form of report-
ing is seen to be accessible to the readers who can easily identify with the
characters and partly recognise their own experiences. The narrative al-
lows the experiences of others to be linked to one’s own story or to view
the latter in a new light (Steyart - Bouwen 2000). I do not advocate narra-
tive research in entrepreneurship to be the only viable methodological so-
lution but I would rather suggest the need to build bridges between the
different methodological strands to allow possibilities of translation be-
tween discourses and practices of inquiry (Hall J. R. 1999, 259) although
there are some interesting ideas developed through narrative research in
the field of entrepreneurship. For example, Steyart (1995, 29) studied the
organising process of innovative, young high-tech firms aiming to under-
stand how these firms organise their need to remain innovative. The nar-
rative approach is adopted to study the meaning-making processes in the
firms. The narrative analysis in the study is pivotal in understanding how
the experience, memory, feeling and identity of the firm are being organ-
ised in the stories, actualised interactively against others through the de-
velopment and use of a specific language. (Steyart 1995, 131-145.)
Wåhlin (1999) applied a narrative approach to study the identity de-
velopment of eight boundary crossing individuals i.e. individuals that
change organisations during their professional careers, to investigate the
possibilities this type of activity opens up for entrepreneurship. It is ar-
gued that individual reflexivity that is being increased through the ‘cross-
ings’ creates new landscapes for entrepreneurship. Lindgren (2000) stud-
ied the differences and similarities of female teachers setting up their
own enterprises in the identity building processes. Johansson (1997) has
studied how entrepreneurs construct their client identities through narra-
tives. He analyses stories of entrepreneurs and seeks to uncover hidden
meanings in their concepts of advising. He sees the stories of entrepre-
neurs as means of constructing identities of entrepreneurs as clients. In
these studies the suitability of narrative research into identity building is
being emphasised (See also chapter 3.2.3, p. 40).
Katila (2000) studied how farmers and farming families in general
start new businesses on their family farms and how they ensure survival
under conditions that threaten to increase economic marginality. Relating
my approach Katila’s (2000) study could be seen to deal with managing
and investigating the co-existence of the different identities; the farmer
identity and the entrepreneurial identity.
83
Drakopoulou Dodd (2002) applied the narrative approach in the study
of life narratives depicted from the media to study what kind of meanings
entrepreneurs themselves give to entrepreneurship and to being an entre-
preneur by analysing the metaphors in the narratives. The shortcoming of
her approach that is also well documented in the article is the use of sec-
ondary material and, therefore, the material covers mainly success stories
that have gone through the editing process of journalists. However, the
article opens up the paradox that being an entrepreneur is filled both with
considerable pain and considerable pleasure within the entrepreneurial
process. This result highlights the potential of narrative research in em-
phasising tension, friction and paradox.
In the narrative approach, the question whether entrepreneurs are born
or made is redundant and the interest lies in the construction and enact-
ment of entrepreneurial identities (Rae 2000, 146). Similarly, trying to
elaborate exact and universal definitions for the ‘entrepreneur’ and ‘en-
trepreneurship’ becomes a futile attempt and the aim is to study who the
entrepreneurs think they are, and what is the purpose of entrepreneurship
in their own eyes (Drakopoulou Dodd 2002, 520). Rae (2000) argues that
narrative research into entrepreneurship is a way of creating a ‘living
theory’ of entrepreneurship by looking at how people develop entrepre-
neurial capability through learning. Furthermore, it is argued that by
studying processes through which practising entrepreneurs have devel-
oped their attitudes, behaviours and ways of working it is possible to un-
derstand better the ways in which individuals learn to act entrepreneuri-
ally (Rae – Carswell 2000, 221).
Åkerberg (1999, 2000) discusses the role of narrative in studying en-
trepreneurs, especially when they move from unemployment to entrepre-
neurship. She suggests that narratives on at least the following focal
points are required to better understand and grasp the phenomenon
(Åkerberg 1999, 13-14, Åkerberg 2000, 190): Accounts on the individ-
ual’s own life-situation that describe individual concerns and the areas of
attention of the individuals, accounts that recapitulate critical points in
time and space, stories that describe shifts in self-presentation both in
specific settings and at specific points in time, accounts that recapitulate
descriptions of the environment’s reactions to different self-presentations
of the new entrepreneurs, stories where gender as such has been mean-
ingful and/or consequential, accounts that portray dominant thought-
structures in relation to the actual empirical phenomenon; individually
meaningful and consequential stories on unemployment and entrepre-
neurship, narratives that demonstrate governing stereotypes – considering
accounts of success and role models, and how they are perceived to have
84
affected one’s own experiences and stories of individually important and
unstable situations interpreted as crisis by the narrator. It is these de-
mands and suggestions that this study aims to respond to.
4.6 Drawing the boundaries of my study
4.6.1 Focusing on entrepreneurs
In this study, the focus is on the entrepreneurs as the prime actors. It must
be noted firstly that although I believe that narrative analysis can be, and
has been applied, to the study of other social phenomena than entrepre-
neurship, it is the subject under study, in this case entrepreneurship, that
has methodological consequences. For example, the long-term unem-
ployed tell a much grimmer story of redundancy and unemployment
(Kortteinen – Tuomikoski 1998, 23-27) than those entrepreneurs I inter-
viewed for this study. I argue that the position from which the persons
narrate their life-stories is reflected in the story: the person who is still
unemployed needs to tell a story of suffering that starts from the redun-
dancy and unfolds until today as it is not socially acceptable to be unem-
ployed and happy at least in the eyes of the general public. Similarly, the
stories of teachers are of a particular kind to the extent that they are
strong images that construct our understanding of teachers and also the
way teachers need to tell their stories (Syrjälä 2002, 13-14). The focus on
entrepreneurs and my interest towards their entrepreneurial life-stories
invites particular kinds of stories that are narrated by applying, at least to
some extent, the entrepreneurial stereotypes, for example emphasising
entrepreneurial freedom, or by rebelling against these stories (see also
Syrjälä 2002, 17-18).
The focus on the entrepreneurs, the individuals, naturally has many
advantages that have been discussed, e.g. I have been able to overcome
the sometimes artificial boundaries of company entry and exit and I have
been able to look at particular business activity and entrepreneurship and
its development through and after a bankruptcy. This approach also gives
me an opportunity to historically examine the emergence of a company
from the point-of-view of the entrepreneur. There is, however, at least
one problematic issue that this study is not able to look at very pro-
foundly. There were many entrepreneurs who in fact had started their en-
trepreneurial careers as a part of a team. Since my primary research set-
ting and approach deals with individual stories – and not that of a team –
the role and influence of the team, or possibly other influential people in
85
the entrepreneurship, is pushed to the margin in my study. In my study, I
set out to look for the highly individual ‘I’-story, and this is also the em-
phasis in the stories that I get from the entrepreneurs (See also Rae 2000,
157). In some of the stories, the participants narrate parts of their stories
from the ‘we’ position by referring to for example the other partners in
the business. However, this issue remains somewhat blurred in the inter-
views as my focus remains on the individual I-story.
Similarly, I also focus on the lives of the individuals as entrepreneurs
and although in most cases other roles and identities are touched upon,
this is not always very strongly emphasised. In a sense, I assist in con-
structing and labelling the individuals in my study as entrepreneurs and
this is the stand the entrepreneurs then narrate their stories from. I share
an understanding with the participants that they are primarily entrepre-
neurs in telling their stories which to my surprise in the interviews is con-
tested by the participants adopting other strong positions (for example of
a caring wife).
I have already revealed many of my personal deficiencies regarding
the study be they due to outright mistakes or errors on my behalf or due
to the general conditions that every researcher is bound by. Nevertheless,
I feel that something still needs to be said on my role in this study. Being
a researcher interested in and enthusiastic about entrepreneurship but
lacking first-hand entrepreneurial experience puts me in a certain posi-
tion. I do not necessarily feel 'in my gut' what it means encountering mas-
sive difficulties or succeeding in something where one has devoted all
the financial and human resources available. On the other hand, this posi-
tion has also freed me to question and to be reflexive towards the ‘taken
for granted’ presumptions, mythical truths about entrepreneurship and in
general to adopt an unprejudiced approach towards my research material,
that has sometimes been difficult for those immersed with the research
subject (for example Leskinen 1999, 305, Römer-Paakkanen 2002, 178).
4.6.2 Limitations of narratives
The benefits of narratives and narrative research have been elaborated in
this research but in this section I will explore the potential limitations.
Firstly, narrative research has been considered as the solution to many of
the problems in the more traditional research whether in the field of
quantitative or qualitative research by drawing strong boundaries be-
tween different types of research or methodologies. We should, however,
reframe the problem in non-binary terms in order to try to avoid a dialec-
tic entrapment. By this I refer to John R. Hall (1999, 15):
86
“Unfortunately, reactions against Reason, against theory, against
representation sometimes fit this pattern: they become uncritically
infused with the very modes of thought that they reject. It is too
easy to reinvent modernist totalization through its destruction, by
totalizing relativism via some critique of Reason or essentializing
the world as a text.”
Therefore, if I am dismissing functionalist, realistic research on the
basis of their totalising strategies I risk falling into the same trap as they
have by presenting one strand of research and methodology as the sole al-
ternative. I fear that in this study this risk has been partially materialised
but my excuse is grounded on the pragmatic notion of trying to at least
say something important although nothing really definitive or conclusive.
I have attempted not to fall into excesses; “to inquiry that is so frag-
mented that lines of connection have been lost and the social ameliora-
tion possibilities of our work have been rendered moot.” (Smith –
Deemer 2000, 894). The relativism as the value stance leads in the direc-
tion of endless difference eroding the basis for any communication or
production of knowledge, and thus needs to be understood as ‘a condi-
tional relativity’ in order to achieve a socially coherent domain of re-
search (Hall J.R. 1999, 44).
Secondly, it is not the mission of narrative research to capture the to-
tality of the groups way of life, that is I am not aiming to describe the
way entrepreneurs live and work, but rather the focus is on the inter-
preted slices, glimpses and specimens of interaction that display how cul-
tural practices, connected to structural formations and narrative texts, are
experienced at a particular time and place by interacting individuals
(Denzin 1997, 247). Narratives of entrepreneurs do not provide a better
way to locate truth about entrepreneurship. Life stories are amalgams or
roles and stories that are not authentic, but co-authored. Narration re-
quires not only a story but also a story-teller. (Carr 1986, 84.) The narra-
tive approach aimed at contextual and embedded knowledge of the re-
search participants limits the application area of the results, but to what
extent?
The strong focus taken in this study on the story that is rendered into
text puts the focus of the analysis on how people ‘see’ things rather than
how they ‘do’ things (Silverman 2000, 832). In this sense narratives are
limited by the story-telling capabilities of the participants and their will-
ingness and interest in rendering their lives into stories. This division be-
tween ‘seeing and doing’ can be best understood by comparing it to an-
other kind of research method and setting, for example an ethnographic
87
study where the researcher participates in the everyday life of the entre-
preneur and the enterprise making observations of how the entrepreneur
acts as an entrepreneur on a day-to-day basis. This type of material would
naturally alter my research questions and it would provide another kind
of material and knowledge about the participants. In this study, my focus
is on how the entrepreneurs generate knowledge of themselves.
The more pragmatic limitations of narratives come from the presenta-
tion of the material. The method is not suitable for studies of large num-
bers of nameless, faceless subjects (Riessman 2002). Narrative research
should aim at presenting results that are believable and verisimilar (Polk-
inghorne 1988, 161), that are written as reflexive texts giving the readers
the possibility to understand the author, the individual whose story is be-
ing told and to reflect back on their own lives (Tierney 2000, 551). This
has created a need for the detailed, persuasive and vivid writing of texts.
In this study I have bowed to the conventions existing in the field of pre-
senting the stories of entrepreneurs individually in the fear of fragment-
ing them to pieces that can no longer be attached to certain knowledge
and to certain contexts (Riessman 2002). This, however, limits the possi-
bility of presenting the stories of many entrepreneurs and in this study I
have limited my investigation to eight entrepreneurs. In realist qualitative
research the saturation of the data is the guiding principle for the amount
of interviews to be collected. A researcher is advised to continue con-
ducting interviews until no new information is generated in the inter-
views. (Silverman 2000, 823.) For my study this principle is not relevant
as a result of my approach to truth. I do not make any claims of the truth-
fulness of the personal accounts of the lives of the entrepreneurs I have
interviewed, thus having ten entrepreneurs saying the same thing, for ex-
ample, that they became entrepreneurs because of pure chance does not
make this finding any truer. So, the finding that supposedly all entrepre-
neurs in this study have become entrepreneurs because of chance is not
interesting and does not lead to a claim or even suggestion that this might
be true to all entrepreneurs in Finland or in the world. My interest lies in
the different understandings of ‘chance’ and how it is being told and con-
structed by the one, two or eight entrepreneurs who have given this con-
struction in their life-story. Why is this an important issue to discuss in
the first place? (Because I have asked them to narrate their life-story as
entrepreneurs?) And what are the meanings given to chance? For exam-
ple, it is constructed as a chance as opposed to intended planned behav-
iour. So, referring to Bruner this is the power of my research: not aiming
for truth but the meaning-making systems of the participants in the study.
88
As I have underlined previously I rely on the notion of the researcher
as the author of the study, thus my approach is heavily dependent on the
selections that I make regarding the stories I write and the themes that
emerge for me in the interview and in the texts. For example, in this
study I claim to have become sensitive to the gender discussion in the in-
terviews. I do not claim that this is something that every reader or listener
would be sensitive to if facing similar interview situations or if listening
to my tapes or reading the transcripts but I could argue that someone
might. Similarly, some other themes have been ignored or downplayed by
my authorial choices in writing the narratives.
4.7 Rethinking the questions of validity, reliability and generalis-
ability
The traditional criteria – questions of validity, generalisability and reli-
ability - for evaluating and interpreting qualitative research have been
challenged with the crisis of legitimisation.
“The question from this crisis is, “How are qualitative studies to
be evaluated in the contemporary, poststructural moment?” (Den-
zin 1997, 4)
Denzin (1997, 7-9) identifies four different responses to this crisis.
Firstly, there are positivists who make no difference between quantitative
and qualitative research and they apply the standard criteria to disciplined
inquiry (internal and external validity, reliability and objectivity). Sec-
ondly, post-positivists call for the development of unique criteria to
qualitative research but no agreement on the criteria has been reached.
The third approach, which he names post-modernism, contends that the
very idea of assessing qualitative research is antithetical to the nature of
research and the world it attempts to study.
“For post-modernism, ethnographic practices are ways of acting in
the world. These ways of acting (interviewing and observing) pro-
duce particular, situated understandings. The validity, or authority
of a give observation is determined by the nature of the critical
understandings it produces.” (p. 8).
The fourth position, critical poststructuralism calls for a construction
of an entirely new set of criteria, different from any of the above. Such
89
criteria would stress subjectivity, emotionality, feeling and so forth.
(Denzin 1997, 7-9.)
In one doctoral seminar, not very far into my research, I proudly pre-
sented what I was about to do – that I was into narrative research due to
its capability of seeking ‘verisimilitude’ because I thought that as re-
searchers we needed to make the entrepreneurial experience more ‘life-
like, believable and possible’ (Ellis – Boechner 2000, 751). After my
presentation my discussant made the following remark (question?) ‘It
may be that the method is driving the research project and it does not
stem from the research question’. Another professor supportive of the
discussant commented that ‘the word – verisimilitude – I cannot even
pronounce it’. These remarks or questions demonstrated that the rele-
vance and place of narrative research needs to be clarified. So, how can I
say that this research project is valid? This study relies on the following
ideas; language is not a transparent medium – it cannot reflect reality. A
story of one’s past is different from the past itself. The story is always
partial, incomplete and selective. Thus, I do not aim to generalise in the
traditional sense but to give readers my experience of entrepreneurs and
then it is for the readers to judge whether my text communicates; whether
entrepreneurs can relate to this text (does it speak?) and whether entre-
preneurship researchers or other people think it speaks of the entrepre-
neurs they know, or, whether it tells a story of people they do not know
but still seem believable. (Ellis – Boechner 2000, 751.)
This peculiarity – research that is not searching for the truth and there-
fore is incapable of distinguishing between fact and fiction – naturally
creates concern among the research community that is not familiar with
the narrative approach. There is a need to develop and come to terms
with new criteria for ‘goodness’ in research (Tierney 1999, 311). How-
ever, according to Bruner (1986, 1990) the narrative is able to provide in-
telligible explanations out of unexpected events or people’s non-
scientific explanations and interpretations of their own life. Thus, the
perceived coherence of the temporal order of events – narrative coher-
ence - rather than the falsity or truth of the story elements determines the
plot and the power of the narrative as a story. This requires stories being
told in a way that the earlier stories are in relation to new stories in mean-
ingful ways. (Czarniawska, 1998, 5-6, Heikkinen, 2001, 197.) As an al-
ternative to the standard of truth to judge inquiry I will rely to another
criterion, namely whether it “opens up new things to think about” (Hall,
J. R. 1999, 20).
90
91
5. BUILDING BLOCKS FOR THE STORIES
This chapter serves to introduce the participants in the study in more de-
tail as well as the logic in choosing them, the devices and the ways the
participants used to tell their stories and some of the important themes
that were introduced as part of the identity stories.
5.1 Choosing and locating entrepreneurs for the study
Especially in the American literature there is a clear distinction between
small business owners and entrepreneurs. ‘True entrepreneurs’ are seen
to be those who capitalise on innovative combinations of resources for
the purpose of profit and growth whereas small business owners run
more or less stable enterprises to further personal goals and to produce
family income (Carland et al 1984, 354-359, Stewart et al 1999, 191). In
Finland the distinction is less so. The Finnish term ‘yrittäjä’ covers both
concepts. If one wants to use the term ‘yrittäjä’ in the American sense of
the ‘entrepreneur’ it normally needs to be qualified with some kind of an
explanation. From the American point-of-view my study covers both en-
trepreneurs and small business owners but following the Finnish tradition
I will call them all entrepreneurs.
Locating and choosing entrepreneurs in this study is based on the fol-
lowing principles. Firstly, I looked for entrepreneurs with an academic
degree or equivalent but I excluded medical doctors, lawyers and other
representatives of ‘strong’ professions from my study based on an as-
sumption that e.g. medical doctors have a strong identity based on their
profession, and would not necessarily consider themselves entrepreneurs
although they had a private practice. This could, however, be something
worth investigating in another study. Since entrepreneurship is currently
highly valued in Finland, and there has been a lot of discussion of entre-
preneurship it may be that even medical doctors and other professions
have come to see themselves as entrepreneurs. In a way this supports my
view that the categories and labels are not stable but constantly negoti-
ated. At least marketing and advertising in the area of, for example, plas-
tic surgeries have changed dramatically over the past few years. In addi-
tion, there is an increasing interest in studying the two dimensional roles
of medical doctors as both doctors and business people, and some inter-
esting research has been published in the field (e.g. Llewellyn 2001).
92
However, my choice was grounded on the reasoning that for medical
doctors the business idea is self-evident and the barrier for entering into a
private practice is relatively low. It is also fairly normal to be working
both in private practice and in a state-owned clinic simultaneously and
hence doctors are not forced to make a decision in favour of either of the
two roles or identities.
The study is heavily based on the narrative method and, hence, on the
capability of the interviewees to narrate verbally their experiences,
thoughts and motives. This is the very pragmatic reason for selecting
mainly academic entrepreneurs in the study. This could also be seen as a
major weakness in all of the studies that rely on the narrative capabilities
of their focus group to be more or less dependent on the ability of the in-
terviewees to verbalise their thoughts and meaningmaking systems and
structures. In a narrative study it could be seen to be a major problem if
the participants answer with very short ‘yes and no’ type of answers (See
4.2.3, p. 62).
The choice of academic or well-educated entrepreneurs in the study
stems from a career possibility perspective. People with an academic de-
gree do have a wider range of opportunities open to them, making the al-
ternative and the related choices more visible. For example, for a quali-
fied hairdresser the choices are limited (if assuming that she or he wants
to stay within that field of work): to work as an employee, to rent a chair
in a salon or to become an entrepreneur by setting up or buying a salon.
Again, as with medical doctors this could be an area worth studying – it
could be that some hairdressers understand their business is offering
haircuts whereas some have, in fact, developed their business into an ex-
perience business where the haircut is only a small part of the business
idea. However, for the scope of this study I have limited my approach to
academic or well-educated entrepreneurs and to cases where I have as-
sumed that the entrepreneurial career has been only one of the many op-
portunities for those individuals and, hence, it could be seen that the
identity work is facilitated and even accelerated.
In Arthur’s story an insight in this line is given (6.7, p. 236). His first
career choice was to train himself to be a metalshop worker and he works
as one after graduation. This is followed by a long period that he spends
gradually increasing his education. However, his concurrent choices were
limited due to his initial choice as he had to follow the technical studies
programme and to become an engineer despite his interest in other ca-
reers. In a way, Arthur’s story supports my initial reasoning – those with
a university degree do share a wider range of opportunities than those
who take for example a basic vocational degree. The most interesting
93
idea with regard to the facilitated identity work is, however, Arthur’s
construction of the opening of new windows through his incremental
process of education. In this way, through education his opportunities
gradually widened.
Secondly, I looked for entrepreneurs with different backgrounds and
stories to tell. I discussed the issue on several occasions with my supervi-
sor to use our mutual preunderstanding to map out a number of different
routes to entrepreneurship or in general the different ideas of what kind
of entrepreneurs there are at the moment. I did not want to emphasise the
stereotypes of entrepreneurs so this also directed my choice of partici-
pants to also include entrepreneurs who are not the obvious choices for a
study on entrepreneurs, i.e. to include also entrepreneurs not frequently in
the press and other media, or those actively involved in enterprise asso-
ciations. As routes to entrepreneurship I was interested in people coming
out of unemployment, directly from university or working as an em-
ployee. Since high-tech entrepreneurs were much debated at the end of
1990s I wanted to include representatives in this study to represent ‘the
new wave’ of entrepreneurs. Although most Finnish entrepreneurs are
currently middle-aged (see for example Stenholm 2002) I also wanted to
have entrepreneurs representing the younger generation in the study. Fur-
thermore, although women represent only 30% of entrepreneurs I in-
cluded four men and four women in this study in order to propagate and
to support the image of a world where women and men could participate
equally in entrepreneurial ventures. Discussing only male entrepreneurs
or taking just one female entrepreneur as the ‘deviant’ case would help to
reproduce female entrepreneurs as a marginalised group of entrepreneurs.
In general when selecting the participants for my study the guiding prin-
ciple was to include as much heterogeneity in my material as possible.
In addition, in the course of the interviewing I had at least two other
ideas for potential participants but could not locate them at the time. I
was interested in a person who had left the public sector to become an
entrepreneur and a former entrepreneur who had returned to wage work,
as an employee. If I had been interested in just any representatives of
these categories it would naturally have been fairly easy to locate these
participants, but my other criteria limited the choice. On the other hand, I
am sure that there are other ‘cases’ or interesting stories missing from
this study.
I did not personally know any of the entrepreneurs but I applied vari-
ous methods in locating them. Although the following list seems inciden-
tal much effort and thought was put into locating ‘good informants’.
94
a) My supervisor suggested two of the entrepreneurs (Rosemary
and Diane). She had met the two women and knew something
of their stories as entrepreneurs and suggested them for my
study.
b) One of the entrepreneurs (Rosemary) suggested I should inter-
view her ‘mentee’, Eliza, for the study.
c) A colleague of mine suggested that I could interview her for-
mer colleague, Jonathan, and another colleague proposed that I
interview his former university student friend (Timothy).
d) One of the entrepreneurs, Marge, participated in another study
in the Small Business Institute (Lehto – Stenholm 2001).
e) I heard one of the entrepreneurs (Arthur) give a seminar
speech of his story as an entrepreneur and followed that up.
f) The eighth entrepreneur (Samuel) was suggested to me by an-
other professor in response to my request to find someone with
a university / research background.
The industry was not a key concern when selecting the interviewees
but in the end it turned out that the majority of the interviewees repre-
sented services, which could be expected given the choice of academic or
otherwise well-educated entrepreneurs.
All of the entrepreneurs I approached agreed to participate in the
study. This could also be an interesting topic that could be a point of
analysis. Since my background is in organisations and administration I
have attended several research seminars in the field of organisation re-
search where the issue of access has been frequently presented as at least
a minor problem. Based on my personal experience as a researcher who
has contacted mainly entrepreneurs and owner-managers of small com-
panies, access has never been a problem. Entrepreneurs seldom refuse to
participate in a telephone or personal interview although their rate of re-
sponse to surveys is often quite low.
In the next table listing basic information regarding the entrepreneurs
and their companies is presented (Table 2). The stories of all the entre-
preneurs are presented individually in the next chapter (6, p. 115).
95
Table 2 Presenting the entrepreneurs and their enterprises in the study
Age Professional back-
ground
Education Company Year (estab-
lishment)
Sector Employ-
ees
Rosemary Late
50s
Industry related
experience
B.Sc. (Eng.) Textile industry 1982 Industry 7
Jonathan 43 Teacher, project
manager
M.Sc. (Philosophy) Translation office 1988/1993 Service 20-30
Eliza 37 Designer, entre-
preneur
Studies (University
of Arts and Design)
Textile designs 1988/1998 Service 1
Diane Late
40s
Experience in
marketing
B.Sc. (Commerce) Training, consulting
services
1995 Service 1
Marge 43 Journalist M.Sc. (Journalism) B-to-B services 2000 Service 1
Timothy 33 University student
(some working
experience)
M.Sc. (Econ. &Bus.
Adm.)
Software company 1995 Service 7
Arthur 56 CEO, Industry re-
lated experience
M.Sc. (Eng.) Training and engi-
neering
1985/1992 Service 10
Samuel Late
30s
Business & uni-
versity back-
ground
PhD (Biochemistry) Biotechnology com-
pany
1995 Industry 56
96
5.2 Story formats and ways of narrating
5.2.1 Different stories, not just different themes
For this study I conducted eight interviews. My analysis of the contents
will demonstrate the similarities and differences across the interviews
(5.3, p. 100) and the same holds true for the story formats and ways of
narrating. Prior to the interviews I assumed I would hear a standard for-
mat for the stories and by this I mean that the entrepreneurs would en-
gage in the storytelling mode, tell me interesting, surprising, funny and
sad stories from their experiences as entrepreneurs. I was prepared to lis-
ten to the (analytical) survival and success stories where, first, the entre-
preneur bangs his or her head against the wall when searching for finance
and trying to make the first deal, i.e. the early years of the company are
filled with problems and struggles that the entrepreneur needs to over-
come in order to make it. These stories would then include lucky coinci-
dences that bring in new customers or other vivid, memorable moments
that make the early struggles worthwhile and finally climaxing with the
prosperity and the success the entrepreneur is encountering at the mo-
ment of telling the story. Although I was expecting heterogeneity within
the stories, i.e. different themes, I was surprised about the heterogeneity
in the story telling formats and therefore it became a focus in my analy-
sis. Why is it important for some to tell a coherent story spiced with some
tragic and dramatic elements, whereas some refused my open invitation
to provide such a story? Does it have something to do with age – is the
older generation of entrepreneurs more tempted to tell the grand stories
of their lives, and is the younger generation more inclined to refuse the
grand story, being more ego-centric, focusing on the individuality and in-
timacy of their experiences, and hence, the telling of the stories becomes
an impossibility? Has the younger generation indeed been exposed to the
fragmentation of their lives and the society that makes the grand story
‘the Story of My Life’ a pure impossibility? Or whether the time lag, to-
gether with the act of telling the story to different audiences are needed to
transform the entrepreneurial stories into the arch-like stories?
The great, arch-like, crystallised story is available for example in the
story of Rosemary (6.1, p. 115) while others engage in a more frag-
mented story telling. The story of Jonathan falls into this category (6.2, p.
139). The fragmented story is not readily digestible and at first I find it
difficult to follow. In the beginning of the interview I feel anxious ‘I’m
never going to keep the interview going for even an hour’ but in the end
that is one of the longest interviews as the story begins to unwind during
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the interview. It is the stories of Timothy and Samuel I find the most con-
fusing. Timothy refuses to engage in telling his story (6.6, p. 217); he
does not want to emphasise any particular events to be more meaningful
than others in the fear of giving a false picture of the true meaning of
entrepreneurship for him. On the other hand, he is utterly concerned
about whether I ‘get anything out’ of the interview demonstrating
Timothy’s wish to accommodate my intellectual needs and to give a full
and detailed picture of his entrepreneurship, which he finds difficult
because it is ‘just life’, void of extraordinary events or particularities
linked to entrepreneurship as opposed to any other type of work.
Despite the visible asymmetry of interviews (I am asking far more
questions than the participant and participants are telling more about
themselves than I am about myself, see also for example Roulston et al
2001) the interviews are also more or less interactive settings where the
researcher and the participant engage in a dynamic relationship. In the in-
terviews it is also possible to see traces of the way I help the participants
to construct their stories. For example, in the case of Samuel (6.8, p. 256)
I am surprised and perplexed firstly that he does not tell his story volun-
tarily but expects my intervention and secondly that he is not telling of
his personal experiences but more of the general difficulties attached to
the industry or entrepreneurship. The need for my interventions in con-
structing the story results in me offering him themes like growth and the
problems related with personnel and growth and the role of the entrepre-
neur to tell the story. In addition, my role and interventions are in any
case visible through the letter I sent prior to the interviews. Marge’s story
is a reflective account that is structured around my request (6.5, p. 202).
She even makes comments like ‘with regard to identity’, making use of
my vocabulary and concepts in narrating her story.
There are however also other elements that are applied in the stories.
Eliza’s story is structured very much against prevailing myths, common
knowledge and research about entrepreneurship (6.3, p. 160). She uses
them frequently in her narrative. Since Rosemary is Eliza’s mentor it was
interesting to notice some common elements in the two stories.
Now I can decide on the risks myself and… how I solve them. And
if I mess it up - I have done some really stupid things anyway. But
I have always learned from them. That okay, well it is me who will
be paying for them then. (Eliza)
When I bear the responsibility myself for it, nobody will, will come
to say if I make some really stupid investments. It’s quite lovely.
To be able to sometimes very quickly make a, a decision and not
necessarily know if it is so wise. (Rosemary)
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In Diane’s story the voices of female entrepreneurs come through her
narrative (6.4, p. 182). Arthur’s story is an analytical and reflexive ac-
count, which contains a lot of anecdotes about himself (‘accidental engi-
neer’) and where the major incident structures the whole story (6.7, p-
236).
5.2.2 Devices for constructing the stories
The participants apply various elements, devices, to construct their sto-
ries. Similar to the study of Cunliffe (2001, 363) they refer to archetypes
and images of who to be or not to be to construct their entrepreneurial
identity. For example, Timothy refuses the archetypal image presented,
for example, in the media of an IT entrepreneur aiming solely at profits
and getting rich as his personal identity but constructs a new identity of
an entrepreneur interested in providing good quality services to the cus-
tomers but the new identity is constructed through using the archetype
(6.6, p. 217).
It is also in Timothy’s story where he applies examples of the research
work to parallel our experiences to connect and share mutual experi-
ences. Stories offer one way of connecting; of trying to grasp what is
happening and impacting others through emotional pull (Cunliffe 2001,
365). It seems that fictional but concrete stories offer important possibili-
ties for the participants to convey the most difficult experiences and to
involve me personally and emotionally in their experiences. Arthur de-
scribes his feeling of losing control in the bankruptcy by telling a fic-
tional story of a car hurrying down a winding route out of control (p.
242). Marge expresses her feelings of the redundancy by giving an ex-
ample of getting a hot stone in her head (p. 206). Through framing the
experiences into these concrete, quite physical stories it is possible to
personally feel what those experiences felt like for the participants rather
than the more abstract events that actually took place. These fictional sto-
ries serve also as metaphors, which turned out to have an important
meaning in the way the participants were weaving the stories. Thus,
metaphors are applied to ‘make visible’ the imaginary and the power of
metaphor is that it can create images and enable understanding. However,
similar to the argument presented in this study that talk does not represent
experience, metaphor does not have direct access to that experience nor
can it create a clear picture or image that can be used as a starting point
for coherent analysis (metaphors are not self-explanatory); it is only
through the combination of the object of the study and the metaphor, the
99
principal subject and the modifier that a meaningful picture is con-
structed. (Alvesson 1993, 114-115.)
“A metaphor is created when a term is carried over from one sys-
tem or level of meaning to another, thereby illuminating some cen-
tral aspects of the latter (and shadowing other aspects). A meta-
phor allows an object to be perceived and understood from the
viewpoint of another object.” (Alvesson 1993, 116)
Humour and laughter were also present in most of the interviews to
varying degrees. There are different ways of analysing and understanding
the humour taking place in the interviews. I seem to be laughing a lot al-
though the points where I laugh are not particularly humorous in fact I
seem to be laughing when posing most of my questions. The function of
humour is, therefore, easy to pinpoint to address my anxiety in making
intelligible questions, of probing the lives of the people I am meeting for
the first time, of asking sometimes very personal questions about family
life and their life decisions. As a researcher, a doctoral student I was
wearing the hat that gave me permission to make these queries, however,
I was not altogether comfortable with my role as the intruder of personal
privacy and at the same time I enjoyed the interviews a lot, especially af-
terwards.
In addition, most participants applied some sort of humour in their sto-
ries. Sooner or later in the interview – and in most cases on more than
one occasion – all the interviewees laughed or made a humorous com-
ment or applied a humorous tone. The role of those could be understood
to be to ease the tension in the interviews and to make some of the seri-
ous or personal stories less serious and less touching. Or laughter is the
mode of telling the story not part of its content. The ‘laugh about it later’
presents an event that was not funny to the tellers at the time, but be-
comes funny in its re-telling. It can be told without the typical joke for-
mat (without a punch line) because it tells about a particular event – an
embarrassing event – that is socially recognised as funny. This type of
humour might be a way of coping with the pain linked to the embarrass-
ment. It is to be noted also that the stories transform the pain from the
past to the pleasure of the today recruiting the audience to this process to
give validity through laughter to the transformation. (Billig 2001, 37-38.)
I share an understanding of the role of irony in pointing towards a con-
tradiction in the stories. For example, for Timothy, who frequently uses
irony it seems that the getting rich is the contradiction in his entrepreneu-
rial life. On one hand, it is what is being taught in the business school
where the focus is on emphasising the profit making capability of the or-
100
ganisations and, on the other, this is the norm in the IT industry. The fact
that Timothy is refusing this ideal and norm at least partially is made
visible through the frequent use of irony.
In the stories the participants apply many examples to substantiate the
claims they have made. Often these examples deal with their own experi-
ences but sometimes they try to reach me and to make sure that I under-
stand their experiences by inventing examples that deal with academic
life and of conducting research. In addition, examples of other people are
offered to substantiate the claims and personal experiences. It is as if the
participants are applying ‘triangulation of evidence’ to convince me of
the truthfulness of their experiences. Sometimes numeric frequencies are
also provided to support the universality and generalisability of the evi-
dence provided, for example, Eliza tells about having worked in two dif-
ferent family businesses with the same problems in order to provide con-
vincing evidence that the problems experienced may be extended to
cover all the family companies (p. 165). Similarly, lists are provided to
offer evidence for the information given.
5.3 Contents of the entrepreneurial stories
In the interviews some themes are developed into more important ones in
that they are shared themes in the stories of several participants in the
study or that a theme is an overriding one in the story of one participant.
This was the principle for selecting the themes to be presented here al-
though the stories would have allowed discussion of other themes as
well. For example, I have decided not to discuss the issue of growth here
although it was touched upon in the stories but it did not become a major
theme in any of the stories. Here I will discuss the contextually and con-