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Family Businesses in Movies: Popular Culture and Organizational Identities
Högskolan i Jönköping, Internationella Handelshögskolan, IHH, Redovisning och finansiering. (CeFEO)
Högskolan i Jönköping, Internationella Handelshögskolan, IHH, EMM (Entreprenörskap, Marknadsföring, Management). Högskolan i Jönköping, Internationella Handelshögskolan, IHH, Center for Family Enterprise and Ownership (CeFEO).
2007 (engelsk)Konferansepaper, Oral presentation only (Annet (populærvitenskap, debatt, mm))
Abstract [en]

Introduction and purpose

This essay deals with two seemingly different, but nevertheless related, social phenomena: the representation of family businesses in commercial movies and the representations of family businesses constructed by owners’ and managers’ themselves, e.g. in their official company information material.

To study family businesses through popular cultural products offers family business scholars an alternative perspective to increase the understanding of key issues in family businesses. As pointed out by Denzin (1991) and Beard (1994) what occurs on film is almost by definition culturally significant as it reaches a large audience through theatres, television, videos and DVDs. Furthermore, even those who chose not to view a particular film often hear bits and pieces of its message as films are discussed and reviewed on television, in radio, in magazines and in morning papers. An interesting aspect of the message or messages that a film might be understood as communicating is that popular movies can be seen as both reflecting and generating cultural values and representations. The main argument for why we pay attention to how family businesses are represented in popular culture is threby not that it necessarily represents what people in general think about family businesses. Certainly, to make sense to the audience, film makers need to construct their storyline with some kind of understanding of existing general values and beliefs about the topic of the film. At the same time, to be interesting and entertaining, the film also need to present something new, unknown and/or unexpected. To us this is interesting since also to the extent that a film represents what its producers not necessarily hold to be true about family businesses it might still affect the audiences’ belief about family business contexts and actors. As for example Beard (1994, p 303) argues it has been well-documented “that life imitates television”. She mentions that popular television series for example have altered the expectations that American clients have of the lawyers representing them (Beard, 1994; Margolick, 1990). This parallel generation and reflection of cultural values regarding for example family business settings should be interesting to students, researchers and practitioners working in or with family businesses since many of these organizations today are described and/or present themselves as family founded, family owned and/or family controlled.

A further argument for turning the focus to how family businesses are represented in popular culture is that it also provides a methodological mean through which practices could be understood (Czarniawska, 2004; Kjellander, Nordqvist and Welter, 2007) that is complementary to the more conventional methods of empirical fieldwork. It offers a possibility for researchers to take a narrative approach and follow processes and relations that might be more difficult to detect and understand through for instance regular interviews or observations. Movies are examples of narrative fiction that can serve as a basis for the development of scholarly knowledge (e.g. Phillips, 1995; DeCock and Land, 2005). Similar to what has been argued for novels (Waldo, 1968; Phillips, 1995; Czarniawska, 2007) we suggest that important subjective, emotional, sensual and value-based elements of organizational life are visible and interpretable through movies. They can offer “a more abstract understanding of social, economic and political processes, but also a repertoire of pragmatically useful devices” (Czarniawska-Joerges and Guillet de Monthoux, 1994:7).

Based on the above, the purpose of this research is to investigate how family businesses and family business actors are represented in popular films. In this paper we will focus on the film “The Inheritance” directed by Per Fly in 2003. This image will be compared to the representations of family control provided by family business managers and owners themselves and to dominant approaches to family business management and ownership in family business research.

Analysis and tentative conclusions

A tentative conclusion regarding this film is that it depicts the family business partly in line with the ideas of the traditional dual system approach to family and business. The little amount of time devoted to anchoring and making sense of different situations is in sharp contrast to studies of family business settings in ethnographic research (Brundin, 2002; Florin Samuelsson, 2002; Hall, 2002; Nordqvist, 2005) What Kärreman and Alvesson (2001) refers to as conversational rationality is not present in this setting.

It is interesting to note that while the representation of the family business in movies, TV-series and novels typically are notably negative – we have looked in detail at one example in this essay – the movie “The Inheritance, the descriptions that owners and managers from business families themselves give are very positive. Notwithstanding this difference, in both types of representation we can see that the ‘family’ takes up an important role as what we can refer to as an organizing principle. Whether positive or negative, the family becomes a dominant principle, or resource, that different kinds of organizing activities, such as marketing, control, strategic development or governance, relate to. We encourage future research to further investigate the role of the family as an organizing principle. It would, for instance, be interesting to see to what extent the references to the family is taken for granted or institutionalized in different context. Moreover, what does it actually mean for practice that the representations of the family business (and the family as organizing principle) are so different between popular culture and the family business owners and managers themselves? What meaning does this difference for instance have for potential employees in family business, or for investors willing to invest in family businesses?

From a more theoretical point of view, we can see both the movie and the presentations and descriptions generated by family businesses themselves as ‘fictionalizing acts’ (c.f. Iser, 1993; Czarniawska, 2007). Fictionalizing occurs when realities are transferred into a text, but also when what is merely imagined is put into existence by textual or visual means (Iser, 1993). In other words, it is not just the film director who narrates and creates fiction about the family business, but indeed also the owners and managers describing their family businesses. From this perspective, it is not possible with certainty to decide which of the texts is the most ‘real’ or even the most ‘realistic’. What stands out as relatively clear, however, is that both the director and the family business owners and managers themselves are likely to have a thesis or a dominant view on how they think family business are and how the family as an organizing principle have meanings for people working in and with family businesses. This also underlines a strong ideological foundation in many narrations and representations of family businesses. It is, indeed, a mistake to take either a movie representing family businesses or descriptions made by family businesses themselves as lacking underlying theoretical assumptions, even if implicit.

For future research we also suggest to study the interpretations made by different groups of audiences after watching a film like this and how it corresponds to their beliefs and attitudes towards family firms. It would also be interesting to try to sketch what Czarniawska (2004) refers to as “strong plots, i.e. established and repeated patterns of emplotment” in different lines of popular culture or any cultural form regarding families and businesses.

sted, utgiver, år, opplag, sider
2007.
Emneord [en]
Family business management, Popular culture
HSV kategori
Identifikatorer
URN: urn:nbn:se:hj:diva-3133OAI: oai:DiVA.org:hj-3133DiVA, id: diva2:33953
Konferanse
EIASM 3rd Workshop on Family Firms Management Research
Tilgjengelig fra: 2007-08-13 Laget: 2007-08-13 Sist oppdatert: 2018-06-28

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