Assessing the contribution of the ‘theory of matriarchy’ to the entrepreneurship and family business literatures

Robert Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


– The purpose of this paper is to assess the contribution of “Matriarchy” to the entrepreneurship and family business literature. The literature on gendered aspects of entrepreneurship is expanding and maturing in its level of theoretical sophistication and subject coverage. At the same time, our nuanced understanding of how gender influences entrepreneurial action also expands, as does our appreciation of how men and women do entrepreneurship. It is widely acknowledged that although the theories of entrepreneurship and small business are cognate literature, entrepreneurship has primacy. The heroic male entrepreneur is the master narrative against which we measure other forms of entrepreneurship. The role played by wives, partners, family and employees is often left unstated. In our eternal quest to theorise and explain entrepreneurial action in its entirety, we seldom consider the explanatory power of the sociological theory of “Matriarchy”. Consequentially, in this theoretical paper, we present and discuss several important aspects of the theory which are applicable to our understanding of the diverse nature of gendered enactment within entrepreneurship and small business in which entrepreneurship provides the action to be measured and small business, the setting in which it is encountered. The work primarily concentrates on the theoretical aspects of Matriarchy as well as building upon the extant literature of entrepreneurship, gender and small and family business.

– The literature on Matriarchy is presented and analysed in conjunction with appropriate texts from the above literature. The readings help construct a theoretical framework which is tested against narratives of Matriarchial figures encountered via research and written up using retrospective ethnography. This unusual qualitative methodology allows the author to test and develop the utility of the theoretical framework. The resultant narratives and vignettes are both illuminating and enlightening.

– The stories of the Matriarchs illustrate how gender differences impact upon entrepreneurial identities and the everyday practicalities of doing business. While the male head of the family may be the titular business owner, many privately defer to the Matriarchal voice which acts as a positive driving force in business, binding a family together.

Research limitations/implications
– The theory of Matriarchy offers another powerful explanatory variable in how gendered relationships influence entrepreneurial identities and in making the theory the focal point, we can avoid some of the common assumptions we make when we concentrate on entrepreneurship as the key variable. In perpetuating heroic entrepreneurial narrative as success stories, we as the ultimate consumers of such socially constructed fiction are also complicit. This article, therefore, has the potential to influence how we as authors of such narratives narrate stories of women in family business.

– The paper challenges the universality of traditional renditions of family businesses as entrepreneur stories. It re-examines and challenges accepted wisdom building up a discussion, which confronts accepted theories of entrepreneurship and family business.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)255-275
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Journal of Gender and Entrepreneurship
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Family business
  • gender theory
  • patriarchy
  • womens entrepreneurship
  • matriarchy


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