Imagined futures of entrepreneurial groups

This subproject asks how established entrepreneurial groups negotiate their imagined future (Beckert, 2016). It seeks out to understand how and what aspects of imagined future entrepreneurial groups negotiate, which strategies group members use and which group dynamics are underlying and influencing these negotiations.

We selected German Craft as a context for this study as entrepreneurial groups have to come to terms with an ambivalent situation between economic prosperity and severe societal challenges such as demographical change, change of life styles and consumption patterns, globalization, or technological change (Düring, 2012), requiring them to develop creative solutions and to tailor imagined futures to these developments. Following a theoretical sampling approach, we recruited cases varying in terms of size of the group (Simmel, 1992) and size of the business (small, medium, large). After the first few starting cases, new cases were selected on basis of inductively derived interesting characteristics that appeared relevant in structuring the negotiation of fictional expectations in groups (e.g. established/newly founded; regions, change of group composition) while keeping other criteria stable. We conducted face-to-face-interviews, which largely draw on the set up of group discussions and couples interviews in family research (Bohnsack, Przyborski, & Schäffer, 2010). We used documentary method to analyze the content of anticipated futures and the performance of these future presentations during the interviews.

One preliminary finding highlights that there is not only one set of fictional expectations focused on the future of the business, but another set of fictional expectations focused on the future of working together. In a quest to understand why at times groups draw more strongly on one set over the other, we identified group stage to be a relevant explanatory variable: We argue that in stable groups – those where group membership and roles are defined – entrepreneurial groups draft anticipated futures for the business. Groups in transition – those that expect a change in membership or role setting – draft anticipated futures for the working together. We further argue that entrepreneurial groups need to be able to achieve closure (not consent) around the future of working together in order to be able to draft a future for the business. Entrepreneurial groups differ in their capability to achieve this closure. The time windows, in which the future of working together are open for negotiation offer an opportunity for social innovation – this is a time where new group constellations can be considered.

Overall, this study informs scholarly knowledge about collective agency and the social embeddedness of economic activity and organizational coordination.

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