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The Bigman Metaphor for Entrepreneurship: A "Library Tale" with Morals on Alternatives for Further Research
Organization Science
  • Alex Stewart, Marquette University
Document Type
Format of Original
17 p.
Publication Date
INFORMS (Institute for Operations Research and Management Sciences)

Melanesian Bigmanship (a meritocratic, enacted career of political-economic leadership) is recounted as an anthropological metaphor for entrepreneurship. This “library tale” has two purposes. The first is a demonstration of conceptual uses of ethnographies for developing grounded theory. Propositions are generated on entrepreneurial orientations and opportunity structures. Opportunities are seen to arise in the creation of linkages between spheres of exchange, or fields in which an object exchanges at different values. Entrepreneurial tactics, such as converting between spheres, call for skills in informal planning, astute use of timing, and networking. These “tactical” skills coexist with “moral” skills, in persuasiveness, the manipulation of norms, and recognition of culturally specific opportunities. The entrepreneur's acts thus create a dialectic of moral (normatively approved) and tactical (instrumentally enacted) changes.

The second purpose is a demonstration of methodological implications of ethnographies. Library tales are helpful in the process of “constant comparison” (Glaser and Strauss 1967), by augmenting available, within-site observations with other sources of insight, and of potential disconfirmation of emerging ideas. However, there are limits to the “translation” of library tales. There thus arises a need for observations tailored to specific comparative questions. Multiple site case replication research is suggested for tailoring observations to synchronic, comparative uses. Processual, continuous contextual analysis is suggested for diachronic, intensive followups to such questions as the relationships amongst constraints and individual agency.


Published version. Organization Science, Vol. 1, No. 2 (May 1990): 143-159. DOI. © INFORMS (Institute for Operations Research and Management Sciences) 1990. Used with permission.

Alex Stewart was affiliated with Brock University at the time of publication.

Citation Information
Alex Stewart. "The Bigman Metaphor for Entrepreneurship: A "Library Tale" with Morals on Alternatives for Further Research" Organization Science (1990) ISSN: 1047-7039
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