Don’t just stand on the shoulder of giants, become a giant! Challenge research paradigms

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International Journal of Emerging Markets

ISSN: 1746-8809

Article publication date: 28 June 2013



Stephens Balakrishnan, M., Muhammed, N. and Sikdar, A. (2013), "Don’t just stand on the shoulder of giants, become a giant! Challenge research paradigms", International Journal of Emerging Markets, Vol. 8 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Don’t just stand on the shoulder of giants, become a giant! Challenge research paradigms

Article Type: Guest editorial From: International Journal of Emerging Markets, Volume 8, Issue 3

The Middle East North Africa (MENA) region is a strategic geo-political area spanning two continents, often gets overlooked in emerging markets literature, and is largely in the global scanner for its oil and turmoil. This is in stark contrast to ancient times when it was the hotbed for learning besides being the cradle of civilization. Center of research and academic excellence spread across the entire swathe of the expanse with Alexandria (Egypt), Academy of Gundishapur (Persia/modern day Iran), House of Wisdom in Babylon (Mesopotamia/modern day Iraq); Nineveh (Assyria/Iraq-Syria-Turkey); Zaitouna (Tunisia); and Fes (Morocco) all being beacons of higher learning.

In the modern times, MENA is perfectly poised to rediscover its tryst with research and learning. With a more than 300 million population growing rapidly and is already one of the youngest in the world Middle East will continue to grow in economic importance beyond its hydrocarbon lineage. The winds of political changes, greater empowerment and in general, the governments’ priorities to hinge nation building through education, research is poised to receive major fillip. The rate of innovation, the will to overcome and the need to chronicle should be a researchers dream. This hold true especially because business research from the MENA region is less than 1 per cent of all published research (, 2011; Robertson et al., 2001). The low publication output is all the more surprising seeing that social sciences (an average of two-third of all university students major in humanities and arts) is the preferred area of study in many countries with business schools being a big winner (The World Bank, 2008). Just for perspective, in 2005, Harvard University produced 15,455 scientific publications but 17 Arabic speaking countries together produced just 13,444 (Nordin, 2007). According to Thomson Reuters, total number of scientific articles published per year for Arab countries it is only 41 compared to the world average of 147 (UNESCO Science Report, 2010).

A bigger, more fundamental issue is to do with the inquiring mind (Baehr, 2011). In contrast to the more developed countries, in the observation that the return to higher education investment in MENA till date has still not shown the returns expected in higher economic growth (The World Bank, 2008). MENA houses both the richest and poorest economies and while it aspires to be developed – the model followed by many of its countries is not the capitalist model but one revolving around social planning within a more autocratic model. This region in the face of an opulence of wealth (oil returns) struggles with scarcity of basic resources (food, water, and even security). Still business thrives!

Academics need to answer the question – do I want to follow the populist movement, micro-researching existing topics and adding to incremental research? Piercy (2001) calls this “Obsessing with the obviously obsolete”. Or should the researcher look at research using the “Blue ocean” theory (Kim and Mauborgne, 2005) for “Blue Skies research” (Balaram, 1999) or and find an opportunity to publish on something new, riskier, exciting and more relevant? As a community if we agree with the latter (what do we recommend our students focus in on class) what are we doing as writers, reviewers and editors? One of the challenges we have is to encourage this “out of the box” thinking but balancing it with research rigor.

In uncertain markets, data is difficult to collect and very often this is a barrier. But the question remains does a sample size of 3,000 which uses an instrument that was previously tested many years ago; and the instrument may not even have been scrutinized. Was the instrument simply validated by the fact other academics used the same instrument? Is it a case of the blind leading the blind? Are we asking how does a respondent manage to differentiate the subtle nuances between questions? How are we sure it measures what we say it does? Is there theory or research behind it? Are the statistical result alone a clear measure of reliability? Does a sample size of 100, where sampling techniques are meticulously applied, the instrument carefully designed (Baumgartner and Steenkamp, 2001) and pre-tested for understandability (Wong et al., 2003) – deserve a shot in the spotlight especially if it uses mixed methodology and qualitative insights? Is management about people (who are irrational and maybe unpredictable) really about generalizability? A few studies showed that about 1 in 20 published papers used qualitative methodology even in sociology and one must not forget that “Qualitative methods produce different lenses on social reality, lenses that make society and its phenomena understandable” (Alasuutari, 2009, p. 147).

Key elements of research are:

  1. 1.


  2. 2.

    systematic; and

  3. 3.

    establish new facts or draw conclusions.

Business research or applied research goes one step further asking for “solutions to practical problems”. There is a decline in conceptual articles being published in marketing (Yadav, 2010). The decline was observed across a 30 year period (1978-2007) of publishing data from major marketing journals with the sharpest decline in Journal of Marketing (JM) – a key ranking journal. There are three types of conceptual articles according to Magala (2004), The Editor of the Journal of Organizational Change Management:

[…] when someone gives a new theoretical framework, an alternative to and better than the existing one, more inventive and more creative, etc. However, these are few and far between. The second is the article that takes existing theories, and creates a framework within which cases can be studied, because he or she manages to make these approaches complementary rather than mutually exclusive. You could say that it helps to economize the construction of knowledge. Thirdly, the article which takes what appears to be paradoxical or irrational, and provides a plausible explanation by direct extension of theoretical knowledge or its application in a given case (for instance a paradox of more free, more autonomous, more enabled and empowered employees who break down much more often than their less free predecessors).

Some journals explicitly shy away from conceptual papers – for example the Academy of Management Journal states that “only articles that present empirical studies in the areas of management are considered. Purely theoretical or conceptual papers will not be published in this journal”. On the other hand the Academy of Management Review states “AMR publishes novel, insightful and conceptual articles that challenge conventional wisdom concerning all aspects of organizations and their role in society” (AIB, 2012). As a writer, go ahead and challenge yourself – publish a conceptual piece. As an institution, recognize this is very hard to do and reward the effort.

Research rigor is sometimes the bane of a chaotic emerging market where data is hard to collect, projects are completed in small opportunistic windows and under great constraints. Do we recognize this? Because rigor is often (not always) predefined, we often throw the baby out with the bathwater and too many academics in emerging markets are publishing on data outside of these markets and too many organizations are “importing” publishing numbers so needed for top ranking in accreditation through well-published researchers. The issue of publication bias is well documented by Thornton and Lee (2000). Do we assess what percentage of research published is based on knowledge development of the home market or are we always just extrapolating even though businesses clearly tell us that successful formulas in developed market do not always work in emerging markets? Lowe et al. (2005) argues that besides the three hermeneutics of structure, process and pattern there should be a fourth – wisdom, morality, soul or spirit. Gummesson Lee and Greenley (2010) says:

A crucial question is: can we claim that scientific knowledge is better than intuition, wisdom, and so on or is it just different? Are they complementary, the yin and yang of knowledge development? Shouldn’t we spend at least as much time on understanding the soul of intuition as we spend on statistical survey techniques?

Intuition unfortunately is very hard to peer review and may explain why HBR continues to have higher circulation numbers than most Academic Business Journals!

Science is funny. It’s a crapshoot. It takes hundreds of people with high IQs, PhDs, and an incredible curiosity, work ethic, and persistence. It also takes critical mass, lab support, the right equipment and instrumentation, peer review, etc. It takes open communication among peers, and other subtle but critical cultural factors. It takes a tolerance for risk. A tolerance for failure. A willingness to think and apply innovation laterally (many of the big breakthroughs were originally aimed at other targets). It takes a culture that attracts, encourages, and rewards the best minds (Slywotzk, 2009).

What has happened is that science is losing to the commercial venture (make a quick buck through innovation) and business research is losing to the “numbers” game. How much of our published research can be used for the industry (how much is embraced by consultants?) or education (used in texts/programs for teaching) as opposed to citation numbers? This is a topic of interest since studies show there is a relevance gap (AACSB, 2008) and second, topics of interest for academics may not be of interest for practitioners though the reverse maybe true in some cases (Ghosh et al., 2010). AACSB (2008) looks at the value proposition for business school-based research rests on three important foundations: independence, rigor, and cross-fertilization.

Figure 1 Challenge research paradigms – create something new!

Research needs to have rigor to be accepted by peers but it can be creative. Figure 1 shows new areas of research that can open up when you combine rigor and creativity. Unbounded research will tend to be inter-disciplinary in nature. We need more unbounded creative research. This can be achieved through cross-fertilization. We need to “move to greater polyvalence, multidisciplinary and ‘multi-lens’ pluralism demands adoption of more balanced multiple onto-epistemologies through paradigm transcendence” (Lowe et al., 2005, p. 766). Simply put there is a need for more collaboration to push the boundary of research. Emerging markets may need a more exploratory approach to theory building (Zahra, 2007; London and Hart, 2004). Experimentation seems an avenue that can be further explored (Patton, 2012). So while the rest of the developed world wonders how it can be applicable to the emerging markets, researchers in these markets who are immersed here should push the boundaries of research (see Zahra, 2011 for some ideas and Tsui, 2007 to understand importance of contextualization).

This special issue on MENA wants to invite your inquisitive mind to the adventurous journey of creative exploration. The article by Balakrishnan provokes the reader to consider some challenges of researching in the MENA region and find solutions to overcome these obstacles. This paper has implications at a policy level, at an institutional level and at the individual level.

The second paper “The determinants of foreign direct investment in the Middle East North Africa region” by Tim Rogmans provided an in-depth study of the determinant of FDI in the MENA region. He applied a panel data approach to explore the main determinants of FDI for the period 1987-2008 for 16 MENA countries using OLS regression method. Traditional determinants of FDI such as market size, openness to trade, environmental risk, natural resource endowments and world energy prices in the previous year were examined. The results of the study indicate that market attractiveness, openness to trade and energy prices are positively and significantly related to FDI inflows in the MENA region. However, a country’s oil and gas reserves are negatively associated with its FDI performance. He suggested this result can be seen as a variant of the “Dutch Disease” or “resource curse”. The study did not find any association between FDI and environment risk for the MENA region. The paper has implications for policy making especially if the purpose is it to maximize the spillover effects from FDI.

Huang, Nandialath, Alsayaghi and Karadeniz in their paper “Socio-demographic factors and network configuration among MENA entrepreneurs” highlight an important area of research missing from MENA. Entrepreneurship is worldwide known to be a key employment generator and the paper’s findings reaffirm the importance of networking in a very connected world. The paper explores how the nature of advisory networks that entrepreneurs build while establishing their business is influenced by the entrepreneur’s socio-demographic factors as well as the different phases of establishing a business. The study was conducted using data from the MENA region and thus the findings are highly relevant for entrepreneurship development in the MENA region. The results of the study indicate that entrepreneur’s advisory network is limited to their family and close relations during the prospecting phase and subsequently during the starting phase the advisory network expands to include contacts with professional and market experts. The results also indicate that during the operating phase the network is restricted to only important and helpful members based on entrepreneur’s socio-demographic considerations. The finding of the study supports the importance of family networks for starting entrepreneurial ventures in MENA region and is in consonance with the cultural context of MENA region where family relationship is favoured. These findings are of importance as we research born globals and try to push scalability in entrepreneurial projects. This paper has implication for developing policies for governments in MENA region to foster entrepreneurship. In a region where the population has typically been supported by the government, starting entrepreneurial ventures could be a daunting task for an individual due to lack of necessary support. Governments in MENA region can support the development of advisory networks to support budding entrepreneurs. With the advent of social networking sites, the study opens the future research opportunities of understanding how entrepreneurs can benefit from using technology in social networking.

Jooste looked at ethics and earning management from a teaching point of view. She found that there is no significant difference between the perceptions of business managers and students regarding the morality of earnings management. More important there was subjectivity of evaluation based on amounts and timing. Since students adopt the attitudes of their professional reference group before they commence their professional careers this highlights the important role education can play in the classroom. With emerging markets and new accounting principles like Shariah compliant accounting principles there is a greater need to understand subtle nuances of what is ethical and are there shades of grey.

We hope that this small sample of papers will whet the appetite of emerging market researchers and that the future will see more research on MENA.


Melodena Stephens Balakrishnan, Naeem Muhammed, Arijit SikdarGuest Editors


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Further Reading

Stanley, T.D. (2005), “Beyond publication bias”, Journal of Economic Surveys, Vol. 19 No. 3, pp. 309–345

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