Sub-Theme 22: Economic and Institutional flux and the power of MNCs: towards a greater appreciation of the role of politics
University College Dublin, Ireland
University of Jena, Germany
University of Durham, UK
Maria Jesus Belizon
University College Dublin
Centro Universitário Belo Horizonte, Brazil
Call for papers
Our understanding of the role of power and politics in MNCs has advanced considerably in recent years. A number of seminal studies that include both research monographs and edited collections, as well as articles in leading journals, have made great strides in critically addressing the role of social actors and institutions in order to better understand the power of MNCs and power relations within MNCs (e.g. Kristensen and Zeitlin, 2005; Dörrenbächer and Geppert, 2011, 2017; Geary and Aguzzoli, 2016). Many of these works have brought together theories from various schools of thought, including international management, neo-institutionalism, comparative institutionalism, economic sociology, political science and critical management.
This appreciation of the role of power and power dynamics within MNCs follows from a general neglect of considerations of power, particularly from scholars within international business. However, we can now claim with some confidence that our understanding, on both a meso- and a micro-political level, of how different interests and access to variable and shifting power resources play out to create barriers and resistance to change and innovation within MNCs is considerably enhanced.
That being said, in attempting to correct for erstwhile shortcomings in the literature, scholars may arguably have ‘over-corrected’. We point to two areas in particular where we believe the literature is incomplete and under-theorised. First, a focus on power and the multinational company has arguably led us to over-state or at least over-emphasize the power of MNCs to the neglect of the power resources of other actors, including the state. Thus we call for considerations of the boundaries or limits of MNC power, particularly as it might fluctuate across different institutional regimes and phases of the economic cycle from periods of growth and expansion to times of flux and crisis. Second, and relatedly, a great deal of the literature focuses on power relations within the MNC as competing interests within management or between management and subsidiaries are played out. The unit of analysis has thus typically been the company. There has been comparatively less focus on how power is resourced from outside the MNC to influence relations within it. Here we are pointing, in particular, to the interface between institutions, especially institutions of the state, and the company. We are thus calling for a multi-level analysis of the dynamics of power.
In light of this neglect in the literature, we identify a wide range of open questions which need to be further studied and addressed. In this sub-theme, we would like to explore two interrelated dimensions of the MNC as a politicised organisation.
First, we are interested in the macro-political level of analysing the power and politics of the MNC. Questions to be addressed here include the power of MNCs and the limits of MNCs’ power in relation to the host countries in which their subsidiaries are based. In the literature, such power relations are often observed as being ‘asymmetrical’ (Geppert and Clark, 2006) or ‘hegemonic’ (Levy, 2009), especially where Western MNCs enter non-Western (emerging) economies. Indeed many observers view the power of MNCs and the pursuit of their interests as being “pathological” (Bakan, 2004) and “amoral” and “unaccountable” (Chomsky, 2000). While we accept that this is often the case, we would welcome submissions where such observations are queried and challenged particularly as they might relate to the newly emerging ‘transnational social spaces’ (Morgan, 2001) of Latin America, Africa and Asia, and also as they might need to be reformulated to take account of shifting geopolitical forces. Thus we do not expect the power of actors – state or MNCs – to be fixed, but rather they can be expected to vary across ‘institutional spaces’ and over time as economic circumstances and associated power resources shift. We welcome studies that are conducted particularly at periods of disjunctive flux where the ‘rules-of-the-game’ come to be rewritten and power resources redistributed in significantly new fashions.
Second, we are interested in understanding the power relations and political strategies of key players (management, employees and their representative organisations) at the interface of the macro-, meso- and micro-political levels. Accordingly, we welcome studies that conceive of the MNC and its institutional context as a ‘contested terrain’ (Edwards and Belanger, 2009; Geary and Aguzzoli, 2016), as different actors within and beyond the MNE seek to identify and exploit any available ‘institutional space’ for their advantage.
At the 7th LAEMOS Colloquium we therefore wish to explore the role of key actors (players), conflicting perceptions and sense-making, resistance to change, the influence of dominant ideologies as well as of national and transnational institutions which operate to constitute and shape power relations and political arenas within internationally operating firms. We are interested in original ideas and approaches generated in both Latin America, Europe, and further afield. We particularly welcome studies of emerging economy MNCs. We invite contributions in different languages (English, Spanish and Portuguese) to create a critical dialogue bridging the different experiences and knowledge of scholars from around the globe about the politicised MNC and the political influences of MNCs in different local contexts. Topics of interest, but not limited to these, are:
What is the meaning of power and politics within the context of internationalisation and the MNC?
What are the rationales and ideologies of powerful key actors who influence the power of and in MNCs?
Are the differences in the ways in which the power games of and within MNCs are played related to different home country and industry backgrounds?
How does the cross-border transfer of management practices respond to blockages and impediments at the local level?
Who are the key actors who shape organisational power relations and how can this be studied as a political sense-making process?
What methodological and data collection challenges do researchers face in studying political relations within and beyond the MNC?
Might it be desirable to integrate different theoretical perspectives to better understand the roles and behaviours of MNCs? If so, how might this be done? If not, why not?
To what extent are current theoretical constructs within international business and organisation studies, which have been developed predominantly in Western societies, capable of capturing the nature of power and politics in MNCs in or from emerging economies? If they are not, what new constructs or approaches are needed?
We welcome analyses of diverse areas of MNC management policy-making and practice, management-subsidiary relations, company and state and non-state actors’ relations, and management-employee relations, in an analytical context which places power relations centre-stage.
Abstracts should be about 1000 words in length (including references), set in A4 page layout, single spaced and in 12 point font. They should be uploaded and registered at the conference site www.laemos2012.org by September 15, 2017. Notification of acceptance will be provided by October 15, 2017. Full papers (max 6000 words) for inclusion in the Conference Proceedings are due by February 1, 2018.