The concept of identity construction is of central importance to understanding how individuals make sense of their lives and how they enact environment to be able to achieve their goals (Farmer, Yao, & Kung-Mcintyre, 2011). Most of the hitherto literature focuses on the process of construction and re- construction of identity (e.g. Ibarra, 1999) and on the tools individuals use to create and display their identity (e.g. Ibarra & Barbulescu, 2010). Identity construction can be thus conceptualized as the process of internalizing self-views emerging from identification with particular (social) roles and integrating lived experiences and events into coherent life trajectory. More specifically, entrepreneurial identity construction reflects the adjustment towards emerging aspirations of becoming an entrepreneur in order to provide fit with the changing life goals (Thornborrow & Brown, 2009). Hence, individuals’ action towards creating a desirable identity is guided by their motivation and willingness to identify with specific roles and/or people. Even if extant research offers explanation of the identity construction process and the tools in this process (i.e. stories), the understanding of the triggers of this process has not received enough attention.
As a consequence, to date very little is known about the mechanisms of how and why motivation and role models affect the process of identity formation. While research found that goal orientation influences internal motivation (Dweck, 1999), the role models act as external facilitators of motivation to act (Davidsson & Honig, 2003). Yet, no extant research has explored the mechanisms of identity construction adopting these perspectives simultaneously. Understanding how role models and goal orientation interact, and the effect their interaction can have on learning and formation of entrepreneurial identity is important because if entrepreneurs act based on who they are, who and what they know, then the adopted identity is likely to influence entrepreneurial action and its outcomes.
We use the Optimal Distinctiveness Theory (ODT), which suggests that individuals are driven simultaneously by the need for belonging and the need for distinctiveness; in order to create a congruent identity they engage in balancing these two needs. This theory is particularly well suited to exploration of the process of entrepreneurial identity construction as it suggests that individuals engage in work to retain the needed balance, and entrepreneurs more than other professions experience conflicts between these two needs (Haynie & Shepherd, 2011). We suggest that both internal goal orientation as well as role models influence whether individuals experience more the need for belonging or the need for distinctiveness; and subsequently the process how they construct their entrepreneurial identity. Furthermore, we suggest that the self-narratives help entrepreneurs construct the desired identities and that the level of effort put into construction of desired identity depends on the salience and level of identification with the identity. More specifically, we develop a model explaining antecedents, i.e. how the source of motivation, role models and the value of being similar or distinctive from others influence the effort put into the construction of identity.
We explore these relationships in the context of celebrity gourmet restaurateurs. This context is ideally positioned for our purpose, because the celebrity restaurateurs actively engage in narrating their stories and making sense of their success whether in interviews or through their own cookbooks. Additionally, the competition in this sector of the industry is skill based and relationships are characterized by close cognitive proximity expressed by shared norms, values and motives which increases the salience of the researched variables. Finally, gourmet restaurateurs’ dispositions contain characteristics of innovative entrepreneurs, through engaging in constant innovation, whether by developing new products or services or by introducing new revenue streams or production methods.
Adopting a narrative approach to the analysis of celebrity chefs’ stories and how they construct their identities over time is an excellent way to explore this process. Narratives are self-representations (Goffman, 1959). Individuals, and in particular entrepreneurs, are often motivated to explain their situation to a wider audience. For example, Boje (1991) argued that the content of stories and the meaning of the events may change over time reflecting individuals’ changing perceptions and worldviews. Moreover, Czarniawska (1997) states that individuals often enact stories to make their own actions legitimate and themselves accountable for the actions. Thus, narratives give meaning to the events, actions and objects. We analyze the narratives of the restaurateurs focusing on: orientation (setting and the character), abstract (summarizes the events or incidents of the story), complicating action (evaluative commentary on the events) and resolution/outcomes of the story or conflict) and compare the different elements over time.
Our analysis shows that framing goals as learning goals is likely to emphasize the need for distinctiveness and thus stress these aspects in the self-narratives, while framing goals as performance goals is likely to result in more need for belonging and thus emphasis on the aspects of the identity that offer similarity to others. Similarly, identification with role models facilitates emphasis on the similar aspects of the identity. Finally, we find that there is also strong relationship between the career stage entrepreneur is in and the dominant role of either need for belonging or need for distinctiveness.
In general, our findings are important for furthering our understanding of the identity construction process and its antecedents and outcomes. More specifically, we discuss linkages between entrepreneur’s identity construction and his or her search for legitimacy and reputation. We extend the discussion to the relation between self-identity and “Fremdidentitaet”, i.e. the identity displayed towards society. Finally, we elaborate how the celebrity aspect contributes to construction of identity. While we focus on construction of the entrepreneurial identity, we believe that this process is likely to be generalizable to identity construction is general.
Rhetoric & Narratives in Management Research 2013: 5th Conference on Rhetoric and Narratives, ESADE