The language of legitimacy : the role of institutionalism in entrepreneurial communication
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Recently, entrepreneurship has become an increasingly attractive career option for American adults (Fairlie, 2011; Kelley et al., 2014). This major shift from the security of membership in a conventional organization to the high risk/high reward process of founding a new venture is drawing interest from researchers in a variety of fields. This trend represents a sea change, exerting effects on organizational scholarship as well as society as a whole. Recognizing that even entrepreneurial organizations are communicatively constituted (McPhee & Zaug, 2008), some organizational communication scholars have begun investigating entrepreneurial activity from a communicative perspective. Such inquiries have examined entrepreneurial identity and difference (Gill, 2012; Gill & Ganesh, 2007), the Grand Discourses of entrepreneurship per the popular and business press (Gill, 2013), and the role of narrative (Dempsey & Sanders, 2010; Lounsbury & Glynn, 2001). More research is necessary, however, to explicate how entrepreneurs strategically engage in communicative behaviors to gain legitimacy for their organizations. To address this gap, I observed entrepreneurs at two technology incubators for six months and conducted 55 interviews of entrepreneurs, mentors, and investors. Using the framework of legitimacy (Deephouse & Carter, 2005; Meyer & Rowan, 1977; Suchman, 1995) as a guide, my grounded theory (Charmaz, 2006; Glaser & Strauss, 1967) analysis identified venture viability discourses and engaging founder resources as two major categories of normative entrepreneurial communicative behaviors used to perform legitimacy. The analysis also established inspirational and instructional messages as the means by which entrepreneurs learn to perform legitimacy. This study contributes to theory by explaining and illuminating entrepreneurial firm creation process from a communicative perspective. The findings reveal how entrepreneurs utilize topics of discourse, communication delivery strategies, and social aptitude to influence legitimacy judgements. This dissertation allows researchers to more easily recognize the motivations for entrepreneurial communicative acts during organizational formation and growth.