* This paper offers a re-configuration of international business research by subjecting it to a postcolonial critique. This critique sees international business research as exhibiting continuities with the colonial project in the way it appropriates the Other.
* Qualitative research in international business often reproduces a neopositivist separation of theory and method, which can marginalize discussion of the important ontological, epistemological and political issues inherent in any research process.
* Merely calling for more qualitative research is not enough; research must become reflexive and aware of its ontological and epistemological assumptions, political positioning and ethical obligations.
Although international and comparative management and business (ICMB) research has been, and continues to be, dominated by the logic and methods of the natural sciences, and its instantiation in functionalist epistemology and neopositivist methodology, such an ideational hegemony has never gone completely unchallenged. The early ethnographic work of Abegglen (1958) and Dore (1973) on Japanese factory organization, Child's criticisms of the Aston School's culture-free thesis (1972), and Adler's (1984) methodological review represent "early" attempts to bring more qualitatively and ethnographically focused work into the field. The case for qualitative research in international business has been promoted more fully recently (Brannen 1996, Chapman 1997, Punnett/Shenkar 1996, Marschan-Piekkari/Welch 2004), focusing in particular on the challenges of the cultural, linguistic and institutional differences between researchers and respondents, and among researchers themselves.
A limitation, however, is that these challenges have been articulated with almost exclusive regard to the question of method. There is a tendency to restrict the agenda for opening up ICMB research to discussions of the need to more fully embed qualitative data collection methods in the discipline, with a concomitant presumption about enhancing academic rigor. The risk, though, is that research methods continue to be treated as merely neutral or technical solutions to data-gathering problems, derived from an abstractly determined theoretical position, in a manner that reinforces the neopositivist mainstream.
We challenge such a restrictive view since it occludes discussion of the wider ontological, epistemological and political issues inherent in any research process. Methodology, of any hue, is embedded in ontological and epistemological orientations and preferences, as well as the interests, motivations and values of the researcher, themselves situated in a historically, institutionally, culturally and ideologically informed context. (Qualitative) research methods are not innocent: they are political.
This paper, then, seeks to broaden the discussion of qualitative research in ICMB by addressing the issues of ontology, epistemology and methodology under the aegis of "qualitative methods". We suggest that, in the drive to discuss mere methods, the important political issues inherent in any discussion of epistemology and methodology are neglected. Such issues articulate the ideological and institutional conditions within which research takes place and affect what is considered legitimate and valuable research. In short, we suggest, approaches to research in international business, qualitative work included, often erase the political from the discursive arena.
In this paper, we use ideas from postcolonialism (1) to do two things. First, to draw attention to the neglected political aspects of qualitative research in ICMB. Second, to bring a new perspective to the debate on ICMB research. (2) Accordingly, we outline what is distinctive about postcolonialism, how it can be used to reinstate the political into qualitative research in the field, and what its methodological and practical implications might be for a reconfigured research process. We begin, however, by contextualizing recent interest in qualitative research in ICMB against the background of the so-called "legitimation crisis" in Western social science of the last few decades. We then consider the interpretivist underpinnings of qualitative research and their limitations, particularly their depoliticizing effects. An explanation of key ideas from postcolonialism follows, showing their capacity to politicize (qualitative) research in ICMB, through discussion of their epistemological and methodological commitments. Finally, we tease out the implications for a reconfigured qualitative approach to research the field.
The Functionalist Epistemic Context for ICMB Research
Vital to understanding the emergent interest in qualitative research in ICMB are wider debates about the logic, aims and objects of social scientific inquiry. Of particular relevance is the so-called "legitimation crisis" in the social sciences, articulated progressively since the early 1970s, which concerns the interrelated issues of ontology, epistemology and methodology. Until the early 1970s, the prevailing view was that the objectives and logic of the social sciences should be the same as those of the natural sciences (Giddens 1987). Although not an uncontested view,3 its ascendancy meant that pre-1970s social theory was dominated by Parsonian structural functionalism: a perspective, informed by biological discourse, of society as a (social) system, with a bias towards nomothetic and natural scientific methodologies.
This structural functionalist, positivist or neopositivist orthodoxy of the pre-1970s informed all the social sciences, organization studies included, and provided the ontological, epistemological and methodological context for the emergence of ICMB. In this intellectual milieu, it is hardly surprising that ICMB research, in search of legitimacy within the (social) scientific academy, should eschew the ideographic, particularistic methods of Weber and others, and embrace the nomothetic, universalistic approaches of Parsons and Durkheim. Under the aegis of contingency theory, and exemplified by the culture-free assertions of the Aston Studies (Pugh et al. 1963), a structural functionalist paradigm (Clegg/Hardy 1996) took center stage in ICMB research. It was given a particular shape by the economic(s) context of early work into international trade and development (4) issues, driven by the post-World War Two expansion of American businesses (Westwood 2004). At the heart of this economics-driven ICMB agenda was an equation of economic efficiency and rationalism with social development (see, for instance, Harbison/Myers 1959, Kerr et al. 1960), an assumption with profound implications for comparative management scholarship.
Taken together, these factors combined in early ICMB research to produce a set of universalistic tendencies that have, in several respects, become part of the orthodoxy of the field (Westwood 2004). First, and cemented by the Aston Studies, there was a kind of ontological universalism in which the elements of organization are taken to be objectively real and universal in nature, with only contingent differences and variations. Second, there was a presumption of a universal model of development based upon the economic rationalities of Western theorizing, best exemplified by the (economic) development theories of the 1960s. This crystallized into the "industrialization thesis" which asserted that a common pattern of organizational and societal changes would become manifest around the world as different countries embarked on the industrialization process (Harbison/Myers 1959). Third, it was presumed that the scientific method exemplified by neopositivist methodology was universally applicable, producing a prescribed set of conventions for investigating "truths" about social reality in a standardized manner that all social scientists could adopt regardless of location and context (see Donaldson 1996a).
The methodological consequences of the continuing ontological and epistemological dominance of functionalism and neo-positivism in today's international business academy are clear. Methods are adopted that fit the requirements for objectivity, neutrality and the separation of subject and object. Studies are atomistic and decontextualized, facilitating quantification and replication. Consequently and unsurprisingly, the vast majority of empirical studies in the ICMB field are quantitative (Peterson 2004). The preference for neopositivistic epistemology and related methods has, however, come under increasing scrutiny (Boyacigiller/Adler 1991, Westwood 2004, Wong/Mir 1997). The call is for methods more suited to the issues and problems the field faces--ones that do not damagingly decontextualize and that pay as much attention to external validity as internal (Marschan-Piekkari/ Welch 2004). For many, this means turning to qualitative methods, including those developed in anthropology and ethnography, more on which later.
Such calls continue largely unheeded and ICMB research remains steeped in its functionalist roots and accompanying neopositivist methodologies. This stands in stark contrast to developments in the social sciences generally, which have witnessed a profound challenge to the structural functionalist paradigm and wide acceptance of alternative paradigmatic possibilities and methodologies (Denzin/ Lincoln 2000, Taylor/Bogdan 1998). Even within ICMB's sister discipline of organization studies there has been increasing questioning of the legitimacy of equating social scientific pursuits with those of the natural sciences, the decontextualizing effects of positivistic methodologies, and of universalizing and totalizing narratives (e.g., Alvesson/Deetz 2000, Johnson/Duberley 2000, Westwood/Clegg 2003). Such critique has penetrated into the more mainstream arenas of organization studies, such as the (US) Academy of Management research methods division, which recently sponsored a special issue of the (typically) quantitative, positivist preserve Organizational Research Methods on interpretive genres and methods (see Prasad/ Prasad 2002). It has also resulted in the emergence of increasingly diverse theoretical and political perspectives in contemporary organizational analysis, including postcolonialism (Calas/Smircich 1999).
In this focused issue, the potential for qualitative research to act as an alternative to the functionalist epistemic context for ICMB is foregrounded. However, there are potential dangers in the pursuit of this "different direction", dangers that lie, inter alia, in the continued separation of theory and method, and the focus on method as technique divorced from its ontological and epistemological location. It seems that these "separations" prevail in much ICMB qualitative research, through the fetishization of method rather than epistemology, in such a manner that the kinds of political and ethical questions pursued in the recent history of organization studies are largely sidelined. Consequently, the conditions perpetuating the erasure of the representational, political and ethical engagements of research practice--in both positivist and qualitative research--persist. In the next section, we unpack this claim.
The Promise and Limitations of Interpretivism as an Alternate Paradigm
Whilst qualitative research is most frequently associated with an interpretivist paradigm (Burrell/Morgan 1979), the two are not isomorphic and the association not a necessary one. Indeed, qualitative research can serve a functionalist agenda, creating a kind of qualitative positivism, as Prasad and Prasad (2002, p. 6) label it. This notwithstanding, interpretivism has long offered an alternative paradigmatic position for the social sciences and is a more natural philosophical underpinning for qualitative research. We begin by outlining, briefly, our view of the two chief commitments of an interpretivist approach. (5) We go on to suggest
that mere calls for more qualitative work may not go far enough in reconfiguring ICMB research and may well fail to address the deeper epistemological challenges the field faces.
An inspection of what is subsumed under the label "interpretivist research" reveals a plethora of similar, but individually accented, accounts of its meaning. In Silverman's (1993) critique of five different logics of qualitative research, for example, he asserts that what fundamentally unites them is a commitment to worldviews that diverge radically from those with an objectivist epistemology. A particular set of ontological and epistemological standpoints represents the first feature of qualitative research. In the functionalist paradigm, neopositivist techniques rest upon a realist ontology and objectivist epistemology wherein the material world presumptively exists, independently of the consciousness of persons, and can be captured through objective observation and measurement. There is a radical separation of the subject and the object in neopositivist research (see Donaldson 1996a, 1996b, Johnson/Duberley 2000). It is assumed that the world so captured (as data) can be represented in an untrammeled way as a true and accurate depiction of reality, based on a correspondence philosophy of representation. Representation is thus taken to be a merely technical problem reliant on a neutral, economical language disconnected from epistemological issues.
The interpretivist paradigm, by contrast, often holds to a constructivist ontology and subjectivist epistemology. (6) The separation of subject and object is disavowed and reality is not seen as independent of apprehending persons and their symbolic systems (Johnson/Duberley 2000). Interpretivism is elementally concerned with textual and meaning-laden representations (van Maanen 1979) of the world and how they are produced, reproduced and/or transformed in the praxis of daily life. Interpretivist approaches are methodologically committed to interpreting the meanings of various forms of social action, meanings that together constitute a representational view of the world as text (van Maanen 1979).
The role of seeing the world from the respondent's or the actor's point of view is a second (albeit contested) commitment of qualitative research. According to Giddens (1976) researchers should draw upon the same sorts of resources as "laypeople" in making sense of the phenomena their investigation seeks to explain, producing a "local" perspective on lived experience. In this way the researcher does not occupy a privileged position with respect to the researched. Ethnographic approaches are often seen as the best method for addressing these objectives (Brannen 1996), since they typically assume that any social action we seek to understand is ineluctably embedded in and constituted by the specificities of historically, culturally, and discursively positioned local systems of meaning, and can only be understood in those terms (Hammersley/Atkinson 1995).
However, there are a number of dangers with this perspective. One danger lies in the unqualified assumption that in pursuing qualitative research, as an alternative to positivist research, one is already "being" critical, endowing interpretivism with an a priori form of critique. This is a rather naive chimera. For one, as Burrell and Morgan (1979) note, interpretivist research can result in mere "redescription" of the status quo of social and organizational life, rather than a critical inspection of it. It is a criticism mounted, for example, by those within radical humanist/structuralist paradigms who accuse interpretivists of reinforcing the status quo by ignoring the exercise of power and the propagation of hierarchies and inequalities in the social settings they investigate (Burrell/Morgan 1979). Ignoring these properties of social reality makes it impossible to change them for the betterment of the participants with whom the researcher engages. It is perhaps wise, though, not to hold too rigid a distinction between interpretivism and critique (Prasad 2002). There are examples of several works of interpretive organizational research in which authors specifically address "ethical and political questions about their own (and others') practice of the interpretive act itself" (Prasad/Prasad 2002, p. 7). Having said that, it is the case that in ICMB research, such forms of reflexivity have yet to take center-stage.
Similar points of criticism can be raised with regard to ethnography, viewed by many as the interpretivist approach par excellence. Traditionally, realist ethnography has most typically rested on a kind of "descriptive neutrality" (Hammersley 1992) often pursued by qualitative researchers in ICMB. In anthropology, such an approach has been severely and perhaps irredeemably undermined. Critics argue that description is always selective, taking only certain phenomena to be relevant and registering those phenomena as indicative of certain cultural categories. This descriptive selectivity depends on the researcher's frame of reference, their values and their interests and, as such, is deeply political (Clifford/Marcus 1986, Hammersley 1992). Ethnographic work can therefore be described as partial, in both senses of the word.
To redress this situation, a variant of ethnography labeled critical ethnography (Alvesson/Deetz 2000, Sharpe 2004, Thomas 1992) has emerged, which purports to go beyond mere description and seeks to speak on behalf of the researched so as to empower them and to facilitate transformative and emancipatory conditions. It aims to "describe, analyse, and open to scrutiny otherwise hidden agendas, power centres, and assumptions that inhibit, repress, and constrain" (Thomas 1992, pp. 2 et seq.). Such a politicizing view of the ethnographic enterprise has been most notably propounded at length by postcolonial theorists who explain and illustrate how anthropology was originally at the service of the colonial project. Ethnography was a product of the desire to describe and apprehend the cultures of those with whom the imperialist powers were coming into contact and seeking to understand and control (Asad 1973, Fardon 1990, Said 1978, Spivak 1999).
The capacity and the warrant of the Western researcher to presume to comprehend and represent their research "subjects" has proved, and continues to prove, a problem for ethnography, since it very often results in the kinds of orientalizing, exoticizing and marginalizing practices and processes which concern postcolonial writers. Prasad (2003) demonstrates such problematic ethnographic practices in relation to the figure of the native informant, in settings such as museums and tourism, arguing that the exoticization of the native can be viewed as an outcome of a contemporary ethnographic imagination in the West with its desire and fetishization of insights into "authentic" cultures.
A corollary point of criticism relates to the often unqualified acceptance and lack of problematization of the "actor's point of view" as some kind of "bearer of truth" in interpretive work. In seeking to deny their privileged position, qualitative researchers often legitimate the validity of their work with reference to the provenance of their accounts from the "native's tongue" (see Buckley/Chapman 1997, Harris 2000, for critical discussions of the use of native categories in management research). But "native" descriptions do not in themselves offer unitary, uncontested truths about reality. To assume so is to repeat the error of attributing a descriptive neutrality to social actors, to essentialize their meaning-making practices and to reintroduce by the back door ontological realism into ethnographic accounts. As both Bhabha (1994) and Nandy (1983) emphasize, all interpretive acts involve some kind of "translation" between the lifeworlds of researcher and researched, resulting in the co-creation of versions of subjective reality.
In short, the presumed descriptive neutrality of much (traditional) interpretive and ethnographic research, pursued in an often unqualified fashion by ICMB researchers who consider qualitative methods as a panacea for the problems of positivism, serves to disavow its own politics of production and representation. The frequent limitation of discussions of qualitative research to issues of method and the technical merits of various methodological techniques, ironically serves to reproduce the separation of theory and method characteristic of the functionalist mainstream of ICMB (see also McGaughey, this issue, who identifies a certain positive/ normative underpinning to qualitative ICMB research). As a result we avoid important reflexive and political questions about the interconnections of ontology, epistemology and methodology, and the productive contexts of our research, so ably dissected by critical writers on interpretive and postcolonial methods. Such questions need to be reinstated into qualitative ICMB research. We suggest that postcolonialism provides one avenue for this.
Reinstating the Political through Postcolonialism
In this section, we argue that the language, analytics and political impulses of postcolonialism offer an innovative way of re-instating the political dimension into qualitative research. It provides us with a lens through which to "re-view" and thereby to "re-present" what counts as good research in the field, and to redress the depoliticizing effects of unreflexive qualitative research. Through it, ICMB research can be read as an intellectual enterprise exhibiting continuity with the colonial project in terms of its: erasure of non-Western knowledge systems; universalizing tendencies; propagation of a particular, unitary form of scientific inquiry across the world; and its appropriating, essentializing and exoticizing strategies of representation, advanced in the name of legitimate knowledge. A postcolonial epistemology helps "locate" ICMB research, be it functionalist or interpretivist, in a particular historical, cultural and institutional context, and to see how the interests of such a location have permeated the field with problematic consequences.
Beginning with the notion that research is an exercise in the politics of representation, the ontological and epistemological standpoints that characterize post colonial theory can be articulated with reference to what many consider the seminal text in postcolonial theory, Said's (1978) Orientalism. The success of the work resides in its systematic and complex unraveling of the way in which Western scholars (historians, geographers, anthropologists, linguists, philologists) and others (writers, artists, curators, administrators) constructed knowledge of the "Orient" (7) (Gandhi 1998, Moore-Gilbert 1997). Said explored the sets of representations (categories, classifications, images) utilized by these scholars and commentators in producing accounts of the Oriental "other". In doing so, he emphasized the notion of the Orient as a cultural production rather than a mere reflection of an already existing reality. For him: "... as much as the West itself, the Orient is an idea that has a history and a tradition of thought, imagery, and vocabulary that have given it reality and presence in and for the West." (Said 1978, p. 5).
Orientalism is, therefore, a Western set of ontological assumptions, epistemological practices and cultural constructions, which serves to create its object of study. It is not a neutral, descriptive language for the representation of an already existing referent.
Said's point immediately challenges the ontological objectivism of functionalism and any research practice, including interpretivist and qualitative, that aspires to a separation of theory from method, object from subject, and research from the politics of representation. It also challenges any practice that assumes descriptive and representational neutrality and adherence to a correspondence theory of language and truth. Said explicitly rejects the pursuit of "pure" knowledge in a "disinterested" manner. Saidian postcolonial theory shows that the "object" of inquiry is brought into being through the interested epistemological practices, the language, and the concepts that the researcher brings to bare. As he argues, "ideas, cultures and histories cannot seriously be studied without their force, or more precisely their configurations of power, also being studied" (Said 1978, p. 5).
A central postcolonial position, then, is that the epistemological practices located in Orientalism form part of an exercise of power by which an active Western subject knows and masters a passive non-Western subject. In effect, Said's work documents the ways in which the former creates the discursive conditions by which they can govern and dominate the latter. It exposes the relations of power inherent in such systems of representation, masked through the presumed innocence and neutrality of scholarship and scientific research. Said's debt to Foucault is apparent: Orientalism is a form of Foucauldian discourse, a way of locating, structuring and regulating the Orient through the production of a series of minutely detailed "knowledges" of it. As Easthope and McGowan (1992, p. 243) point out: "... what occurs in the process of the production of these knowledges is the whole fictioning of a culture or cultural meanings which is regulated in such minute ways that it comes eventually to be regarded as natural."
This process of naturalization means that the ideological practices required to produce these knowledges are erased or repressed, such that the effect, the orientalized Other, is made to appear as a form of truth, "free" of ideological manipulation or political distortion. What Said shows is that the "naturalization" of the knowledge of the Other is neither neutral nor value-free. This, we submit, parallels the presumed neutrality and innocence, but inevitably interested and politicized nature, not only of neopositivist research, but of all research. We argue too that interpretivist qualitative research can also mask these political and ideological resources.
The political distortions and moral condemnations that characterize Orientalism have often been articulated around the notion of "progress". The discourse on "progress" that informed the colonial project suggested that: some "races" were inferior to others; colonizing powers had a moral obligation to assume control and help develop lesser peoples; the knowledge systems of such people were inferior; only the "developed" and educated people of the colonizing world were capable of producing valid knowledge; these "less developed" people (the subalterns) (8) should not be allowed to speak for themselves, until judged "progressed". This Enlightenment-based view of progress was, McClintock (1994) argues, one of the most tenacious tropes of colonialism. It produced, as Prasad (1997) explains, an elaborate series of hierarchical binaries, which constructed the West as "superior" and the non-West as "inferior" as illustrated in Table 1 below.
As Ashcroft et al. (1995) explain, "knowing" other people through this type of discourse underpinned imperial dominance and, more insidiously, became the mode through which the colonized were persuaded to know themselves. (9) The bitter dynamics of this process of positioning and "othering" are starkly elucidated by Fanon (1967), who also pointed to possibilities for resistance. In respect of this latter point, it is important to note that Said has been criticized for presenting Orientalism in a rather monolithic manner, one that: implies that the positioning strategies of Orientalism were always effective; casts the colonized as a perpetual victim; fails to account for variations in the operations of colonial and orientalist practice; and neglects forms of resistance, subversion, mimicry and hybridity with which the colonized actively responded to the colonizer (Bhabha 1994, Young 2001). Resistance is simultaneously co-produced as an effect of power, as any Foucauldian would likely suggest.
We argue that ICMB research can, in many respects, be read as exhibiting continuity with the colonial project, as partially described above, and hence be amenable to postcolonial analysis. ICMB research is not an innocent, detached, neutral activity--and its methods cannot be represented as such. It is essentially a Euro-American project directed at the rest of the world for the purposes of apprehension, prediction and control. Postcolonialism provides a means of interrogating these issues, exploring their epistemological and methodological consequences and highlighting the normalization and continued domination of the "West" over the "Rest". Let us illustrate how.
It is indisputable that the field has its genesis and most of its ongoing practice in the West and specifically in the Euro-American world. A perusal of almost any ICMB textbook reveals that the history of the field is unremittingly located in those domains and explained in terms of the economic and business interests emanating from them. Current US institutional dominance of the field takes form in everything associated with the production and dissemination of the "knowledge(s)" of the field, particularly the technologies and politics of publishing which maintain the academy's boundaries, and the extensive paraphernalia of teaching/learning that now has global penetration (Westwood 2004). The dominance of these practices, and the discourse that propagates and supports them, has effectively ensured the erasure (or cooptation) of almost all non-Euro-American alternatives and contributions and means that the research agenda is set almost entirely by the West, reflecting their interests and conceptualizations.
At the broadest level this echoes the imposed supremacy of Euro-American knowledge systems as exemplified and promulgated under the aegis of a particular "science" and "scientific method" now taken for granted, but which historical analysis shows was implicated in the colonial project and in supplanting and dismantling other knowledge systems (Harding 1991, Sardar 1988). In the political dynamics of colonial encounters, "science" was interpellated as a superior knowledge system and displaced or eradicated alternative, indigenous knowledge systems. (10) It provided the means for subjecting the Other to "scientific" scrutiny in order to appropriate and represent knowledge about that Other. Thus, in the manner of a Saidian analysis, the Other and their cultures and systems are appropriated and brought into being as a construction of and for the West, towards its pragmatic and political ends of effective management and control. The continuous positing and taken-for-grantedness of (positivist) "scientific method" as the epistemic position is made possible only by a certain forgetfulness of the historically and ideologically situated conditions that enabled it in the first place.
We maintain that the interests and motives of ICMB research can be interpreted in a similar fashion. Under the aegis of ICMB research, the socio-economic systems, and specifically the organizing systems, of others are similarly subject to Western scientific scrutiny in order to appropriate and apprehend them. The consequence is an orientalist practice that constructs a discourse in which the business and management systems of others are represented in ways that make them understandable to Western audiences and which then support business and trade practices designed to make use of that "knowledge" to secure economic, commercial and competitive advantage. This is not to condemn such practices so much as to reflect on the fact that most ICMB research, including qualitative research, frequently masks these political motives and their effects by pursuing methods that do not attend to them, and by engaging in a rhetoric of research that pretends to neutrality and sustains the separations of object-subject and theory-method discussed earlier.
The effects of this kind of research are multiple and only the more central ones can be considered here. In our view, the main consequence is the ongoing reproduction of representations of the management and business practices of others that are entirely shaped by the interests, motives, ideologies, values and theories of the dominant Euro-American powers without reference to the knowledge systems and understandings--let alone interests and values--of those of others. Such representations are a Western imaginary masquerading as knowledge. Essentializing practices are a key part of this effect (for a critical discussion of these, see Prasad 1997, Westwood 2001, 2004) whereby there is a tendency to eschew the diversities, variances and individuation apparent in any sociality through the deployment of categorical labels such as "the Chinese" or "the Latin".
This is a precise analogue of the orientalist practices that Said (1978) so minutely dissected. The point is not simply that these discourses essentialize, but that there is a consistent pattern of both exoticizing and diminishing the Other. As Prasad's set of binaries discussed earlier shows, the Other is always in the negative position of "lacking" something which the Western self possesses in apparent abundance. The Other is constructed negatively as constituting a deficiency or a danger, but at the same time an image of self is co-constructed, and inevitably that image is one of superiority, plenitude, power and capacity. Discourses of alterity, like ICMB research, are therefore relational discourses based on the deployment of oppositional binaries through which the West and the non-West are mutually constituted in an asymmetrical fashion. Through this process the West constructs a discourse which legitimates its presumed dominance and provides a rationale for powerful engagement with and intervention into the world of the Other. In parallel fashion, Western business interests are provided with a presumed (often universalizing) knowledge enabling them to intervene and dominate in international business contexts, to continue their global expansion and (typically) ignore their ethnocentrism.
Implications for Qualitative Research Practice
The prime implication of a postcolonial perspective is a radical re-configuration of the field through a reassessment of its ontological, epistemological and ethical presumptions and foundations. It encourages a paradigmatic shift away from the structural functionalism and neo-positivism that have dominated the field, and challenges any naive interpretivism as a methodological rejoinder to it. Whilst it might be suggested that ICMB research is only at phase two of the seven movements of qualitative research identified by Denzin and Lincoln (2003)--a "modernist" phase comprising attempts to systematize and formalize qualitative research in ways that bring it closer to the criteria of normal science--the challenge is not simply to turn to more qualitative methods, and certainly not to bring in by the back door neo-positivist criteria of evaluating qualitative research. The more urgent imperative is to address the ontological, epistemological and ethical bases on which research in the field is founded, to dissolve any lingering separation of theory and method, and thereupon to pursue a more qualified use of qualitative methods. In addressing this imperative, it is useful to summarize explicitly and discuss what our partial outline of postcolonialism might stand for in terms of the reconfiguration of the research field. We begin with two key points:
--The figure of the Other--a central trope in ICMB research--is a "cultural production", made ontologically possible by the discourses of the researcher and their institutional location; it is not an independently existing, a priori referent. A postcolonial approach pursues a subjectivist view of ontology.
--Its epistemology(-ies) reject(s) any universalist and unitarist view of science, revealing the Western orthodoxy's reliance on its specific historical, ideological and cultural locations. This opens a space for the recognition of viable alternative knowledge systems and local voices operative within their own locations, typically explored using critically-inspired ideographic methods, for example critical ethnography.
Expanding on this latter point, at a minimum, local self-representations should be taken account of and ideally become the prime resource driving research conceptualizations and practice. This in turn has additional challenging commitments (again, see Buckley/Chapman 1997, Harris 2000). First, indigenous researchers from within non-Western contexts need to be given more opportunities to engage in their own research practice. This is particularly important to redress the balance of (etic) studies being conducted from external locations, with more truly emic studies that provide substantive and detailed analysis of single countries or cultural groups. Changes in the editorial policy and practices of mainstream journals would be important in facilitating the development and publication of such perspectives. Second, the engagement of research participants in the research process is vital, with the level of engagement ranging from the scanning and agreeing of interpretations, to co-authorship, and, as is increasingly popular, the formation of multinational research teams, or other cross-cultural research arrangements (Marschan-Piekkari/Welch 2004). Whether in the role of respondent, or as co-researcher, the involvement of local cultural members in participatory, cooperative research practices has a long history (Reason 1994, Torbert 1976) which parallels developments within feminist methodology (Fine 1992, Fonow/Cook 1991).
Such inclusive practices set out to guard against the researcher adopting an unreflexive "God's eye" perspective. These approaches are compatible with Lincoln's (1995) injunction that the degree of reciprocity between researcher and researched should be an explicit criterion for judging whether research is good or not, and with Wray-Bliss's (2002) assertion that researchers should be fully accountable for what they investigate and the effects research might have on subjects. Such co-constructive endeavors will, perhaps inevitably, result in researchers having to deal with dissenting or challenging voices whose views or experiences diverge either from the perspective of the researcher, the consensus view of a researched group, or from others in a cross-cultural team. Wray-Bliss (2002) recommends the inclusion of such contradictory viewpoints in our texts, and warns against the potential for researchers to appropriate or distort research findings by erasing or smoothing over such contradictions. A further two points are salient:
--Postcolonial theory also fundamentally rejects the idea that science is a neutral practice that delivers an unencumbered truth and insists on the culturally distinctive interests and particular discursive resources of the societies producing any research practice and its outcomes (Harding 1996). It this in this sense that, as we have noted, research is an exercise in the politics of representation.
--Postcolonialism raises important questions about the cultural, ideological and political position of the researcher and the knowledge systems they rely upon, their warrant to presume to scrutinize, appropriate and represent the researched, and the consequences that may derive from any research practice. Particular attention is to be paid to the ethical consequences of research practice in terms of its portrayal of the Other. Avoidance of essentialisms, exoticisms and universalisms is paramount.
ICMB researchers need to inspect their warrant and legitimacy in apprehending and representing the Other and to consider whether they are equipped to research across linguistic and cultural (11) divides in the first place. Taking a standpoint perspective, it might be suggested that researchers should not consider researching "across the difference" when their own identities are sufficiently different from those they research (Wray-Bliss 2002). Spivak (1990), however, rejects this stance as "nativism" or "reverse ethnocentrism" and asserts the value of the Western researcher addressing these issues. Western researchers might do more to articulate and make clear the relationship between researcher/researched and between subject/object in their research. They can, for instance, make their own interests, status and identities clear in research texts, for example in the methodology section, and give a more concerted and contextualized account of the status of the researched. Not reflecting on these issues implicitly suggests, as Wray-Bliss (2002) argues, that the partiality of knowledge and the impact of our values and interests are not important enough to merit explicit consideration by our readers.
These are, we submit, commitments that any reconfigured research in the field needs to address. A postcolonial research practice, then, seeks to resist unreflexive, universalizing, essentializing and exoticizing tendencies and to pursue methods and modes of representation that are reflexive about their own conditions and effects and/or which allow for a more inclusive and polymorphous approach to knowledge and knowledge practices. Crucially then, qualitative approaches to ICMB research can take on a postcolonial hue in their articulation of theory and method, as part of an epistemic reflexivity, to use Johnson and Duberley's term (2003, p. 1295), which "encourages the overt recognition of the importance of the management researcher's habitus". Embedding the kinds of ontological, epistemological and political concerns outlined above in one's research design and deployment of method is what makes postcolonial theory distinctive for researchers in ICMB. Such epistemic reflexivity is, however, challenging in practical terms. To quote Johnson and Duberley (2003, p. 1296): "... whilst epistemic reflexivity encourages researchers towards praxis, to work at the nexus of theory and practice, and to critically assess their role in doing this, it should not be assumed that its implementation is easy ... In sum, epistemic reflexivity does not provide any simple solutions, nevertheless it does sensitize us to the existence of an array of problems, their dynamics and implications."
In coming to the end of this paper, and bearing the caveats above in mind, it might be useful to suggest how a researcher, new to but convinced of the importance of postcolonial work, and institutionally located, say, in the North American context, might embed a postcolonially-inspired epistemic reflexivity into their research approach (see Prasad 1997, Mir et al. 2003, Mirchandani 2004 for fuller examples of postcolonial organizational analysis). Let us say this researcher was about to prepare a case study of a US multinational company acquiring manufacturing facilities in China, with an interest in organizational behavior and human resource management issues from a comparative perspective. We would suggest that the researcher consider the following issues before, during and after the data collection process.
First, the researcher needs to reflect upon his/her own location(s) in a geographical, institutional, historical and cultural sense. What is his/her own position and status, and what relations of difference do they constitute relative to those they intend to investigate? The researcher should surface and reflexively present the cultural, ideological and knowledge resources that he/she inevitably draws upon to formulate any engagement with the research participants.
Second, the location(s) of the research participants, in this case both the US MNC and the Chinese manufacturing facility, needs to be considered in order to contextualize the study in historically, culturally and politically sensitive ways. For instance, the researcher needs to consider the power asymmetries that might be deemed to be present in US-China relations in general and US-Chinese organizational relationships in particular. In this regard, considerations of American economic and cultural imperialism, for which the activities of the MNC might act as a vehicle, should provide an important source of reflection. By the same token, asking questions about the role of the Chinese government in inducing social and economic transformation, and its impact on social stratification in the country, might also point to the complicity of Chinese elites in forging relationships with MNCs. Researchers might ask how the relationship between the MNC and the various Chinese protagonists in the case might reflect or reproduce neo-colonial practices. The third issue for researchers relates to the motivation for their study. What are the outcomes likely to be, and how are these outcomes likely to be construed and made use of by different stakeholders? On whose behalf is the research being conducted, and how might its dissemination reproduce existing power relations and asymmetrical neo-colonial relationships within the academy?
Fourth, researchers should consider how they might ensure that local forms of self-representation are embedded into their research design, and that the variability of these insider positions is respected and maintained. It is important to pursue inclusive research practices that engage local participation so as to avoid the appropriative and essentializing strategies so prevalent in neopositivist research in ICMB. The researcher must carefully consider the level of involvement of locals in the research process, with particular attention to those normally marginalized, and the degree of influence in all aspects of the research process from design to write-up. A minimal strategy in this regard might be the inclusion of local academics, or the formation of a cross-cultural research team, in which data collection can be discussed, interpretations challenged and co-publication encouraged. Whilst such a strategy is desirable in many respects it offers only a partial solution and has its own difficulties, not least of which are the separations constituted by language differences that can acutely problematize locating agreed meanings and interpretations of research processes and outcomes (see, for example, Welch/Piekkari, this issue). It is, furthermore, vital to remain reflexively aware of the possible consequences of such engagements of participants and local researchers in the research process. This is especially acute in contexts where there is political sensitivity and a history of mistrust associated with research activity: as there is in China (see Nojonen 2004). The researcher needs to assess the risks of the research process activating power effects that may further retard the position of the less privileged members of the community. It would be part of the reflexive commitments of the researcher to assess those risks and act accordingly--including remaining silent and not broadcasting research outcomes if negative consequences for participants appear likely.
Finally, when writing up the case, the researcher should be careful about his/her "author-ity" and the effects of his/her writing, making sure to reflect their interests and status as a researcher based in the North American context. In addition to avoiding essentialisms and exoticisms, the researcher should take care not to deploy colonialist binaries of the type presented in Table 1 of this paper. Such issues should form part of a more general contemplation by the researcher of the consequences of his/her research and its dissemination (see also McGaughey, this issue) for the various participants, and the broader implications of the case study for the reproduction of neo-colonial relations in international business.
In conclusion, then, we think it is important to underline that it would be inappropriate, and indeed impossible, to suggest that there exists some kind of "essential" postcolonial research method, or research protocol, which magically addresses and "solves" the kinds of issues we discuss in the third section of this paper. Looking for a "technical" solution to a set of epistemological problems is not only to misunderstand the commitments engendered by a postcolonial perspective, but also to replicate the very separation of theory and method which we have criticized. This is not to suggest that we should stop discussing methods altogether, rather that the implications of our paper for research practice cannot be solely contained in a set of technicist recommendations. Instead, as we hope to have demonstrated in this final section, they point to the importance of embedding an epistemic reflexivity, morphed by a set of postcolonial theoretical ideas, into future international business research.
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(1) We acknowledge that postcolonialism is not a homogeneous perspective, but is subject to diversity and contention. For overviews see, for example, Young (2001) or Moore-Gilbert (1997).
(2) The application of postcolonialism to the field is in its infancy. For prior examples see Prasad (2003) and Westwood (2001).
(3) For example, interpretivist and naturalistic approaches of, for instance, symbolic interactionism and ethnomethodology, represent counterpoints.
(4) The pragmatic concern was to ensure that overseas markets were sufficiently developed to meet the burgeoning international trade demands of US business.
(5) We recognize that interpretivism is a generic label for what is, in fact, a diverse set of practices (see footnote six below).
(6) The phrases qualitative, interpretivist and constructivist are often conflated. However, some point to distinctions. For instance, Schwandt's well-known contribution to Denzin and Lincoln's Handbook of Qualitative Research argues that it is the users intent that shapes the "particular meanings" of the two terms (1994, p. 118). He also argues that whilst both have a common philosophical heritage, constructivism speaks to more recent developments in research philosophy, and is concerned with slightly different issues than interpretivism. The latter is positioned primarily as a foil to "logical empiricist methodology and the bid to apply that framework to human inquiry" (Schwandt 1994, p. 125), whilst constructivists take a wider remit, with "their particular foils (being) the notions of objectivism, empirical realism, objective truth and essentialism" (ibid). Our statement that the interpretivist paradigm typically holds to a contructivist ontology and subjectivist epistemology works, only in part, with Schwandt's distinction and is shaped by our different intent to his. We intend, for rhetorical purposes, interpretivism to stand for the broad church that is qualitative research. However, we do ascribe to Schwandt's description of the ontological basis of constructivism, as outlined above. We would argue that as a more recent approach to human inquiry, constructivism is most frequently articulated as the ontological basis of much contemporary qualitative research.
(7) Although some analysis focuses on what might typically be understood as the orient, in effect the analysis tends to extend to everything that was not Europe.
(8) The term 'subaltern' was originally coined by Gramsci to refer to those elements of society that were subject to the hegemony of the ruling class. It was adapted by a group of primarily Indian scholars to denote the general attribution of subordination of sectors of society, including colonial and neo-colonial subordination. Subaltern historians in particular drew attention to the difficulty of subaltern groups speaking and accounting for themselves since the space for such accounts and explanations was dominated by western historical and other discourses. Only those Western accounts were accepted as legitimate and valid (see, for example, Chaturvedi 2000, Guha 1982).
(9) This interpolation of modes of self-knowing was very much the point of the subaltern studies project.
(10) A note of caution about this totalising account of Western science's role must be exercised. Some have noted that Western science actively drew upon and made use of the knowledge systems of those colonised, but that this debt was also repressed and rarely acknowledged (Mendelsohn/ Elkana 1981, Prakash 1999).
(11) By extension, across gender, class and other divides too.
Manuscript received July 2004, revised February 2005, final revision received August 2005.
Gavin Jack, Reader in Culture and Consumption, Management Centre, University of Leicester, Leicester, United Kingdom.
Robert Westwood, Associate Professor, Business School, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia.…