Academic journal article Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice

News and Nuances of the Entrepreneurial Myth and Metaphor: Linguistic Games in Entrepreneurial Sense-Making and Sense-Giving

Academic journal article Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice

News and Nuances of the Entrepreneurial Myth and Metaphor: Linguistic Games in Entrepreneurial Sense-Making and Sense-Giving

Article excerpt

This article describes a social construction of entrepreneurship by exploring the constructionalist building blocks of communication, myth, and metaphor presented in a major British middle range broadsheet newspaper with no particular party political allegiance. We argue that the sense-making role of figurative language is important because of the inherent problems in defining and describing the entrepreneurial phenomena. Myth and metaphor in newspapers create an entrepreneurial appreciation that helps define our understanding of the world around us. The content analysis of articles published in this newspaper revealed images of male entrepreneurs as dynamic wolfish charmers, supernatural gurus, successful skyrockets or community saviors and corrupters. Finally, this article relates the temporal construction of myth and metaphor to the dynamics of enterprise culture.

Introduction

The purpose of this article is to explore the shifts and changes in the metaphoric portrayal of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship in the media in the period 1989 to 2000. Using data drawn from a major British quality, middle range broadsheet newspaper with no particular political allegiance (Nicolson, 2001), we find continuity in a consistent pattern of entrepreneurs portrayed as larger than life, but also a remarkable discontinuity.

Entrepreneurs were first made giants but, by 2000, they were discovered to have feet of clay. These interesting accounts may reflect the difficulty identified in the academic literature of defining the term entrepreneurship (Bygrave & Hoffer, 1991; Carland, Carland, & Hoy, 1994; Gartner, 1988; Johannisson & Senneseth, 1993; Rosa & Bowes, 1993) and weaknesses recognized in traditional methods of conceptualizing entrepreneurship (Chell, 1985, Jack & Anderson, 2002). However, metaphors in entrepreneurship description, and indeed, all figurative language, play an important process role in how we think and learn about phenomena. Of all the entrepreneurial discourse, metaphor is the most vivid. In explaining one thing in terms of another, attributes are produced and expectations raised. This sense-making role is particularly important for entrepreneurship because of the inherent problems of defining or even describing entrepreneurship. Even entrepreneurs themselves, as Hill and Levenhagen (1995) suggest, operate at the edge of what they do not know. At root, entrepreneurship is about creating new realities; transforming ideas into new ventures, and transposing old ideas into new situations. To be truly entrepreneurial, this Schumpertian act must be unique and must reach into an unknowable future. With such an intangible definition, it is no surprise that descriptive entrepreneurial metaphors are needed to "generate insight into how things are" (De Koning & Drakopoulou-Dodd, 2002, p. 2).

We attempt to explain this paradigmatic shift by contextualizing the changes within the meta-analytical framework of Gidden's idea of structuration. This helps us to see how the underlying dominant ideology of entrepreneurial agency is reflecting the changing socio-economic structure. We set our account firmly in the context of social constructionism, arguing that such an approach helps us to understand the complexities of the entrepreneurial phenomenon. Moreover, this conceptualization allows us to address the different layers of meaning and the production of these meanings that surround and form the idea of entrepreneurship. Our methodological technique is the content analysis of articles published in the newspaper. This is not a postmodern analysis as we do not see the meanings of entrepreneurship as free-floating. Whilst entrepreneurship is a transitory act in constant flux and change, and metaphor is itself symbolic and part of the emancipatory narrative, we argue that meaning is firmly anchored in the modernist project. As Nisbet (1980, p. 4) states, the modern condition is an expectation that tomorrow will be better than today, so this progress is the entrepreneurial role. …

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