The affective extension of ‘family’ in the context of changing elite business networks

Human Relations (forthcoming)
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Abstract

Drawing on 49 oral-history interviews with Scottish family business owner-managers, six key-informant interviews, and secondary sources, this interdisciplinary study analyses the decline of kinship-based connections and the emergence of new kinds of elite networks around the 1980s. As the socioeconomic context changed rapidly during this time, cooperation built primarily around literal family ties could not survive unaltered. Instead of finding unity through bio-legal family connections, elite networks now came to redefine their ‘family businesses’ in terms of affectively loaded ‘family values’ such as loyalty, care, commitment, and even ‘love’. Consciously nurturing ‘as-if-family’ emotional and ethical connections arose as a psychologically effective way to bring together network members who did not necessarily share pre-existing connections of bio-legal kinship. The social-psychological processes involved in this extension of the ‘family’ can be understood using theories of the moral sentiments first developed in the Scottish Enlightenment. These theories suggest that, when the context is amenable, family-like emotional bonds can be extended via sympathy to those to whom one is not literally related. As a result of this ‘progress of sentiments’, one now earns his/her place in a Scottish family business, not by inheriting or marrying into it, but by performing family-like behaviours motivated by shared ethics and affects

Author's Profile

Michael L. Frazer
University of East Anglia

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