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Multilevel theorizing in international business: the case of research on strategy implementation in MNCs

Aušrinė Šilenskytė (School of Management, University of Vaasa, Vaasa, Finland)
Adam Smale (School of Management, University of Vaasa, Vaasa, Finland)

Critical Perspectives on International Business

ISSN: 1742-2043

Article publication date: 9 December 2020

Issue publication date: 23 November 2021




This paper aims to illustrate why an understanding of how levels of analysis interact is an essential part of multilevel research in the field of international business (IB). Using research on strategy implementation (SI) in multinational corporations (MNCs) as an example, this paper develops a taxonomy and research agenda that demonstrates the key role critical scholars can play in advancing multilevel theorization.


Drawing on the assumptions of methodological collectivism and individualism, the paper presents a four-step framework: defining the theoretical boundaries of the selected subject; juxtaposing theoretical arguments with empirical work; identifying single- and multi-level theories; and developing a research agenda.


Research on SI in MNCs has been dominated by one type of theorizing that focuses on the designs of organizational systems or the power of institutions. Multilevel theorization grounded in methodological individualism would offer new knowledge by including the views of under-represented stakeholders, questioning the justice of established systems and overall implications of MNC operations.

Research limitations/implications

The proposed four-step framework encourages scholars to adopt a systematic approach to multilevel theorizing and draw upon the untapped potential of IB theories.


The paper contributes to the IB field by introducing an approach to assessing IB research from a multilevel theorizing perspective. The actionable research agenda on SI and the taxonomy of SI research can assist scholars in making aligned choices on study design and envisioning research questions that yield meaningful contributions to theory and practice.



The authors are sincerely thankful to Editorial team of CPOIB and the anonymous reviewers whose inputs allowed them to significantly improve the paper. They are grateful for comments on the earlier versions of this paper provided by anonymous reviewers in EIBA2013 and AIB2019. They would like to thank The Graduate School of University of Vaasa, Marcus Wallenberg Foundation and the School of Management at the University of Vaasa who provided the funding for doctoral studies of the first author, during which this paper was written.


Šilenskytė, A. and Smale, A. (2021), "Multilevel theorizing in international business: the case of research on strategy implementation in MNCs", Critical Perspectives on International Business, Vol. 17 No. 4, pp. 502-521.



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