AT THE START OF THE 1999 ABC European Convention in Helsinki, Finland, Professor Jan Ulijn raised the question "What may Europe contribute to international innovation in business communication?" With well over half the conference attendees from Europe, this conference provided many specific answers to that question--e.g. new perspectives on language, debate regarding International Business English, and new modes of collaboration, the European Union being one dramatic model. The conference also raised questions regarding innovation in business communication research and teaching as well as in the way we function as an association of scholars and teachers. Several of these questions are considered here.
Is there any topic in business communication teaching or research that is not in some way international? Is any teaching unit in business communication fully developed if its focus is solely domestic? Can a business communication research topic be considered significant if it has no relevance to the global competitive environment in which businesses operate? Can a literature review be truly complete if it does not include scholarship worldwide? Such questions recall the "Buy American" campaign that strong automotive labor unions mounted some years back near my home, namely the Detroit Metropolitan area of Southern Michigan in the United States. Of course, unions intended that this campaign would activate US citizens to buy cars, trucks, and recreational vehicles from so-called US companies such as General Motors, Ford Motor Company, and Chrysler. But, in retrospect, the campaign was silly: Chrysler is now Daimler/Chrysler, a German-US company that, like General Motors and Ford, buys and produces vehicles all over the globe. As Thomas, Pollock, and Gorman recently observed, "products today may be designed in one country, fabricated in a second, assembled in a third, and sold throughout the world" (1999, p. 70). Indeed, even small local and regional companies are impacted by the global market economy--a regional box company in Dayton, Ohio, may obtain paper products, paints and glues, and printing presses from suppliers worldwide; moreover, their competition may just as easily come from a company in another country as a company across town. "Buy American" is clearly a thing of the past.
If the presentations at the 1999 ABC European Convention are any measure, then we could safely say that business communication research and teaching are not suffering from a "Buy American" myopia. For example, Nigel Reeves reminded us that globalization brings a need for new research instruments, such as the analytical system he called "linguistic auditing," which treats communication as a corporate system; Carson Varner explicated the increasing complexity of business agreements via e-mail, phone, fax, and face-to-face discussion given legal variations country-to-country; and Hiromitsu Hayashida, Toshihiko Miura, and Shunitsu Nakasko used survey data from Japanese subsidiaries in Singapore and Malaysia to show ways the communication problems businesses face today differ from those in a less global marketplace.
Yet it does not hurt to consider how completely our business communication teaching and research reflect the global business environment. Do our class writing and speaking activities prompt students to consider content development, organizational approaches, business grammar, and issues of visualization from a global perspective in which various cultural interpretations come into play? Do our cases adequately represent the challenges of cross-cultural and cross-border exchange that our students can expect to face at work? And, to what extent do our research questions address the new globalism? Indeed, do our literature reviews incorporate discoveries by scholars worldwide--is it possible to have a complete list of references, for example, that does not include publications in two or more languages?