Enabling Social Identity Interaction: Bulgarian Migrant Entrepreneurs Building Embeddedness into a Transnational Network

Publication Date01 April 2018
Date01 April 2018
AuthorStoyan Stoyanov
British Journal of Management, Vol. 29, 373–388 (2018)
DOI: 10.1111/1467-8551.12235
Enabling Social Identity Interaction:
Bulgarian Migrant Entrepreneurs Building
Embeddedness into a Transnational
Stoyan Stoyanov
Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship, University of Strathclyde Business School, Sir William Duncan Building,
130 Rottenrow, Glasgow G4 0GE, UK
Corresponding author email: stoyan.stoyanov@strath.ac.uk
Bulgarian migrant entrepreneurs (MEs) approaching diaspora networks (i.e. ethnic
spaces in host countries) provides a unique context for exploring the processes by which
peripheral actors achieve embeddedness. The study considers how in-groupsocial nor ms
and expectations influence out-group candidates’ network standing. The integration of
the social identity perspective with embeddedness research allows the identification of
the sequence of intergroup actions and the circulation of identity signals between groups.
Traditionally, the social identity perspective focuses on the act of constructing identity
through positively stereotyping in-groupsand negatively stereotyping out-groups. Never-
theless, an empirical study of 12 cases of Bulgarian MEs indicates that the circulation of
identity signals that facilitate inter-group comparison can result in complementarity and
brokerage. The study suggests the existence of a novel strategy (i.e. social circulation),
to add to already known social identity strategies (i.e. social mobility, social creativity
and social change). In contrast to previous constructs, the new one does not occur at the
expense of either in-groups’ or out-groups’ identity. Thus, it adopts an integrative logic,
currently missing from the social identity perspective.
Rapid globalization and geopolitical conflicts
made entrepreneurial migration (i.e.entrepreneurs
switching countries) common (Storti, 2014).
Nevertheless, accessing established networks’
repository of knowledge is dicult for migrant
entrepreneurs (MEs), as incumbents tend to
cooperate with actors of the same or higher
social level (McPherson, Smith-Lovin and
Cook, 2001). Yet, unembedded collaborators are
The author would like to acknowledge the insight-
ful comments and suggestions of the editor-in-chief,
Richard Woodward, JohnAmis, Jonathan Levie,Veselina
Stoyanova and the anonymous reviewers. The usual
disclaimers apply.
occasionally cherished because of the potential of
their resources (Mitchell and Singh, 1996). Thus,
low-power actors can engage in social mobility
(Rosenkopf, Metiu and George, 2001). However,
how access barriers are overcome remains an
important question, demanding examination
of actors’ tactics and the social situation (i.e.
considering ‘what entrepreneurs do’ and ‘what is
done towards them’) (Goss, 2008, p. 133). Making
social situations the analytical starting point can
reveal how dierent parties ‘interact, what sorts of
symbols and discourses circulate within particular
contexts, and what elements of interaction ritual
are displayed’ (Goss, 2008, p. 133).
By addressing this, the paper responds to a
number of complementary calls within the man-
agement field. From broad to specific: a call for
© 2017 British Academy of Management. Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4
2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA, 02148, USA.
374 S. Stoyanov
‘actionability’ within network research (Chauvet
et al., 2011); reaching more depth in the ex-
ploration of networking behaviour (Forret and
Dougherty, 2004; Treadway et al., 2010); revealing
the strategies for entering network domains – an
area that remains unclear (Davidsson and Honig,
To explore MEs’ embedding processes, the pa-
per draws on the social identity perspective –
regarded ‘useful in examining the processes by
which collectives and individuals perceive and act
towards their own and other significant groups’
on-Pereira and Hallier, 2012, p. 131). Social
identity is defined as a system of shared cogni-
tion, language and behaviour, thus it can serve
as an interpretative system (Cornelissen, Haslam
and Balmer, 2007). This paper proposes that ex-
changing and interpreting identity cues can lead to
identity bridging or embeddedness.
Moreover, according to Alvesson, Ashcraft and
Thomas (2008, p. 5) ‘identity [...] becomea popu-
lar frame from which to investigate a wide array of
phenomena’, and adopting it can stimulate novel
theoretical perspectives, while expanding our
understanding of identity research. Nevertheless,
despite the high potential that identity carries
(Cornelissen, Haslam and Balmer, 2007), an ap-
proach that considers social identity dierences as
a facilitator for embeddedness has not yet gained
In line with Alvesson, Ashcraft and Thomas’s
(2008) suggestion, the paper aims to bring value
to both identity and embeddedness research
by adopting an integrated perspective. Cross-
fertilization can add value (Brown et al., 2006),
which led to ‘a number of conscious attempts to
bridge various literatures’ (Cornelissen, Haslam
and Balmer, 2007, p. 2). Moreover, there are calls
for ‘strengthening’ the conceptualizations of iden-
tity research (Cornelissen, Haslam and Balmer,
2007, p. 2; Cornelissen, 2002, 2005) and de-
veloping tools for ‘explore[ing] mechanisms and
consequences of identification more systemati-
cally’ (Cornelissen, Haslam and Balmer, 2007,
p. 2; Haslam, 2001; Van Dick, 2001). The devel-
oped identity conceptualization in this study is
well-positioned within that agenda.
Based on 63 semi-structured interviews from
12 cases of small Bulgarian London-based service-
consulting companies, the paper exploresthe legit-
imation process that MEs undergo when attempt-
ing an entry in a socio-economic network. The
identified process is based on showcasing: (1) sim-
ilarities of culture, familiarity and shared values
between the incumbents and network candidates;
(2) similarities in industry, specialization, experi-
ence and/or education; (3) the candidate’s active
knowledge orchestration(i.e. arranging knowledge
capital from varied sources).
More importantly, the embedding process illu-
minates actors’ ability to relate to the network’s
desired social identity elements. The paper reveals
the sequence of identity work between in-groups
(i.e. incumbents) and out-groups (i.e. candidates)
(i.e. self-representation, reactiveness, relatedness,
reflexivity, integration and proactiveness), and the
logic of the occurring identity circulation. The last
revealed implications for contributing back to so-
cial identity perspective in an area suggested by
Rink and Ellemers (2007, p. 17), namely, consid-
ering that ‘social identity processes can also lead
[...] toevaluate[ ...]dierencesinapositiveway.
Traditionally, the social identity perspective fo-
cuses on constructing identity through positively
stereotyping in-groups and negatively stereotyp-
ing out-groups (Rao, Davis and Ward, 2000).
This implicitly assumes the existence of persistent
clash between groups. Nevertheless, both have ac-
cess to diverse knowledge (Becerra-Fernandezand
Sabherwal, 2008). Thus,the assumption that iden-
tity stereotyping creates an insurmountable divide
runs counter to Nahapiet, Gratton and Rocha ‘s
(2005, p. 3) suggestion that contemporary knowl-
edge economy favours those who ‘seek to make co-
operative relationshipsthe nor m in their organiza-
tions’. Following Nahapiet, Gratton and Rocha’s
(2005) call for ‘a dierent way of thinking about
social relationships and a new language and set
of assumptions to guide management practice’,
this paper takes a new look at the social identity
The data reveal that social identity dierences
can contribute to embeddedness. The paper ar-
gues that the circulation of identity signals that
facilitate inter-group comparison can result in
complementarity and brokerage (i.e. connecting
unconnected actors). This suggests the existence
of an underexplored social identity strategy, which
is constructive in nature, as it does not occur at
the expense of neither in-groups’ nor out-groups’
identity. The integrative logic, which underpins
the social circulation strategy introduced here,
is characterized by integrating out-groups for
enabling resource complementarity (i.e. synergy of
© 2017 British Academy of Management.

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