Not Your Average Cup O'Joe
This dissertation examines the construction of entrepreneurial possibilities, i.e., opportunities for entrepreneurial action (Lounsbury & Glynn, 2019: 37) in an institutional field. In particular, I conceptualize the field as a relational space (Wooten & Hoffman, 2008) made up of multiple actors and their identities, and set out to unpack the relational and cultural dynamics that shape what actors imagine and construe as possible. I conduct an historical ethnography (Vaughan, 2004) situated in the context of the U.S. specialty coffee segment. Building from a wealth of data, including archival, interview, and observational data, I trace the actions of a particular group within the field—roasters—and ask how, when, and why different sets of roasters spearheaded the assembly of new entrepreneurial possibilities in the field. My findings situate the actual construction of an entrepreneurial possibility as resulting from a two-part process involving: (1) the revealing of relational and cultural holes through field-level events, and (2) the bridging of these symbolic holes by actors in distinct field-level positions (e.g., insiders, outsiders, and ‘outsiders within’). Relational spaces referred to the symbolic void existing between actors who did not relate with one another (e.g., between farmers and roasters). Cultural spaces, or holes (Lizardo, 2014; Pachucki & Breiger, 2010; Vilhena et al., 2014 West, Evans & Bergstrom, 2014) referred to gaps or absences of shared meanings, tastes, or interests that led to impoverished relations between actors. As such, the dissertation offers insights on the cultural embeddedness of assembling entrepreneurial possibilities (e.g., Weber, Heinze, & DeSoucey, 2008) and especially, on the collective nature of revealing and seizing spaces of opportunity. Importantly, my work complements current research examining the link between identity and the flexibility of new ventures (Zuzul & Tripsas, 2019) by showing how, early on, when the field was dominated by one type of actor (e.g., commercial roasters), the spaces of opportunity that opened up revealed essential differences regarding the identity component of ‘who we are.’ As the field evolved, the ‘who we are’ varied less, but differences regarding ‘what we do’ became central to the assembly of new entrepreneurial possibilities. Overall, the dissertation extends the reach of cultural entrepreneurship (Gehman & Soublière, 2017; Lounsbury, Gehman, & Ann Glynn, 2019b; Lounsbury & Glynn, 2001) by casting it as a lens that can deepen our understanding of multiple facets of the entrepreneurial process, especially of its early stages where so much of what entrepreneurs do is riddled with uncertainty.