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In and out of balance: Women entrepreneurs and the gendered ‘work’ of work-family

Kristina A Bourne, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation intersects the fields of women and entrepreneurship and gendered organizational studies through an analytical framework that understands entrepreneurship as a socially constructed process embedded within everyday practices, which shape and are shaped in a field of gender relations. By not taking for granted that work and family are two separate spheres, the study refocuses arguments in the literature that consider entrepreneurship an option for women seeking to balance the demands of work and family. Theoretically supported by socialist feminist theorizing, which addresses the historical development of the public/private divide, I consider how individuals engage in routine activities of everyday life such that they can invoke the existence of work and family as separate domains. Methodologically based on ethnomethodology and symbolic interactionism, I further ask: How do women business owners and the people they interact with create and sustain particular definitions of situations as business/not business and family/not family? How is the 'social fact' of work and family as separate domains produced and sustained? Using these analytical insights as a starting point, I became involved in the everyday life practices of ten women entrepreneurs as they went about doing 'work-family' throughout complex relationships and engagements. Drawing from an ethnographic approach to fieldwork, I witnessed their activities and conversations in the context in which they were happening, and documented the tensions of negotiating and maintaining a distinct divide between work and family, which often devaluated the latter in support of the former. Altogether, the dissertation contributes to re-articulating conventional economic assumptions in organizational theorizing and research about work-family, which in taking for granted that these are separate social domains foster their reproduction as the normal state of affairs. These assumptions end up bestowing primacy to 'the work sphere' even in the most private moments of everyday life. In particular, the dissertation advances alternative understandings about 'work-family balance' in the context of entrepreneurship, and opens a space for reconsidering these notions as part of the complex field of socio-cultural power relations where gender and class intersect.

Subject Area

Management|Womens studies|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Bourne, Kristina A, "In and out of balance: Women entrepreneurs and the gendered ‘work’ of work-family" (2006). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3215759.