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Entrepreneurs : the last of the shamans ? Heroic metaphors of entrepreneurs in the French press


For several decades, entrepreneurs have been depicted as major triggers of economic growth and innovation. Creators of new organizations (Garther, 1988, p. 62), entrepreneurs emerge as idealized public characters because of their unique capacity to take risks, overcome obstacles and accomplish the impossible. In times of economic crisis, media and politics are looking for a "hero" able to find somewhat miraculous solutions to poverty and unemployment (Whelan and O'Gorman, 2007). Our premise is that one of these modern heroes is "the entrepreneur", a generic notion that designates an individual endowed with exceptional and distinctive characteristics, such as vision (Ashcroft, Holden and Low, 2009; Witt, 2007), intuition (Allinson, Chell and Hayes, 2000), leadership (Hmielesky and Ensley, 2007; Todorovic and Schlosser, 2007), perseverance (Markman, Baron and Balkin, 2005) and charisma (Hooper and Kearins, 2007; Yusuf, 2011). Yet, few studies have examined the recent intensification of the use of heroic metaphors to depict entrepreneurial action in public discourse. The purpose of this article is to examine the heroic metaphors that the French press brings into play when portraying entrepreneurs. Our aim is to explore the shifts and changes in the metaphoric social representation of entrepreneurs in the French press between 2005 and 2011. Our main hypothesis is that after 2008 and the beginning of the economic and financial crisis, entrepreneurs were increasingly pictured as "spiritual visionaries" who "create and utilize powerful visions" that they convey "with authority, eloquence and depth of insight", so as to provide meaning and inspiration (Karakas, 2009, p. 19). Whereas entrepreneurship literature is still dominated by functionalist and positivist approaches, this article operates within an interpretive paradigm that emphasizes the role of language and communication in the social construction of reality. Media discourse plays "a constitutive role in the construction of reality, the only reality that we ever know and that we live in" (Moscovici, 1976, p. 26-27). The social representations of entrepreneurs conveyed by the media "at the same time reflect and affect public perceptions and evaluations" (Radu and Redien-Collot, 2008). We may thus analyze media discourse on entrepreneurs as a "definer of reality" with "self-fulfilling potency" (Berger and Luckman, 1971, p. 145). In developed countries, media recurrently picture entrepreneurs as strong, brave and powerful individuals (Hyrsky, 1999), personified through action-oriented heroic metaphors such as "warrior, superman, explorer, mother, marathon runner, lion, whirlwind, magnet, captain, even God" (Koiranen, 1995). According to Edelman (1977, p. 16-17), metaphors call on "mythical cognitive structures", enabling individuals to "create realities, guide future action and reinforce experiential coherence" (Nicholson and Anderson, ibid.). As key elements that shape social representations, in turn embodied in discursive practices, public metaphors of entrepreneurs participate in the objectification and internalization of the social universe through language (Drakopoulou-Dodd, 2002). The investigation of heroic metaphors of entrepreneurs is about examining the spiritual underpinnings of entrepreneurial social representations, since "the symbol, the myth and the image are of the very substance of the spiritual life" (Eliade, 1991, p. 11). Entrepreneurship literature acknowledges the risks of picturing entrepreneurs as heroic individuals (Anderson and Warren, 2011; Claire, 2012; Malach-Pines et al., 2005), without however examining the underlying significance of the heroization of entrepreneurs in current public discourse. We therefore know little about the superhuman archetypes that media use to personify entrepreneurs. Are they pictured as Gods, shamans, kings or prophets? We also know little about the kinds of "miracles" entrepreneurs supposedly accomplish. Are they able to see the future, to make daydreams come true, to make money from nothing, to convert adversity into happiness, etc.? In our view, the few numbers of studies dedicated to the heroic dimension of entrepreneurs in the public discourse are an epiphenomenon of the more general absence of spiritual inquiries in entrepreneurship (Kauanui et al., 2010; Shinde and Shinde, 2011), with spirituality defined as "the search for direction, meaning, inner wholeness and connectedness to others, to non-human creation and to transcendent" (Gibbons, 2001, p. 13). The rare studies dealing with discourse analysis in entrepreneurship do not appear to take into account the spiritual significance of the social representations of entrepreneurs (Nicholson and Anderson, ibid.; Radu and Redien-Collot, ibid.). We conducted a discourse analysis of articles drawn from the French press over the period 2005 to 2011, with the aim of confronting the heroic metaphors of entrepreneurs three years before and three years after the economic and financial crisis of 2008. Articles were identified in the Lexis Nexis data base, which provides extensive coverage of the French press. We retrieved all full-text articles containing the keywords "entrepreneur" or "entrepreneurship" in their titles and we conducted discourse analysis using Nvivo software. Our findings reveal that French entrepreneurs are increasingly depicted as "shamanic leaders" (cf. Savlowitz, 2010), mainly because of their exceptional capacity to generate visions of the future (Westley and Mitzberg, 1989). Shamanism was defined as "a body of techniques and activities that supposedly enable its practitioners to access information that is not ordinarily attainable by members of the social group that gave them privileged status" (Krippner, 2002, p. 962), this information is collected and transformed by the shaman to serve the community (Rock and Krippner, 2007; Walsh, 1989). We present our main findings and their implications for the development of future research on entrepreneurship discourse and spirituality.
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Dates and versions

hal-00839455 , version 1 (28-06-2013)


  • HAL Id : hal-00839455 , version 1


Miruna Radu Lefebvre, Vincent Lefebvre, Noreen O'Shea. Entrepreneurs : the last of the shamans ? Heroic metaphors of entrepreneurs in the French press. The 3rd Conference of Management, Spirituality & Religion (AOM & BEM Management School), May 2013, Lourdes, France. ⟨hal-00839455⟩


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