Learning from the periphery: beyond the transnational model

Ayse Saka‐Helmhout (School of Management, University of Surrey, Guildford, UK)

critical perspectives on international business

ISSN: 1742-2043

Publication date: 1 February 2011



Numerous studies have proliferated on the salient role of the subsidiary in multinational enterprise learning and innovative capability building. However, this role has not been considered outside the structural properties of the transnational or integrated network configuration. This paper aims to highlight the role of agency in learning beyond effective configurations.


The research is based on case studies that systematically compare the ways in which parent company knowledge embedded in a transnational and an international structure is transferred to subsidiaries in the European chemical industry.


The paper demonstrates that an international structure can also promote higher levels of learning, despite the absence of learning‐facilitating structural properties, when subsidiaries' orientation to enact acquired knowledge or their “effortful accomplishments” are considered.

Practical implications

The findings point to the significance of agency or adaptation to contexts that require either idiosyncratic or ongoing changes, where structural properties of a multinational enterprise are not conducive to higher levels of learning. In the absence of these structural properties, employees need to be guided to change their recognisable pattern of interdependent actions.


The learning implications of Bartlett and Ghoshal's MNE structures are fine‐tuned with the conceptualization of learning as practice. By adopting an agency‐based understanding of learning, the two aspects of learning are reconciled, i.e. knowledge transfer and the actor's orientation to acquired knowledge for a more refined understanding of the concept within the MNE context.



Saka‐Helmhout, A. (2011), "Learning from the periphery: beyond the transnational model", critical perspectives on international business, Vol. 7 No. 1, pp. 48-65. https://doi.org/10.1108/17422041111103831

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