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Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: EGOS announcement From: critical perspectives on international business, Volume 8, Issue 1
The European Group of Organizational Studies (EGOS) launches a new standing working group (SWG) on: Multinational Corporations: Social Agency and Institutional Change
Multinational corporations (MNCs) are seen as “prime movers behind globalization” and “highly mobile actors” which challenge the traditional role of the nation state and its institutions (Eden and Lenway, 2001). Even when nation states and their business systems are still seen as influential, both at the home and host country level, MNCs are also discussed as actors that actively shape transnational institution-building, and are not just being shaped by it (e.g. Geppert and Williams, 2006). An important question, therefore, is how MNCs as collective actors actively influence institutional change processes at the local, national and international levels, and how much they are driven by these developments.
The SWG focuses on how MNCs shape and are shaped by complex and multiple institutional environments. We are especially interested in the role of social agency in institutional change processes, referring both to the MNC as a collective agent and to individual key actors within the MNC as powerful agents to effect institutional change. We believe that these social agents are not just formal rule-makers and rule-takers, but that they also informally shape the MNC’s strategic approaches and organizational structures. An important focus is on comparing the different ways that social agency emerges in MNCs operating in different societal and industrial sector contexts. We are especially interested in promoting and manifesting research and conceptual debates in this field, including how established ideas in IB (International Business) and institutionalist research can be enriched and developed further by new ideas from other related disciplines such as organizational sociology, economic sociology, economic history, political science as well as scholars from the fields of international management.
The role and function of organizations in society is traditionally a central concern of institutionalist studies yet the study of MNCs as organizations has only been a side issue in institutionalist studies. However, for some time now both camps in institutional research – neo-institutionalists and comparative institutionalists – have come to see the MNC as a unique unit of analysis (Kostova and Roth, 2002; Morgan, 2001a). Their reasoning is based on a number of arguments which we take as points of departure for the discussions in our SWG. In particular, neo-institutionalists (see, e.g. Kostova et al., 2008) recently argue that:
Traditional beliefs that organizations function in organizational fields do not apply to the MNC, and suggest studying MNCs as a meta-institutional field that is more ambiguous and fragmented than assumed by mainstream scholars. They stress the need to examine more closely the role of social agency.
Institutional isomorphism is of limited relevance in the case of MNCs because they face multiple institutional pressures and are more complex than typically assumed, leaving room for strategic choices of actors.
Because of these limitations, actors’ attempts to seek legitimacy from external stakeholders involve power struggles and active political processes, including manipulation and negotiation.
Similarly, comparative institutional scholars (see, e.g. Crouch and Streeck, 1997; Ferner et al., 2006; Sorge, 2005; Whitley, 1999) recently question the distinct influence of national institutions and stress that:
National business systems are less consistent and complementary than often assumed. Societal institutions are seen as ambiguous, meaning that nation states might have contradictory and multiple institutional logics allowing for more heterogeneous forms of organizing and social agency in MNCs than often assumed (Allen, 2004; Campbell, 2010; Jackson, 2010).
MNCs both respond to institutional pressures (home and host countries) and actively challenge societal institutions by introducing new social practices and innovative ideas (see, e.g. Ferner et al., 2006).
Institutional change is both a creative process, referring to the recombination of old and new social practices (bricolage) and the need for local translation of ideas developed elsewhere, which leaves room for social agency (see, e.g. Campbell, 2010); and a socio-political process, referring to differences in power relations and political interests among key power holders (see, e.g. Geppert and Dörrenbächer, 2011).
On this basis we argue that MNCs should not be studied as unitary organizations, but should rather be seen as “transnational social spaces” (e.g. Morgan, 2001b) and “contested terrains” (see Edwards and Belanger, 2009), bringing social agency back in as both driver and outcome of institutional and intra-organizational change processes. Both collective and individual actors have a degree of autonomy and choice. This points, on the one hand, to the ability of social agents to reinterpret and redefine their existing institutions (Hall and Thelen, 2009). It involves, on the other hand, perspectives that see institutional change as a process of conflicts and power struggles. The latter sensitises us for the socio-political nature of institutional change and brings the micro- and macro-political dimensions of social agency into the analysis of MNCs (see also Geppert and Dörrenbächer, 2011; Morgan, 2011).
Keeping with the EGOS tradition, the SWG encourages multilevel and multidirectional analysis, including micro-level agency of actors and firms, meso- and macro-level influences and changes of sector, local, national and transnational institutions. Our SWG explicitly encourages contributions from diverse theoretical traditions and disciplines that open new organizational perspectives in IB. These could include, for example, organizational sociology, economic sociology, economic history, political science as well as scholars from the fields of international management. At the same time, such a disciplinary diversity enhances our understanding of the methodological repertoire available for organization scholars within the context of IB.
The Program of the SWG in upcoming EGOS Colloquia 2012-2014
2012 – The MNC as a challenge for institutionalist research: Key concepts, new developments and empirical evidence (guest convenors: Ayse Saka-Helmhout, University of Surrey, and Royston Greenwood, University of Alberta).
2013 – MNCs, social agency and institutional change: The role of society, sector and transnational institutions (guest convenor: Arndt Sorge, University of Potsdam).
2014 – Managerial control in the multinational corporation: A global elite perspective (guest convenor: Christoph Dörrenbächer, Berlin School of Economics).
2015 – MNCs in emerging and developing economies: Reconciling local and global dominant logics (guest convenors: Rick Molz, Concordia University, Montreal, and Catalin Ratiu, California State University, San Marcos).
Further information as well as information about how to contribute can be obtained from the coordinators of the Standing working group:
Florian Becker-Ritterspach, German University of Cairo, Egypt firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike Geppert, University of Surrey, UK M.Geppert@surrey.ac.uk
Susanne Blazejewski, Alanus University, Germany Susanne.Blazejewski@alanus.edu
Or from the EGOS web site: www.egosnet.org/jart/prj3/egosnet/main.jart
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