So, What Do You Do? Exploring Identity Claiming by Entrepreneurs

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The way we respond to the casual question: “What do you do for a living?” involves making claims about work-related identity. As individuals often have multiple identities, including at work, deciding which identities to claim over others may not be straightforward. We explored how 29 entrepreneurs across Canada, the United States, and Australia respond to this question. Contrary to what would be predicted from prior research, these informants largely resist claiming the label of “entrepreneur” in informal social interactions. Instead, informants claimed labels based either on roles they held or occupations in which they currently or previously worked. Several also claimed labels that were “self-effacing” and downplayed their role in their organization. In exploring the rationale for these claiming decisions, we found that the broader social context—including cultural meanings of being an entrepreneur and conversational norms—played a key role in determining individual identity claiming. We also identified two motives underlying these contextual factors: the need to be comprehensible and the need to avoid creating distance between themselves and their interaction partner. We discuss the implications of these findings for both the research on identity claiming and entrepreneurship.

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