The messiness and creative capacity of interpersonal relationships
in the business world fuel my sociological imagination. My research focuses
on the blending of economic and private realms.

My Research Topics


    Next generation family business leaders: role-models for
    flexible working practices or caught in lock-step role-definitions?

    with Nicole Hameister & Fabian Bernhard (2014-2016)


    This study examines entrepreneurial families to learn about the use of flexible work arrangements (FWA) and consequences.
    Due to their professional status or nepotistic privileges, individuals working in their family’s business potentially enjoy high work
    flexibility with markedly lower organizational constraints. Utilizing data from the German Family Panel, we match each individual
    working in their family’s business with an individual working in a regular employment context (N=674) using propensity scores.
    Regression results suggest that entrepreneurial families make greater use of FWA that can goes along with a higher workload, but
    do not increase an equal division of labor among couples. 



    Life course dynamics in American entrepreneurial families
    and their effects on firm continuity

    (2014-2016, DFG)

    Family businesses still form the majority of the American firm population. The families owning and managing businesses are
    characterized by a specific structure creating a network of overlapping life courses and requiring direct negotiations between
    generations. On the backdrop of a cultural context promoting independence and individuality, entrepreneurial families unfold life
    course dynamics – so the basic assumption – that may have “cushioning” or “fueling” effects on the firm’s development. This
    research project studies American entrepreneurial families in a case study approach. It is the objective of this research project to
    arrive at a causal model of the interplay between individual life events, familial life course dynamics, and firm continuity adequate for
    deductive testing.




    Nurturing Transgenerational Entrepreneurship in the Long-Run:
    An Exploration into the Dynamics of Entrepreneurial Legacies in Family Firms

    with Frank Barbera and Rocki-Lee DeWitt (2015-2016)


    Entrepreneurial legacies play an important role in transgenerational entrepreneurship, yet little is known about their dynamic
    characteristics. Using a multi-layered analysis of narratives drawn from four generations of a single family firm, we provide evidence
    of the adaptable nature of enterpreneurial legacies, the significance of their transmission mode, and their relation to family firm
    culture within a system o transgenerational entrepreneurship. Propositions are developed and offered accordingly. This study
    further refines the consideration of imprinting theory as a dominant perspective suggesting that entrepreneurial legacies also
    provide the basis for shapeable imagined futures, which enable transgenerational entrepreneurship in the long-run.


    Crowdsourcing as research method in the Humanities and Social Sciences:
    Hypes, Hopes, and Hazards

    with Wanda Lieberman and Lina Eklund (2015-2016)

    Academic research has long depended on the public for data collection and interpretation, as in the case of citizen science,
    where local expertise contributes to the understanding of environmental phenomena. The Internet makes new forms of
    collective intelligence possible, such as crowdsourcing, which industry and other actors have been quick to capitalize
    . Crowdsourcing draws on the time, energy, and talents of individuals reached through the internet (Shepherd 2012). Its
    hybrid etymology—“crowd” plus “outsourcing”—signals that in the worst case it is a new form of dispersed, part-time, tedious,
    piecework labor done by a large number of paid and unpaid individuals over web-platforms
    (Irani 2015). More optimistically, it
    offers new structures to conduct large, complex, collaborative, and interactive projects
    (Brabham 2013). Borrowing from
    businesses that use crowds to design, innovate, and produce, researchers in the humanities and social sciences have begun to
    shape an emerging landscape of academic knowledge production.

    This paper explores the promises and problems of crowdsourcing, as a digital method in humanities and social science research.
    Different research methods stem from specific theoretical and disciplinary histories, which in turn impose certain perspectives on
    knowledge production. Each method we use influences how we study a topic. To date the implications for scholarly research of
    crowdsourcing’s epistemological origins in industry, remain unclear. This paper
    introduces academic crowdsourcing through
    select cases of its application in order to examine the underlying assumptions of this digital method. What promises and
    challenges does crowdsourcing entail for academics? How far and how best can crowdsourcing push the limits of current
    research capabilities to deal with big data? Does “crowd intelligence” redefine traditional roles of “subjects” and “informants;” in
    other words, does this method confer increased authorship and agency to participants? And if so, how does this transform how
    we understand the meaning of knowledge production? Or does crowdsourcing exploit online enthusiasts, extend uneven power
    relations, and reinforce traditional knowledge authority?

    The starting point for our analysis is a symposium held at UC Berkeley, on 6 November 2015—the first, devoted to academic
    crowdsourcing, titled Crowdsourcing and the Academy:
    Exploring promises and problems of collective intelligence methods in
    humanities and social science research
    . The key-note speech, panel presentations, panel and audience discussion were recorded
    and transcribed. Additionally, we conducted instant-surveys using
    Mentimeter (a real-time smart phone voting system) during
    the event, and screened websites of ten crowdsourcing service providers used in research (including Amazon Mechanical Turk,
    Crowdflower, and Zooniverse) for descriptions of the crowdsourcing process. We conducted a content analysis of this
    triangulated data, theoretically grounded in a pragmatic mixed-method perspective and a critical literature review of

    This study offers a broad and critical assessment of both the idealized view and actual practices of crowdsourcing in academia.
    The digital interface between researchers and crowdworkers in many of the most popular crowdsourcing platforms obscures the
    crowdwork process and reduces workers to invisible cogs. This reveals how the business roots of these platforms affect research
    practices. In addition, the new techniques impose new management imperatives. While the crowd can generate research ideas,
    gather data, enrich data, analyze data, and perform research administrative tasks, the researcher must find ways to enlist,
    engage, inform, and control the crowd. Our analysis suggests that crowdsourcing enlarges the scale of research projects as long
    as crowdsourced task remain within narrowly defined margins and the research team builds in significant quality controls.

    Speaking pragmatically, crowdsourcing shows great potential for various stages of the digital research process in both qualitative
    and quantitative applications. However, we call for reflection on the kinds of research questions that are appropriate for this
    method. We also challenge researchers to consider crowdsourcing project designs that enable the crowd to be co-creators
    instead of mere resource. With care and attention crowdsourcing in academic research may yet become the hoped for
    transformative tool to do big data research.


    Boundary Management in Entrepreneurial Families

    with Nicole Hameister (2016-2017)


    more to come soon


    Organizational Crises and Intergenerational Innovation

    with Frank Barbera and Rocki-Lee DeWitt (2014-2015, FOBI-Scholarship)

    The management literature has long recognized the impact that organizational crises have on firm innovation, however, despite their
    enhanced vulnerability to crises and the potential for long lasting cultural effects, very little is known about how family firm innovation
    is influenced by crises. Given the intergenerational nature of family business innovation, by way of in-depth case study analyses of
    multigenerational family firms, we aim to develop a more fine-grained understanding of how generational narratives are shaped by
    organizational crises, how such narratives persist as well as evolve across generations, and in turn their effect on family firm culture
    and innovation through time. By doing so, we offer a deeper understanding of the relationship between intraorganizational familial
    involvement and organizational innovation, which builds on the important work of Litz and Kleysen (2001). In this study we therefore
    focus on intergenerational innovation (II) as part of a system of family firm innovation, and seek to answer the question, ‘How does
    crises affect intergenerational innovation?’


    Entrepreneurial Families.
    The influence of the business on life courses, generational relations and social identity.

    Doctoral Thesis (2008-2012)


    This empirical study focuses on how a business might influence the relational structure and way of life for an entrepreneurial family,
    thus it entails sociological scrutiny of a social unit that has received little research attention, despite its impact on our modern
    economy. This study unveils the conditions of their specific constellation and the resulting challenges, as well as the strategies
    developed to cope with these challenges. The conceptual part of this study addresses the evolving social meanings of this social
    unit along with its central characteristics and leads into a conceptual model for the reciprocal influence of the business and the
    family, which theorizes the specific structures and conditions of entrepreneurial families. The empirical investigation describes the
    influence of the business on the life of entrepreneurial family members at different stages in their lives, identifies dependencies
    along the way, and focuses on the particularities of the generational setting in entrepreneurial families.


    From Generation to Generation.
    The Succession Process in Family Busiensses.

    with Martin Kohli and Nicole Hameister (2007-2010, Volkswagen Foundation)


    Considering the significant economic weight of such companies, family business succession from one generation to the next is both
    a key research area in business studies as well as a popular subject of self-help and how-to manuals. Not that such attention
    exhausts its significance for the social sciences and cultural studies, family business succession is a prism spotlighting various
    quintessential questions concerning generational succession, inheritance, social continuity, and  innovation. Particular attention
    should be paid to how those involved negotiate terms, conditions, and concepts (age, generation, inheritance). In sociology, the
    family business stands crosswise to customary assumptions about the structure and culture of contemporary societies. Two
    paradigmatic processes at the heart of sociological theories of modernization - functional differentiation and individualism - apply
    neither to the family-business linkage nor individuals whose life planning attains fulfilment in this linkage. On the other hand, many
    current approaches make evident that a cultural tradition could indeed contribute to resolving unresolved succession difficulties
    within these two processes ("tradition as resource"). Research on intergenerational family transfer shows that whereas parents tend
    to (altruistically) direct inter vivo transfers towards meeting their children's respective needs, the highest (and effectively prevailing)
    maxim of current inheritance law is the equitable treatment of all children. Family business presents a particular challenge for
    parental altruism and the principle of equitable treatment, thereby increasing the risk of ambivalence and conflict in intergenerational
    relations.This studied examined these theoretical questions through linking quantitative and qualitative analyses and conducting a
    systematic comparative investigation of business sectors and countries (Germany and Italy).

  • Entrepreneurial Group Dynamics

    (2017-2021, VolkswagenFoundation)


    The proposed research group shall analyze the dynamics unfolding among German entrepreneurial group members over a long
    time span. Current research suggests that founding a business is a collective action undertaken by groups – not individuals.
    Surprisingly, the discourse on established businesses has lost sight of these entrepreneurial groups that have jointly embarked on a
    business project. This is surprising given that the dynamics within these groups are crucial to understand how businesses are structured,
    recomposed or eventually closed. They are also key to understand entrepreneurial career trajectories in individual life courses.

    The research project strives to develop entrepreneurial group dynamics as distinct level of analysis. The research plan intends for three subprojects:
    Sub-project (1) focuses on changes in group composition over a long time period with reference to development of the organization. This includes building
    a longitudinal dataset of entrepreneurial group dynamics. For this data set the pooling of information from publicly available sources (e.g. newspaper archives,
    company websites, economic archives, social media) is crowdsourced in a case study competition prefixed by an online course on document analysis and archival methods.
    Sub-project (2) systematically compares entrepreneurial groups in different founding contexts to analyze how such groups redefine roles and allocate resources when
    their innovative strategy needs adjustment. More specifically the methodological design encompasses group interviews and document analysis. Similarly, sub-project (3) investigates
    another transitional phase in the trajectory of an entrepreneurial group: the collective exit from a business. Expert interviews and participant observations will yield in-depth insights.
    Finally, an iterative process of data-collection and analysis nurture the development of a robust theoretical framework of entrepreneurial group dynamics.  

    In this manner the research group introduces a unique and highly innovative approach that will considerably advance our understandings of the social embeddedness
    of entrepreneurship. The research project will generate breaking news on what skills and capacities successful groups develop over time to engage in recurring entrepreneurship;
    and what strategies groups draft to coordinate the linked careers of their members. Entrepreneurial group dynamics offer a powerful new perspective capable of solving questions of
    cross-disciplinary concern and moving away from an overly pronounced emphasis on the founding phase of businesses. Beyond academia, the generated findings will alert the
    policy-discourse to the needs of experienced entrepreneurial groups to successfully nurture ntrepreneurial activity over time and suggest new ways of supporting them.

    On a methodological level, the daring research design explores new avenues to elegantly combine data-collection and student learning. It further features the first longitudinal dataset
    on entrepreneurial groups that allows researchers to track individual members, the group and attached businesses. This dataset fills a significant gap in the current data infrastructure on
    German self-employed and businesses and will initiate collaborative work on the new perspective on entrepreneurial group dynamics in the future.