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Family business explained by field theory

Anders Johan Kjellman (Anders Kjellman Consuting Ltd, Pargas, Finland)

Journal of Family Business Management

ISSN: 2043-6238

Article publication date: 7 October 2014




The purpose of this paper is to present a model concerning family business participation. The model can both be used to explain why somebody chooses to become a family business member and how family entrepreneurs act inside their firms. In this paper the author will present a holistic, socio-cultural and constructivist model concerning entrepreneurship behaviour.


The model is based on field theory or the perceptions of human behaviour presented by Kurt Lewin. However, the model is expanded to include modern system theories and family business aspects. The author sees family business participation as an emerging behaviour in a complex social system. The central concept or construct, to help the author understand this emerging behaviour, is the psychological life space of the individual. It is not only family that affects the life space. This life space is affected by the current life situation, the past activities as well as the potential aspirations or “dreams” about the future.


A holistic, socio-cultural and constructivistic model is developed. It starts from the notion of a “psychological life space” construct, suggested by Kurt Lewin. The author has developed the concepts further, thereby expanding the area concerning entrepreneurship and modern theories of human behaviour by adding environment and culture to the model. The temporal dimension can be divided into three parts: i.e. the past (experience), the present (real-time) and the future (aspirations). All actions and changes happen in the present, although they are affected by the past and the aspirations for the future. These three parts will continually affect the individual's decision making. In other words the life space is never static, but constantly changing over time Thus, an individual's choice to enter, expand or exit a family business can be explained by the complex relationship between realistic and unrealistic views of the past, present and the future.

Research limitations/implications

It is only a model. However, it can cast new light on the understanding of how family businesses work and could transfer knowledge to the next generation of the family business.

Practical implications

A better understanding of the development of the complex behavioural patterns and factors behind entrepreneurial family formation is given. This enables the author to design methods to explore and analyse individual life spaces. If the author would have such methods, the author might be able to see how and why individuals’ behaviour becomes family entrepreneurially oriented, thereby giving use effective ways and new instruments to support growth and stability in our society.


The field theory, or as it has also been named, topological psychology, has been more or less forgotten for a long time, or overshadowed by other theories of human behaviour. However, according to Martin Gold (1999), Lewin has in recent years again become one of the most frequently quoted social researchers. The paper contributes in this process by applying it to a family business context.



The author would like to thank Mikael Ehrstén with whom earlier and similar ideas have been developed, as well as, Bengt Johannisson, Jerome Katz, David Rae and the participants at the 8th Workshop of family firm management research


Johan Kjellman, A. (2014), "Family business explained by field theory", Journal of Family Business Management, Vol. 4 No. 2, pp. 194-212.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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