* Narratives are important tools in constructing an organization, and individual and collective narratives about key actors and critical events compete in defining the organization and making sense of the challenges faced in organizational change processes.
* This article introduces narrative interviewing and narrative analysis as qualitative methods relevant to international business research, with illustrations from a case study of a cross-border merger.
* Narrative interviews offer access to the plurivocal organizational world. A narrative analysis focuses on interviewees' story-work and how it constitutes organizational reality.
Many international business studies point to the fact that mergers and acquisitions often fail to deliver the benefits strived for, and that acquiring and merging across borders create many problems for the people involved (Buono/Bowditch 2003, Stahl/Mendenhall 2005). It is not only top managers who tend to frame mergers and acquisitions as integration processes: the majority of researchers within the field also adopt a fairly conventional integration perspective for understanding mergers and, moreover, apply methodological and analytical tools that do not necessarily capture the socio-cultural and political dynamics in complex organizational change processes.
There is, however, a growing interest among scholars within international business studies to apply qualitative research methods. Recently, this interest has been accentuated by the publication of a comprehensive handbook of qualitative research methods (Marschan-Piekkari/Welch 2004), introducing and reflecting on methodological issues related to all stages of the research process. This article introduces narrative interviewing and narrative analysis as qualitative methods and shows their potential relevance to field studies of international business issues. It draws on theoretical and methodological contributions within a cross-disciplinary field consisting of discourse analysis, narratology, organization studies and international business studies. Employing empirical illustrations based on a qualitative analysis of a large body of narrative interviews with key decision makers in four merging companies, this article aims to demonstrate how a narrative analysis provides a specific methodology for uncovering elements of integration, differentiation and fragmentation discourses (Martin 2002) in the interviews given and the company texts produced during the complex merger processes. The main questions addressed are: How can organizational change processes be studied through the stories told in the polyphonic organization? How can an analysis of narrative interviews shed light on different attempts to make sense of and give sense to critical events and actions?
The article is organized as follows. The introductory part includes sections on narrative and narrative discourse analysis. Subsequently, the research design is presented, including reflections on the organizational context in which the narrative interviews were conducted. Then follows an analysis of two narrative interviews with a focus on the narrators' selection and sequencing of events, their choice of focal actors among the organizational members, and their development of these actors' characters as part of specific plot constructions that fit well into their retrospective interpretation of a course of events and the obstacles they face. A concluding section summarizes some benefits of narrative interviewing and narrative analysis as qualitative methods in an international business research context, and reflects on potential limitations of a purely narrative approach.
Narratives and Story-work
Narratology is the theory of narrative texts. Narratologists distinguish between three layers (Bal 1985): the text itself as a system of linguistic signs, the fabula, and the narrative. …