Entrepreneurial conflation in American business dynasties




Israelsen, Trevor

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This dissertation explores how collective action becomes conflated with heroic individuals. My thesis is that the individual entrepreneur is the product, rather than the agent, of successful acts of entrepreneurship. That is, “the entrepreneur” of American business mythology is the product of successful acts of entrepreneurial conflation in which the narrow economic project becomes embedded in a broader societal project that involves multiple individuals, unfolds across generations and embraces overlapping domains such as culture, religion, politics, philanthropy and history. I introduce entrepreneurial conflation as a transformative social practice of collapsing, blurring or amalgamating underlying distinctions used in the conceptual architecture of prevailing institutions. I elaborate conflation as a theoretical construct through an empirical examination of the legacies of prominent entrepreneurs and their families in American business history. My core argument is that the skillful use of conflation is the key mechanism through which entrepreneurial families subvert the conceptual architecture of prevailing modern institutions to achieve legitimacy as business dynasties in American society. By introducing the construct of conflation, I identify how a loose constellation of practices that we intuitively associate with entrepreneurial success are composed by an underlying social process. By applying my conceptualization of entrepreneurial conflation to the phenomenon of successful entrepreneurial families, I demonstrate how business dynasties—which are typically seen as anachronistic and irrelevant in modern, western societies—have enduring relevance for good and bad in business and society of the twenty first century. And by situating empirical research on entrepreneurial conflation at the intersection of grounded theory and historical methodologies, I illustrate how patterns in the analysis of historical evidence and narratives can be used to develop theory in management and organization studies.



Conflation, Entrepreneurship, Business dynasty, Institutions, Organization theory, Business history, Narrative