Becoming an entrepreneur: How Chinese Immigrants in Canada Created an Entrepreneurial Identity

  • Author / Creator
  • My study attempts to answer important questions about how individuals develop an entrepreneurial identity, and what the role of family is during the identity transition process. To do this, I combined three streams of literature: identity theory, family capital theory, and the immigrant entrepreneurship literature. My research setting was Chinese immigrant entrepreneurs in Alberta, Canada. I employed a qualitative methodology that relied on in-depth interviews with 30 Chinese immigrant entrepreneurs discussing their stories of business start-ups. The data were then analyzed using a grounded theory approach. My analysis showed that the immigrant entrepreneurs went through three stages to construct their new identities: exploring possible selves, crafting a new identity, and consolidating identity through self-narratives. My analysis also showed that family plays an important role at each stage of identity transition. At the exploration stage, the family provides emotional support and companionship, shows belief in the entrepreneurs, and encourages the entrepreneurs to exploit their potential. At later stages, family capital is more instrumental, reducing the need for external resources. Furthermore, I found that family capital is inherently paradoxical; the interviewees revealed that family could contribute both positively and negatively to business ventures. That is, family ties that were once supportive to the business could easily transition into a hindrance; and likewise, family hindrance also had the potential to turn into family support. I then identified five strategies that immigrant entrepreneurs have adopted to manage the paradox. My study contributes to the identity work literature by delineating the process of exploratory identity construction and advancing the understandings of entrepreneurial identity construction. It also contributes to family capital theory by highlighting the significance of family in facilitating identity transition, and revealing the sometimes detrimental effect of family capital. Finally, in an effort to move away from contextual and structural hypotheses as sole explanations for the high rate of self-employment among immigrant entrepreneurs, my study draws attention to the micro-level behaviour of immigrant entrepreneurs, and provides a useful starting point from which we can deepen our understanding of the agency of immigrant entrepreneurship. Implications for policy and practice are also discussed.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2014
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
  • Specialization
    • Strategic Management and Organization
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Reay, Trish (Business)
    • Reuber, Rebecca (Business)
    • Derwing, Tracey (Education)
    • Field, Richard (Business)
    • Steier, Lloyd (Business)
    • Hughes, Karen (Sociology)