Entrepreneurial Failure Narratives and Peer Boundary Work
2018 Dissertation Fellowship
Jessica's dissertation is driven by the question of how serial entrepreneurs are able to maintain standing in the peer community following failure. This question is important because peers are the primary resource for failure recovery and access to social capital. In order to answer this, she first considers how entrepreneurs talk about failure to their peers using online startup postmortems. Since these data are online, she relies on computational methods to identify relationships across these factors and divergence in rhetorical strategies. This divergence suggests entrepreneurial subcultures that stratify resource access in the peer community. Because resource access is heavily influenced by network structure, Jessica focuses her investigation on the role of network centrality in entrepreneurial community boundary work. She observes that critical peers are often more successful than supportive peers, and hypothesizes that criticism is more common to strategic peers, as measured by eigenvector centrality. She finds support for this hypothesis in a large online community of entrepreneurs. From these findings, she uses signaling theory to hypothesize a mechanism explaining the relationship between rhetorical subculture, peer network position, and community boundary work. She tests this hypothesis experimentally. This research has important implications for the study of entrepreneurship, peer networks, the social construction of failure and performance, and the sociology of knowledge.