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Micropolitical Behavior in the Multinational Enterprise: A Language Perspective

Multinational Enterprises, Markets and Institutional Diversity

ISBN: 978-1-78441-422-1, eISBN: 978-1-78441-421-4

Publication date: 25 October 2014



In this chapter, we align two approaches on the multinational enterprise (MNE), that is, research on languages and international business, and micropolitics, in order to establish the language-based underpinnings of micropolitical behavior in the MNE.


This theoretical chapter departs from a social, relational perspective on power relationships in the MNE. Power relationships are constituted in multilingual encounters between different language users.


Our analysis builds on the assumption that the mandated corporate language in the MNE, which often is English, results in a language hierarchy. This hierarchy creates inequality and tension between the languages in use in the MNE. However, language agents, that is, headquarters, foreign subsidiaries, teams, managers, and employees can – individually or collectively – change, challenge, and disrupt this hierarchical order. Their micropolitical behavior is essential for action as it redraws organizational structure, alters the degree of foreign subsidiary autonomy and control, redefines the privileged and the disadvantaged groups in the MNE, and reinforces subgroup formation and dynamics in multilingual teams.

Research implications

We highlight the important role played by language agents who sit at the interstices of organizational networks in the MNE. The interplay between their actions and motivations and their historical and situational contexts represents an underexplored and undertheorized area of study.

Practical implications

Senior managers in MNEs are frequently very competent or native users of the English language. Appreciating the continued existence of various languages has implications for how different MNE units can effectively connect and operate as an overall entity.


This chapter highlights the languages-based mechanisms that underpin power relationships in the MNE.



Piekkari, R. and Tietze, S. (2014), "Micropolitical Behavior in the Multinational Enterprise: A Language Perspective", Multinational Enterprises, Markets and Institutional Diversity (Progress in International Business Research, Vol. 9), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 259-277.



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