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Culture, innovation and entrepreneurship
Michael Lounsbury , Joep Cornelissen , Nina Granqvist & Stine Grodal
To cite this article: Michael Lounsbury , Joep Cornelissen , Nina Granqvist & Stine
Grodal (2019) Culture, innovation and entrepreneurship, Innovation, 21:1, 1-12, DOI:
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/14479338.2018.1537716
Published online: 29 Oct 2018.
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Culture, innovation and entrepreneurship
Michael Lounsburya, Joep Cornelissenb, Nina Granqvistc and Stine Grodald
aAlberta School of Business, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada; bRotterdam School of Management,
Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands; cSchool of Business,Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland;
dQuestrom School of Business,Boston University, Boston, USA
Innovation and entrepreneurship lie at the heart of the modern
economy. Yet, while scholars have long examined the economic
drivers of innovation and entrepreneurship, less is known about
the cultural forces that shape these dynamics. To the extent that
the existing literature has considered how culture shapes innovation and entrepreneurship, it has been viewed as a constraining
force which limited and hindered the creation of novelty. This is
especially true for economic approaches to entrepreneurship and
innovation. With this special issue, we highlight the central role of
culture in entrepreneurial and innovative practice—what we refer
to as cultural entrepreneurship—and advocate that scholars need
to take a broader view of culture to emphasise the symbolic
meaning systems that entrepreneurs use as tool kits to facilitate
their pursuit of novelty. We discuss how the articles of this special
issue employ such contemporary approaches to culture, contributing to the development of an exciting scholarly agenda. By drawing on a variety of empirical settings and methodologies, these
articles generate novel and provocative insights about cultural
entrepreneurship. Leveraging these contributions, we highlight
possible future paths and research questions.
Received 15 October 2018
Accepted 16 October 2018
culture; innovation; cultural
The study of innovation and entrepreneurship is a diverse, multidisciplinary endeavour
at the epicentre of the modern global economy (Aldrich & Ruef, 2006; Gartner, Bird, &
Starr, 1992; Thornton, 1999). Yet, the role culture plays in stimulating these important
societal processes is often neglected or underemphasised in management and organisational studies (Gehman & Soublière, 2017; Lounsbury & Glynn, 2001, forthcoming;
Sarasvathy, 2008). Spurred by the cultural turn across the social sciences and humanities (Friedland & Mohr, 2004; Weber & Dacin, 2011), conversations on how culture
shapes innovation and entrepreneurship are, however, slowly galvanising. This work
has drawn on various theoretical approaches to culture that focus on cultural elements
such as boundaries, institutional logics, schemas, scripts and values (e.g., Gehman,
Treviño, & Garud, 2013; Giorgi, Lockwood, & Glynn, 2015; Perkmann & Spicer,
2014; Thornton, Ocasio, & Lounsbury, 2012), narratives, vocabularies, discourse and
framing (e.g., Bartel & Garud, 2009; Cornelissen & Werner, 2014; Dalpiaz, Tracey, &
Phillips, 2014; Grodal & Granqvist, 2014; Kahl & Grodal, 2016; Zilber, 2007), identity,
CONTACT Michael Lounsbury [email protected]a.ca
2019, VOL. 21, NO. 1, 1–12
© 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
categories and practices (e.g., Durand, Granqvist, & Tyllström, 2017; Kennedy & Fiss,
2013; Lounsbury & Crumley, 2007; Navis & Glynn, 2010), and material objects, visuals
and images (Jancsary, Meyer, Höllerer, & Boxenbaum, 2018; Rindova & Petkova, 2007).
While these recent advances are encouraging, the work has been scattered, and these
various contributions are yet to be synthesised into a more coherent and cumulative
We undertook this special issue of Innovation: Organization & Management to focus
attention on cultural approaches to innovation and entrepreneurship, and to encourage
a broader dialogue among the scholars pursuing these topics. We believe the time is
ripe to bring together various cultural approaches to innovation and entrepreneurship
in order to cultivate a more synthetic conversation on the primacy of cultural processes
(Lounsbury & Glynn, forthcoming). This is especially important as scholarship on
innovation and entrepreneurial dynamics is increasingly dominated by economic
ideas such as the ‘individual–opportunity nexus’ (Shane, 2003; Shane &
Venkataraman, 2000) and the related debate about opportunity discovery or creation
(Alvarez & Barney, 2007, 2010; Alvarez, Barney, & Anderson, 2013), which tend to
neglect the role of culture (and context more generally) while valorising instrumental
action (see Foss, Klein & Bjørnskov, forthcoming; Lounsbury, Gehman, & Glynn,
Below, we provide an overview of contemporary approaches to culture and their
importance for research on innovation and entrepreneurship. We then review the
articles in the special issue, highlighting how they advance our understanding of
innovation and entrepreneurship from a cultural perspective. Finally, we leverage the
insights, arguments and findings of these articles to suggest how we may progressively
advance scholarship on culture, innovation and entrepreneurship.
Contemporary approaches to culture and implications for innovation and
While modern conceptualisations and studies of culture are diverse (Giorgi et al., 2015),
many scholars continue to think of culture as a constraining set of norms. This
approach conceptualises culture as a basket of homogenous norms and generalised
value systems that become internalised into individual psyches (Parsons, 1937). This
narrow view of culture is pervasive in economics and in scholarship which emphasises
rational choice (e.g., Nee & Brinton, 1998). This outdated view of culture is also
pervasive in popular approaches to entrepreneurship and innovation that leverage the
work of Hofstede (1980) to make reified claims about the entrepreneurial cultures of
These mainstream approaches to entrepreneurship and innovation have generally
ignored the cultural turn that has swept across the social sciences and humanities
over the past several decades (Friedland & Mohr, 2004; Weber & Dacin, 2011).
Contemporary approaches to culture emphasise the role of symbolic meaning systems in shaping the behaviour of actors, and highlight how these meaning systems
are not only constraining, but also an enabling factor which actors can use to achieve
strategic goals. Specifically, this line of work has drawn on the notion of culture as a
‘tool kit’ (Swidler, 1986), but also makes use of practice theory (Bourdieu, 1984;
2 M. LOUNSBURY ET AL.
Smets, Greenwood, & Lounsbury, 2015; Schatzki, 2003), communicative theories of
institutions (Cornelissen, Durand, Fiss, Lammers, & Vaara, 2015), and other strands
of cultural analysis that endogenise various forces such as legitimacy and logics ‘as
themselves culturally constructed’ (Weber & Dacin, 2011, p. 287). Further, the move
away from the positivist, functionalist and determinist Hofstedean approach to
national cultures has given room to several other approaches (for a review, see
Angouri, 2018). A prominent approach is a relational, constructivist approach to
culture that sees culture and cultural identities, and thus also other cultural
resources, as produced and enacted in interactions among various social groups
(Soderberg & Vaara, 2003; Tukiainen, 2010; Weick, 1995).
Research adopting a culturally sensitive approach to entrepreneurship—cultural
entrepreneurship, in short—exemplifies how contemporary approaches to culture can
redirect research away from the self-interest and rational calculation underlying most
economic approaches, and instead highlight the interpretive, meaning-making processes that pervade innovation and entrepreneurship (Gehman & Soublière, 2017;
Lounsbury & Glynn, forthcoming). Thus, instead of conceptualising culture as an
external constraint, contemporary cultural approaches share an emphasis on understanding how entrepreneurs and organisations draw on and employ cultural materials in more pragmatic and strategic ways (Rindova, Dalpiaz, & Ravasi, 2011), and
how these resources themselves are construed (Granqvist, Grodal, & Woolley, 2013;
Kennedy, 2008; Weber, Heinze & DeSoucey, 2008). This novel perspective on culture
has the potential to shed new light on our understanding of innovation and entrepreneurship because it emphasises not only how culture constrains and limits the
kinds of innovations actors pursue, but also the enabling role of culture in stimulating new technological recombinations and the creation of new ventures. For
instance, cultural entrepreneurship research has highlighted how entrepreneurs construct identity stories that will resonate with key audiences and enable new-venture
legitimation (Lounsbury & Glynn, 2001; Martens, Jennings, & Jennings, 2007;
Rindova et al., 2011; Überbacher, Jacobs, & Cornelissen, 2015); how collective storytelling can legitimate novel market categories (Navis & Glynn, 2010; Wry,
Lounsbury, & Glynn, 2011); and how storytelling itself shifts along with an unfolding
entrepreneurial journey (Dalpiaz, Rindova, & Ravasi, 2016; Garud, Schildt, & Lant,
2014). Studies also show how labels (Granqvist et al., 2013; Vergne, 2012), vocabularies (Jones, Maoret, Massa, & Svejenova, 2012; Loewenstein, Ocasio, & Jones, 2012),
and analogies and metaphors (Cornelissen, 2012; Navis & Glynn, 2010) provide
creative resources for meaning construction around entrepreneurial activities and
In sum, instead of cultural dopes, new approaches to culture conceptualise entrepreneurs and innovators as ‘skilled cultural operators’ who creatively leverage varied
cultural resources to advance an entrepreneurial agenda. Research has also begun to
explore how cultural elements are produced and taken into use in various situations
(Garud et al., 2014; Granqvist et al., 2013). While there remain important differences
across contemporary approaches to culture and action (Giorgi et al., 2015), we thus seek
to encourage with this special issue a focus on how the complementarities across
different approaches might enable a more synthetic as well as deeper dialogue on the
cultural dynamics of innovation and entrepreneurship.
Articles in this special issue
We have assembled an intriguing set of articles that highlight how contemporary
approaches to culture may be harnessed to generate new insights about entrepreneurial
and innovative processes. These articles draw on a variety of exciting empirical settings,
and make contributions to our understandings of cultural entrepreneurship both conceptually and across multiple levels of analysis. Jointly, the articles not only build on but
also challenge current research, provoking and calling for alternative points of view. In
the following, we provide an overview of each contribution to this special issue.
In ‘Entrepreneurship by design: The construction of meanings and markets for
cultural craft goods’, Khaire argues that design is an important aspect of cultural
entrepreneurship. Drawing on a case of conflicting craft and market logics among craftbased retailers in India, she shows that design functions as a narrative device to confer
meaning and value on unfamiliar and underappreciated craft objects. Thus, Khaire
extends the cultural entrepreneurship literature by highlighting the importance of materiality to legitimation processes. In her case, design functions as a material manifestation
of storytelling, imbuing products with the necessary meaning and relevant attributes that
contribute to consumers’ perception and acceptance of their economic value.
The relationship between the symbolic and the material is also emphasised in
Friedland’s thought-provoking article, ‘Taking Sigmund Freud to the Guggenheim:
The religio-erotic productions of Frank Lloyd Wright’. Friedland draws on the institutional logics perspective (Friedland & Alford, 1991; Thornton et al., 2012) to explore
how Wright’s architectural creations were shaped by the various institutional logics he
was exposed to over his lifetime. However, taking on conventional institutional
accounts of the effects of logics and the relationship of the symbolic to material
practices, Friedland looks to psychoanalysis and feminist theory to reinterpret the
creation of an iconic innovator. Friedland argues that one of Wright’s architectural
masterpieces—the Guggenheim Museum—resulted from the perversities of the particular family logic he experienced in his youth, especially the way his own sexuality
deviated from his family’s paternalistic codes. While Friedland’s article makes many
theoretical provocations that arguably further muddy the waters of cultural analysis, it
points to the need for more in-depth cultural analyses of entrepreneurs and innovators.
In contrast to rational choice approaches, Friedland argues for the need to excavate the
institutional biographies of innovators in order to understand how experiences with
logics imprint and profoundly shape behaviour and material expression.
A cultural approach to individual entrepreneurial behaviour is also central to ‘Who is
more likely to walk the talk? The symbolic management of entrepreneurial intentions
by gender and work status’, by Klyver and Thornton. In this article, cross-country
individual-level data from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor project is used to show
how cultural legitimacy moderates the conventionally understood relationship between
self-efficacy and entrepreneurial action. Klyver and Thornton draw on the cultural
entrepreneurship and institutional literatures to theorise how loose coupling and symbolic management affect individual entrepreneurship. Their findings show that men
and those in employment are more likely to loosely couple and symbolically manage
entrepreneurial intentions to create new businesses than women and the unemployed,
who are more likely to tightly couple words and actions. By focusing on the relationship
4 M. LOUNSBURY ET AL.
between entrepreneurial talk and action at the individual level, their work theoretically
contributes to the micro-foundations of cultural entrepreneurship, while highlighting
how cultural processes affect entrepreneurial behaviour.
In ‘Framing innovation practices in interstitial issue fields: Open innovation in the
NYC administration’, Heimstädt and Reischauer examine the framing practices of
public service administrators in order to facilitate open innovation. Drawing on an indepth qualitative analysis of the New York City administration, the authors found that
actors had different positions within the field—insider, outsider and interstitial—and
that, depending on their position, they used different framing tactics—reflective frame
blending and supplemental frame blending—to enhance the cultural resonance of open
innovation practices. This article expands our understandings of cultural entrepreneurship by emphasising how institutional entrepreneurs can use framings strategically to
align with existing cultural understandings.
In ‘When the petting zoo spawns into monsters: Open dialogue and a venture’s
legitimacy quest in crowdfunding’, Gegenhuber and Naderer highlight a crucial yet
understudied aspect of cultural entrepreneurship—how entrepreneurs and their audiences interact to shape the entrepreneurial process. Through an in-depth analysis of
two gaming ventures on Kickstarter, they highlight how new forms of entrepreneurship
in the context of crowdfunding involve an interactive, dialogic process between ventures and external stakeholders. They find that such dialogic processes involve the
negotiation of proper and accepted norms for a venture’s conduct during and after a
crowdfunding campaign. Three main norms were focal points for negotiation: transparency, fidelity and communality. They show how violating agreed-upon norms can
consequentially affect whether a venture (re)gained, maintained or lost legitimacy. This
article highlights the fruitfulness of understanding cultural entrepreneurship as an
interactive, negotiated process (compared to the dominant entrepreneur-centric focus
in much entrepreneurship research), as well as how these processes may differ across
different entrepreneurial contexts (e.g., crowdfunding versus traditional venture capital
or friends-and-family financing).
In ‘Generative imitation, strategic distancing and optimal distinctiveness during the
growth, decline and stabilisation of Silicon Alley’, Garud, Schildt and Lant draw on
cultural entrepreneurship ideas to study how the ‘new media’ field in New York City
came to be known as ‘Silicon Alley’. They show how projective entrepreneurial narratives provided a foundation for the new field, as well as a cultural resource for
individual entrepreneurs to try to establish themselves. However, as new-venture failures grew, cultural resources that were initially robust became unhelpful, requiring
entrepreneurs to revise their stories. Extending the literature on optimal distinctiveness
(Zhao, Fisher, Lounsbury, & Miller, 2017), Garud, Schildt and Lant identify novel
mechanisms of generative imitation and strategic distancing that offer new narrativediscursive possibilities for the cultural entrepreneurship tool kit. They argue that
optimal distinctiveness may work best in more stable fields, while generative imitation
and strategic distancing are more prominent mechanisms in more turbulent times of
growth and decline.
In a provocative essay entitled ‘A double-edged sword: Cultural entrepreneurship
and the mobilisation of morally tainted cultural resources’, Dalpiaz and Cavotta argue
that more attention needs to be paid to the use of resources that are perceived by some
as morally repugnant—for example, the fast-growing restaurant franchise that serves
Italian-style dishes in Spain, ‘La Mafia se sienta a la mesa’ (‘The Mafia sits at the table’),
which constructed its identity and distinctiveness around Mafia-related symbols and
stories. They argue that this type of cultural entrepreneurship is a double-edged sword
as it can attract favourable audiences while also fuelling active oppositional audiences.
They chart out a research agenda that aims to encourage scholarship on the use and
consequences of morally tainted cultural resources, as well as how entrepreneurs who
employ such resources deal with offended audiences and related challenges to their
Finally, in an essay entitled ‘Venturing into the cultural future: Research opportunities at the nexus of institutions, innovation, and impact’, Gehman and Höllerer make
the case for an approach to the study of innovation that accounts for both institutions
and impact. Drawing on Fortune vignettes of entrepreneurship, they highlight a
research agenda that would examine innovation in the context of grand challenges
and transformative institutional change. For instance, they suggest that entrepreneurship in Estonia has enabled what they label ‘cultural leapfrogging’. They note in the case
of Hulu that disruptive innovation can be seeded by what they refer to as ‘cultural
probing’. More generally, they aim to situate innovation as fundamentally a cultural
process that involves not only cultural entrepreneurship at the firm level, but also
larger-scale cultural change at the societal level. Indeed, a cultural approach to innovation and entrepreneurship should encompass action and change across all levels—from
individuals and fields to societal and planetary. Moreover, they emphasise a need for
greater attention—both theoretically and empirically—to the impacts of innovation
across these levels.
Towards an agenda on culture, innovation and entrepreneurship
Building on these articles and their respective contributions, this special issue advances
our understanding of cultural entrepreneurship, as well as raising further important
questions for the future of research in this domain. One of the questions raised by the
articles in this special issue is the relationship between culture, materiality and innovation. Innovations are inherently both cultural and material in nature (Höllerer,
Daudigeos, & Jancsary, 2018), yet the articles in this issue make clear that few scholars
have unpacked how culture is enshrined in technological artefacts, and how culture
enables the creation of new material expressions. We have, for example, only scratched
the surface in our understanding of how the aesthetics of technology products both
reflect sociocultural trends and create new cultural understandings (Krabbe & Grodal,
2018; Jancsary, Meyer, Höllerer, & Boxenbaum, 2018; Rindova & Petkova, 2007). Future
research could therefore examine the relationship between sociocultural understandings
and the aesthetics of technology products in more detail. Engaging the growing
literature on design and creative industries, as emphasised by Khaire, could prove
quite fruitful in this regard (see also Glaser, 2017; Jones, Lorenzen, & Sapsed, 2015;
Khaire, 2017). Such studies could also track the change in aesthetics over time and
relate this to broader cultural changes at micro and macro levels of analysis. As
Gehman and Höllerer argue, we need more work that highlights how cultural change
6 M. LOUNSBURY ET AL.
is related to societal impact, including major social innovations that aim to address
bottom-of-the-pyramid problems (Slade Shantz, Kistruck, & Zietsma, 2018).
Second, a stream of research within cultural entrepreneurship has examined how
entrepreneurs use discourse strategically (Cornelissen & Clarke, 2010; Granqvist et al.,
2013; Überbacher, 2014; Zott & Huy, 2007), yet there are several aspects that require
further exploration. For instance, we need more studies that examine the relationship
between valorised cultural resources and the success of entrepreneurial strategies that
are aligned with or differentiate from these cultural resources. As Dalpiaz and Cavotta
provocatively highlight, some resources may be a double-edged sword and require us to
be attuned to the role of values and moral evaluation. Garud, Schildt and Lant
emphasise how temporal shifts in the efficaciousness of cultural resources require
more process-based analyses of cultural entrepreneurship (see also Vaara, Sonenshein,
& Boje, 2016). In addition, we need a better understanding of how success versus failure
is managed, as well as how positive and negative outcomes are construed (Mantere,
Aula, Schildt, & Vaara, 2013). In general, we need more detailed attention to the
production and interpretation of cultural resources, as well as how they change over
time and relate to varied outcomes of interest.
Moreover, studies have explored how entrepreneurs construct meaning for their
products and market categories by focusing on multiple linguistic constructs
(Cornelissen, 2012; Granqvist et al., 2013; Kahl & Grodal, 2016; Loewenstein et al.,
2012). But these studies addressing labels, vocabularies, analogies and metaphors are
overlapping, on the one hand, and disconnected, on the other hand, opening up
questions about the role of different linguistic constructs in the production of meaning,
as well as their interplay. Furthermore, much of the work on discourse has been onesided in its approach, focusing on either the strategic communication skills of entrepreneurs, and assuming a corresponding effect (e.g., Clarke, 2011; Garud, Gehman, &
Giuliani, 2014), or on the broadly shared cultural norms that evaluators, such as
investors or other stakeholders, rely on to assess entrepreneurial and innovative
Heimstädt and Reischauer remind us that social position matters, and may shape
different usages and interpretations of cultural resources. This implies that it might be
useful to widen our understanding of cultural entrepreneurship by studying it in the
context of institutional fields (Bourdieu, 1984; Lounsbury & Glynn, forthcoming). New
structuralist techniques for mapping field meaning systems could usefully complement
and situate our understanding of individual acts of entrepreneurship (e.g., Lounsbury &
Ventresca, 2003; Meyer & Höllerer, 2010; Mohr, 1998; Mohr & Ghaziani, 2014). This
suggests a more relational analysis of how various actors are positioned and interact,
including a focus on how culture shapes the co-production of entrepreneurial activities
and various forms of collective entrepreneurship (see Mische & Pattison, 2000). As
Gegenhuber and Naderer show in this issue, future research should seek to enhance
our understanding of how meaning construction is a dialogic process, involving culture
as a formative resource that is drawn on between interactants to develop common ground
(see also Clarke, Cornelissen, & Healey, 2018; Hannigan, Seidel, & Yakis-Douglas, 2018).
Third, in their review article, Weber and Dacin (2011) observed a diminishing use of
terms such as ‘members’ and ‘employees’, suggesting a declining interest in internally
focused processes. Historically, the roots of cultural analyses go back to the
ethnographies of the anthropologists Marcel Mauss and Bronislav Malinowski. Such
studies aimed to ‘unravel cultural insiders’ (i.e., its members’) view on how they give
meaning to different aspects and expressions of the social and physical world they live
and operate in’ (Tukiainen, 2010, p.15; see also the contemporary ethnographic scholarship exemplified by Barley , as well as the old institutional ‘coalface’ scholarship
reviewed by Barley ). We believe that future studies on cultural entrepreneurship
could fruitfully return to these roots and employ ethnographic methods to explore
change of practices and meanings from within particular communities, tracing their
But in line with the old institutional tradition, and reinforced by the articles by
Friedland and Klyver and Thornton, a cultural approach requires individual acts of
entrepreneurship and innovation to be deeply situated in context. For instance, observing the situations where an entrepreneur positions the firm or products by using
particular labels and language might shed light on the contexts in and interactions
through which labelling and meaning construction occur. Regarding materiality, ethnographers could further study how particular spaces, places and objects provide
resources for and limit action. Echoing our arguments above, we believe that it is useful
to consider field analytical approaches as a way to properly contextualise such processes
related to cultural entrepreneurship (Zietsma, Groenewegen, Logue, & Hinings, 2017).
These types of studies would provide valuable insights into the construction and use of
cultural resources, linking micro and macro concerns.
In all, the articles assembled in this special issue collectively establish the value of a
renewed cultural analysis of entrepreneurial activities and innovation. Such an analysis
puts culture at the centre of entrepreneurship and innovation—empirically, as a way of
making sense of entrepreneurial and innovative activities as these are being observed, as
well as conceptually, as a lens for describing and explaining entrepreneurial and
innovative processes and outcomes across different levels of analysis. The cultural
entrepreneurship agenda emerged around 20 years ago (Lounsbury & Glynn, 2001,
forthcoming) and, as the articles in this special issue attest, is quickly becoming a
mainstream lens for studies of entrepreneurship and innovation. We hope that the
articles collected here will intrigue the reader, as well as spur further research in this
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.
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