Lisa Bäckvall (2022)

The coexistence of family, ownership, and business: Conceptualizing entanglement and business family ownering

This research engages with the topic of business family ownership through an ethnographically inspired study of business governance-related activities constructed as family members’ business-owning practices relationally and over time. In short, it is about what business families do when owning businesses and how this form of owning can be conceptualized.

Corporate governance dominates understandings of ownership and business where ownership is constructed in a particular manner (individualistic, passive, and public) (e.g. La Porta et al., 1999; Robé, 2011). This is also (e.g. Breton-Miller & Miller, 2009; Le Breton-Miller et al., 2011), the theory in use in the family business research field in terms of governance research (e.g. Aguilera & Crespi-Cladera, 2012). Governing in family businesses has also been conceptualized as overlapping spheres of family, ownership, and business/management (Gersick et al., 1997). This study embraces the coexistence of family, ownership, and business/management as entanglement, which is lacking in corporate governance research in general and in family business studies in particular. By extending alternative framings on ownership and family governance (e.g., Brundin et al., 2010; Nordqvist 2016) via firstly an interpretative paradigm and secondly the practice turn, this phenomenon, business family ownership, is thirdly constructed through one of many possible practice theories – social praxeology (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992). This theory contributes to create conditions for a renewed understanding of owning as doing within a family business, relationally and over time. Social praxeology not only directs attention to relationality but also to individual and collective embodiment, where the central concepts are capital, field, habitus, and practical sense. Bourdieu’s social praxeology acknowledges a relational ontology and epistemology in his particular version of structuralism interpretivism. In this study it implies that the first and second order structuers are contructed via a reflective field reading.

Therefore, the purpose of this thesis is to explore and construct the coexistence of family, ownership, and business/management through a social praxeology reading and conceptualizing the business family ownership, as done together and over time.

An ethnographically inspired study (through interviews, shadowing, and participation in corporate events) of business- and governance-related activities (such as company board meetings, top management meetings, and product development meetings) generates an understanding of the entanglement of family, ownership, and business/management during an ongoing change of CEO in a family business. Drawing upon a structural reading in line with Bourdieu’s social praxeology (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992), four broad business family ownership practices are constructed: the practice of choosing the next CEO, the practice of calculating, the practice of tasting, and the practice of joking. The first empirical chapter is a reading of capital forms and their structure and distribution within the business family (structures of the first order). In this chapter, the construct of family, along with Bourdieu’s assumptions, is introduced. The second empirical chapter is a reading of both first- and second-order structures, where the family habitus concept is combined with the business dimension in the change of CEO. The third empirical chapter is dominated by the reading of the second-order structures, where the practices of counting, tasting, and joking are constructed as business family owning. These business family ownership practices form an understanding of the entangled nature of a particular family business.

This study contributes to generating conditions for understanding business family ownership as private, collective, and transgenerational in contrast to the well-entrenched corporate governance view characterized above. Hence it challenges the dominant views of ownership as property rights that emphasize separateness incorporated in the Gersick et al. (1997) model by instead conceptualizing the coexistence of family, ownership, and management/business as entanglement. Towards a distinction through the conceptualization of entanglement, the family and ownership categories are primarily constructed as a collective subjective corpus operating as structuring structures within a business family field. Business family ownering is a way of governing where the body and its sense reproduce and refine the structures in a family business, forming a specific cultural business family capital. Accordingly, with family habitus, owning turns into ownering. Structuring structure with the particularities of an owner family, relationally inhabited by dominated and dominating agents, forms a business family ownership as ownering, characterized by inertia and relationality.