What Is a Startup Firm? A Methodological and Epistemological Investigation Into Research Objects in Economic Geography – Geoforum – article

What Is a Startup Firm? A Methodological and Epistemological Investigation Into Research Objects in Economic Geography

Daniel Cockayne | Geoforum

2019-10-22

This paper is an inquiry into the process of defining the parameters of economic geography research from both a methodological and epistemological point of view. I ask what it means that research parameters are often difficult to define, while also acknowledging that strictly defining research may be disadvantageous in efforts to retain complexity and nuance. I draw on research with startup firms in San Francisco, California and Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario and insights from feminist economic geography and post-structuralist theory. ‘Startup,’ as denoting at once a discourse and an actual type of firm or working practice, is privileged by economic policy in both the US and Canada as promising regional economic development driven by technological- and knowledge-based forms of entrepreneurship. Startup purports a new, modern, and innovative form of work. Yet separating out the startup discourse from startups themselves, e.g., for purposes pertaining to the practicalities of research design, can be difficult. I argue that it may be useful to hold open the definition of one’s research objects, in order to allow multiple understandings of terms to proliferate, so as not to circumscribe in advance the set of interpretations that might otherwise be possible. I make this argument through two interrelated claims: first a methodological claim around what it means to define research around the term startup; and second an epistemological claim about how uncertain terms like startup can be conceptualized as economic performatives. I situate these two claims as a prism for thinking through the complexity and problematic of defining research in general.

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