Episode 62 – Maud van Merriënboer, Michiel Verver & Wouter Stam – Escaping the shadow of the past: historical context and generational identity work among young entrepreneurs in Phnom Penh’s nascent start-up scene
Identity work, the process through which entrepreneurs create a coherent and distinctive identity for themselves and their businesses, constitutes an important source of legitimacy. Yet while the ongoing social and spatial contexts in which entrepreneurs operate are increasingly viewed as critical contingencies for understanding their identity work, historical context is largely neglected. We focus on how entrepreneurs in the nascent start-up scene in Phnom Penh, Cambodia employ history in their identity work as they navigate a rapidly changing societal context. Based on three months of qualitative field research, our findings indicate that research participants distance themselves from the older generation by describing them as risk-averse, conventional and distrusting, while they embrace their own generation as innovative, globally oriented, and socially engaged. Through the articulation of these generational identity markers, young entrepreneurs construct and position themselves within a historical narrative of Cambodian development and, in turn, seek legitimacy for themselves, their business ventures, and the broader start-up scene. Our contribution lies in providing a more historically-sensitive understanding of entrepreneurial identity work, proposing generational identity work as a mechanism for entrepreneurs to gain legitimacy, and illuminating the importance of conceptualizing generations as social forces in entrepreneurship studies.
Full article available on Taylor & Francis website: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/08985626.2022.2145616