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

  •  Entrepreneurial Group Dynamics

    (2017-2021, VolkswagenFoundation)


    The research group analyzes 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 venture. 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 includes three subprojects:
    Sub-project (1) focuses on changes in group composition over a long time period with reference to the development of attached organization(s). 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.  



  •  Elite Multigenerational Entrepreneurial Families

    (2015-2019, with Jeremy Schulz)


    This project examines an understudied yet empirically important and theoretical
    revealing social formation,
    namely elite multigenerational enterprise families (EMEFs). In most countries, business ventures owned
    and operated by families play a substantial role in formal economy. The families behind these businesses, however, represent a small portion
    of the total family population. And an even smaller one, which we refer to as elite and multigenerational, owns assets valued at over
    $100 million or employs over 1,000 direct employees in the second generation or later. When viewed from multiple theoretical standpoints,
    EMEFs stand out because they embody seemingly contradictory and paradoxical features. From a neomarxian perspective, they are
    structurally geared towards the freedom from commodified labor (Gorz 2011, Fridman 2017), while expecting the next generation to engage
    in commodified labor within the family business. From the viewpoint of neofunctionalist theory, they merge two institutional spheres
    typically considered separate, namely kinship and formal organizational structure (Swedberg 1998, Abrutyn 2014, Schluchter 1981). 
    Finally, EMEFs point forward to voluntaristic principles of contemporary “liquid” modernity (e.g. Bauman 2013 or Giddens 1990,
    while pointing backward to principles of duty and obligation. While these theoretical perspectives feature the paradoxical and contradictory
    features of EMEFs, they are not able to illuminate how an EMEF is reproduced despite these features. In our project, we show
    how a relational sociology based on tenets such as the "primacy of process" (Emirbayer 1997) and “co-determinism” (Depelteau 2008) can play
    an invaluable role in rendering EMEFs comprehensible and theoretically tractable as critical actors in contemporary capitalist economies
    and societies. It is only by analyzing EMEFs as constantly reproduced configurations of relations (Desmond 2014) that we can understand
    how they transcend these tensions and become stable social entities in a social world full of flux and instability.



  • Tropes of Work on Crowdsourcing Plattforms

    with Lina Eklund (2016-2019)


    Picking up on the current discourse on new forms of work in a digitized society, this project examines
    the presentation of work on
    crowdsourcing plattforms. Applying hermeneutic methods to selected webseites of crowdsourcing providers, we compare between the
    narratives addressing crowd contractors and those addressing crowd taskers. Preliminary findings suggest, that crowdsourcing plattforms engage
    in two paradoxical tropes of work. For one, they situate work in a community context with hyper flexible conditions. For another, they draw upon
    images of a diverse and competend work force. Crowdsourcing plattforms both deconstruct the organizational context of work and utilize this very organizational element.

  • Caught by Suprise: A Comparative Case Study on Critical Events in Family Businesses

    with Rocki-Lee DeWitt and Frank Barbera (2016-2020)


    The management literature has long recognized the impact that adversity can play for the evolution of businesses. Yet very little is known
    about resilience as capacity to weather such adversity. In this project we particularly focus on family businesses following the assumption
    that such businesses can draw on familiness as additional resource for being resilient. We systematically compare between different forms
    of adversity to find underlying patterns of being resilient. Preliminary findings suggest that resilience includes the elements of being
    conceived as resilient, resilient organizing, and being reconceived as resilient.


  •  Team Foundings in Germany

    with Michael Weinhardt and Maik Dammann (2018-2020)


    This research collaboration prepares an annotated bibliography of team founding in Germany with aparticular focus on empirical studies. We allocate data
    sets that have addressed questions of team founding and those that can potentially be used to analyse team founding in Germany. We provide an
    overview of the datainfrastructure, common definitions and the current state of knowledge about team foundings. We describe neccessary advancements
    in the data and point towards new directions for research.

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

    with Nicole Hameister & Fabian Bernhard (2014-2017)


    This study examines entrepreneurial families in order to learn about the use of flexible work arrangements (FWA) and their 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.


  • 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.

  • 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.

  •  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.