A New Empirical Object for Relational-Processual Sociology: Elite Multigenerational Enterprise Families

Thursday, 19 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Jeremy SCHULZ, University of California Berkely, USA
Isabell STAMM, Technical University Berlin, Germany
This presentation will apply processual and relational frameworks to better understand 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 presentation, 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.