With the growing ubiquity of digitally intermediated interactions, the emergence of market spaces and entrepreneurial identities shows bottom-up dynamics that are fundamentally different from how “boundaries” used to be drawn in the past. Much of the “next big thing” is no longer dictated by premeditated change efforts but shaped primarily by and through the crowd’s massively decentralized social interactions.
In the absence of established institutional patterns, how do “raw semantic materials” emerge from online conversations to become the interpretive basis for new categories and identities? As categorization happens, how do young organizations experiment with different versions of their possible selves, i.e., organizational identities, until they find one that latches on to a new, viable category?
My research aims to build a theory that can better explain novelty emergence in organizational and market settings without being constrained by the previous assumption that change actions are almost always coordinated from a fixed time-space point: a theory of crowds for market emergence and entrepreneurial dynamics. This theory is premised on the emergent nature of a crowd that forms around any given market opportunity, which in turn creates a context within which a certain shared language comes to demarcate innovative growth paths.
Although the term “crowd” is often used without clear theoretical definitions today, as in “crowdsourcing” or “crowdfunding,” it has a rich theoretical heritage dating back to Le Bon’s seminal piece on crowds (1896). The timing seems right for us to rejuvenate the study of crowds, using online discourse within a crowd as a platform for uncovering:
How an evolving semantic structure enables a new market to be categorized and consensually validated from uncoordinated social interactions; and
How entrepreneurial firms maneuver in that crowd landscape to establish themselves as the most attractive reference point within an exciting market category.