Shaping student identity and creating entrepreneurs: an ethnography of an experimental Entrepreneurship Education Program

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This paper reports the authors’ ethnographic work with an experimental entrepreneurship education program. A very long-standing question in entrepreneurship education has revolved around the insight that entrepreneurs see the world and respond to problems differently than non-entrepreneurs (Baron 1998). Hence, they can be said to have a different subject position. And the question has always been; can this orientation to the world be taught? The cognitive revolution provided entrepreneurship education with a way to answer that question in the affirmative; that modes of thought and ways to structure the world can be studied and then taught to others. So, as the cognitive revolution moved from what people have in their heads to the ways that cognition is intersubjective and discursively produced, the cutting edge of entrepreneurship education has moved from cognitive recipes to “learning by doing.” As students engage with hands-on learning experiences they build, not only different ways of seeing problems and understanding opportunity but, new identities as well. According to Bruner (1996), all learning is a process of intersubjective meaning making. It is social, communicative and shared among the participants of a learning community (Lave 1996). Curious about these facts, Lave & Wenger (1991) studied apprenticeship groups in their classic work on communities of practice (CoP). They argue that formal learning is not similar in structure to apprenticeship groups but that valuable lessons can be learned from looking at the processes that occur in CoPs. A central insight of practice theories like those of Lave and Wenger is that a process of social imagination is a part of the intersubjective meaning making process where individuals both imagine the community they are part of and also come to think of themselves and their own identity, in new ways. Thus, a central part of intersubjective meaning making involves identity transformation as we move from seeing ourselves as novices to practitioners to (perhaps) experts. This paper suggests that identity work is a critical part of the “learning by doing” model of entrepreneurship education. Drawing on ethnographic data from an ongoing 4 year project with Masters’ students, the paper asks the following questions: What is the evidence that an entrepreneurial identity is beginning to take shape in the students? Are these students beginning to think differently? What is their interest and affect around entrepreneurship? Is this something they care about and is there a community that they are beginning to see themselves as part of? The findings suggest that the ‘learning by mirroring’ model empowers the students and helps them imagine a potential entrepreneurial identity, not necessarily as entrepreneurs but as enterprising individuals.
Original languageEnglish
Publication year2014
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2014
EventOxford Ethnography and Education Conference 2014 - University of Oxford, Oxford, Denmark
Duration: 15 Sep 201417 Sep 2014


ConferenceOxford Ethnography and Education Conference 2014
LocationUniversity of Oxford

    Research areas

  • Entrepreneruship, identity, Ethnography

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