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Doctoral thesis2020Open access

Who am I, and if so, how many? Identity Dynamics in Agricultural Entrepreneurship

Fitz-Koch, Sarah


Identity matters and identity is hailed increasingly as central to fully apprehending entrepreneurship. Identity is inherent to entrepreneurship because entrepreneurs establish and grow their ventures based on their identities. Hence, identity infuses entrepreneurial activities with meaning and guidance. An identity perspective in entrepreneurship allows us to move beyond traditional views embedded in economic rationality when seeking to understand entrepreneurial motivation and behavior in the agricultural sector. It emphasizes that farming entrepreneurs think, behave and act in ways that they deem appropriate for themselves ‒ notably because farmers are explored as individuals who are sensitive to their personal values and beliefs, which are crucial to identity. Each farmer has her/his own version of what it means to be a good farmer, which influences her/his entrepreneurial behavior.

This dissertation is situated in the growing literature on identities in entrepreneurship that has provided new insights and developed theory that helps explain the rich heterogeneity of entrepreneurs’ characteristics and motivations as well as how entrepreneurs’ identities are linked to decision-making and behavior. However, there is insufficient analytical use of the dynamics of entrepreneurs’ multiple identities in existing scholarly work. This problem is critical because there are potentially multiple salient identities to entrepreneurs that evolve and/or change over time and that consequently influence entrepreneurial endeavors and outcomes and that need to be managed by entrepreneurs. It is, moreover, critical because identity might not only influence entrepreneurial behavior and outcomes but in turn might also be influenced by entrepreneurial endeavors. Given these limitations, the purpose of this dissertation is to investigate the dynamics of entrepreneurs’ identities over time when pursuing entrepreneurship.

To fulfill this purpose, the dissertation builds on a longitudinal and qualitative theorybuilding research approach that allows actors under study to be followed over an extended period of time and identity dynamics and context to be captured in greater detail. Opportunities for researching identity dynamics in entrepreneurship become especially apparent as we look at farming. Social and structural changes in the agricultural sector result in farmers’ enactment of various social roles and/or social group affiliations. At the same time, the majority of farming takes place in the family context in which family farms are transitioned over many generations. In such a complex environment, the development and the psychological experience of managing multiple identities can constitute both challenges and opportunities for farmers.

Overall, the dissertation contributes to the emerging inquiry on identities in entrepreneurship by providing novel theoretical models of founder identity development and processes of identity management and their influence on individually and on organizationally relevant outcomes. The findings of the dissertation also contribute to the literature on contextualizing entrepreneurship by providing key contextual dimensions of the agricultural sector and showing how studying these dimensions can illuminate less well-understood aspects of entrepreneurship theory. Practically, this dissertation presents obstacles to, and opportunities for, developing an entrepreneurial identity and a more entrepreneurial approach in the agricultural sector.


identity dynamics; multiple work identities; entrepreneurship; new venture; agriculture; family business; entrepreneurial identity; founder identity

Published in

Acta Universitatis Agriculturae Sueciae
2020, number: 2020:11
ISBN: 978-91-7760-540-9, eISBN: 978-91-7760-541-6
Publisher: Department of Work Science, Business Economics and Environmental Psychology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Business Administration
    Sociology (excluding Social work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)

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