The Graceful Warrior: A rhetorical strategy on legitimizing sustainability in the fashion industry

Laura van de Vorst

Student thesis: Master thesis


Social entrepreneurs propose an alternative logic to the dominant logic of the system.However, their ability to implement envisioned change depends on the social approval, accessto resources and market opportunities granted by the institutionalized system. Dominantinstitutional logics constrain entrepreneurial action. The flipside of these dominant logics alsoenable entrepreneurial action, since opportunities of change can be found in the contradictionsof these logics. Both sides of the same coin present an interesting institutional paradox.This study advances cultural entrepreneurship research on the rhetorical microstructures usedby social entrepreneurs that exploit this institutional paradox to generate organizationallegitimacy. The data are collected through elaborate qualitative interviews with twelvesocially and/or environmentally motivated entrepreneurs, whose answers are categorized andcross-analysed. Their social enterprises envision a sustainable transformation of the fashionindustry. The aim of this multiple case study is to understand how rhetoric is employed at theentrepreneurial level when addressing a challenge such as sustainability at the system’s level.It was found that institutional vocabularies draw on institutional contradictions, invokingeither positive or negative meta-narratives that establish protagonist or antagonist identities.Interestingly, two types of antagonists appeared that are situated at opposite ends of aspectrum: the institutionalized system (antagonist I) versus previous failed attempt to changethe system (antagonist II). Moreover, different rhetorical devices either functioned to distancethe protagonist from antagonists or to bridge the protagonist with antagonist I.The dual necessity to communicate both the differentiation and assimilation has beenpreviously identified in cultural entrepreneurship literature, but has not been reflected in thetheoretical frameworks of microstructures. It is therefore that this paper introduces an adaptedmicrostructure model. ‘The Graceful Warrior’ model better reflects the extensive rhetoricalmanoeuvring of a social entrepreneur between emphasizing its common grounds with ‘whatis’ and emphasizing the uniqueness of its envisioned ‘what could be’.The cultural dimension of entrepreneurship is a relatively under research field. How toeffectively communicate envisioned change holds relevance for both innovation and socialentrepreneurship literature. Moreover, as the planet’s environmental and social resources areexhausted, there is a call for entrepreneurs who challenge the economic growth paradigm.‘The Graceful Warrior’ rhetorically distances from previous failed attempts to change thesystem, whilst building bridges with the institutionalized system. The social agenda issoftened with a comfortable layer that frames change in such a way that it becomes anattractive proposal for the masses. Since change of the system is crucial for their success,social entrepreneurs are recommended to implement these rhetorical microstructures into theirstrategies, which will prepare them to fight their wars with grace and win.

EducationsMSocSc in Organisational Innovation and Entrepreneurship , (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2014
Number of pages91
SupervisorsEsben Rahbek Gjerdrum Pedersen