Researching the multinational corporation: contributions of critical realist ethnography

Diana Rosemary Sharpe (Business School, Sheffield Hallam University, Stoddart Building City Campus, Sheffield, UK)

critical perspectives on international business

ISSN: 1742-2043

Publication date: 1 October 2018



The purpose of this paper is to discuss the contributions that critical realist ethnographies can make to an understanding of the multinational corporation.


This paper draws on a discussion of methodological challenges in researching the multinational corporation and the ways in which critical realist ethnographies can respond to these challenges. The example of research on the transfer of management practices is used to illustrate this.


Taking the example of researching the transfer of management practices within the multinational, the paper argues that the potential of critical realist ethnography including critical realist global ethnography to contribute to the field of International Business and International Management remains relatively untapped.

Research limitations/implications

Adopting the sociological imagination of the critical realist ethnographer has implications for the kinds of questions that are asked by the researcher and the ways in which we seek to address these methodologically. Researching from a critical standpoint fruitful empirical themes for further research relate to the experience of change for example in business systems, internationalization of organizations and “globalization”.

Practical implications

The critical realist ethnographer can contribute insights into the complex social and political processes within the multinational and provide insights into how social structures are both impacting on and impacted by individuals and groups. Ethnographic research located within a critical realist framework has the potential to address questions of how stability and change take place within specific structural, cultural and power relations.


At the methodological level, this paper highlights the potential of critical realist ethnography in researching the multinational, in addressing significant questions facing the critical researcher and in gaining a privileged insight into the lived experience of globalization.



Sharpe, D.R. (2018), "Researching the multinational corporation: contributions of critical realist ethnography", critical perspectives on international business, Vol. 14 No. 4, pp. 383-403.

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