An exploration of familiness through a Bourdieusian mixed methods study of innovation in SME manufacturing firms in the United Kingdom

Salmon, U 2017, An exploration of familiness through a Bourdieusian mixed methods study of innovation in SME manufacturing firms in the United Kingdom , PhD thesis, University of Salford.

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This research explores the nature of familiness within SME manufacturing family firms in the United Kingdom. The study aims to provide a definitive answer to whether familiness exists in this sphere, explores the nature of familiness and concludes with recommendations for improving the business performance of family firms. The research applies the theoretical lens of Pierre Bourdieu to understanding the nature of family firms through examination of the innovation process.

Prior Work

Previous literature has reached differing conclusions about whether the family firm is indeed distinct from the non-family firm. There is therefore a need to understand, not only whether familiness exists, but also what the nature of these unique qualities are. Bourdieu’s theoretical concepts of doxa, fields and habitus have been applied separately to multiple social settings, but this study is the first to apply these powerful concepts in conjunction to explain familiness. Innovation activities have been selected as the most appropriate business activity for exploring the nature of familiness, because prior work has indicated that the stultifying influence of family can inhibit innovation. The manufacturing sector has been chosen for this study as previous research has shown that innovation is crucial for long-term survival in this sector. Surprisingly, there remains a gap in empirically based policy support and advice for family firm innovation in the UK, which this research helps to fill.


A mixed methods, convergent parallel design is proposed. Quantitative analysis uses a dataset of 582 manufacturing SMEs to determine through descriptive statistics whether there are distinctive differences between family and non-family firms. A factor analysis then produces statistically derived factors of familiness. Hypotheses, derived from both the statistical analysis and the literature, are then tested using chi-squared techniques. The mixed methods approach continues with a qualitative analysis that provides rich insights of how familiness contributes to innovation. The primary dataset for qualitative analysis consists of 27 semi-structured interviews with SME family manufacturing firms. Cross-case, thematic analysis produces a Bourdieusian-derived conceptual grouping of family firms. Throughout the quantitative and qualitative analyses, Bourdieu’s theories of habitus, fields and doxa provide an insightful underpinning conceptual framework.


The quantitative findings confirm there are distinct differences between family and non-family firms in the SME manufacturing sector in the UK, which leads to the conclusion that familiness does exist. The quantitative findings provide surprising results that innovation is higher in older family firms, and that innovation is not related to awareness of external support. The qualitative findings show that Bourdieusian concepts of doxa, habitus, and fields used in conjunction provide a powerful theoretical explanation for the values and motivations that drive distinctive family firm behaviour. A triangulation of results produces a taxonomy of family firms according to their innovation activity and their unique family characteristics.


The taxonomy represents a contribution to theoretical knowledge by developing Bourdieusian-inspired theory as to how familiness can be used to develop competitive advantage. The methodological contribution to knowledge is made through an innovative convergent parallel mixed methods design. Future family firm researchers can use this design to establish the existence of familiness through quantitative techniques and to explore the nature of familiness using a qualitative approach. The research makes a contribution to practice by making recommendations for family firms and policy suggestions for national and local governments to support family firm innovation.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Schools: Schools > Salford Business School
Depositing User: U Salmon
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2018 15:31
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 23:33

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