Think Global, Act Local: From Naive Comparison to Critical Participation in the Teaching of Strategic International Human Resource Management

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In this paper, we examine the implications of ethnocentrism and paternalism in teaching approaches for the field of strategic international human resource management (SIHRM), as an example of management studies. We argue that the teaching of SIHRM has been approached in a colonizing fashion, joining and extending the territories of human resource management and organizational strategy through the definition and teaching of a new language and conceptual vocabulary. We explore philosophical approaches and processes involved in teaching SIHRM, and consider implications of pedagogical developments in this field of management education.

A major aspect of international management is based in the field of strategic international human resource management (SIHRM) (Schuler, Dowling & De Cieri, 1993; Taylor, Beechler & Napier, 1996), which is essentially focused on strategic human resource management in multinational enterprises (MNEs). In this paper, we argue that issues identified in critiques of the development and teaching of international management, and, in particular, SIHRM, raise issues and questions that are also important in the more general context of managing teaching internationally. Are we walking our theoretical talk? How might we guard against the oversimplifications of naivete, the narrow exclusiveness of ethnocentrism or even the patronization of paternalism in teaching internationally? Rather than attempt to judge or to provide standards for evaluation, our purpose is to introduce questions and terminologies that may assist in encouraging reflexive discussion and debate. The aim of this paper is, therefore, twofold; first, to introduce the subject area of SIHRM and to articulate some of the theoretical and pedagogical critiques that are relevant to that subject area, and second, to draw on this analysis to reflect on our own teaching and to raise questions that may also be of interest to others.

The Development of SIHRM

The field of SIHRM (Milliman, Von Glinow & Nathan, 1991; Schuler et al., 1993; Taylor et al., 1996) emerged from the study of human resource management. An early extension of HRM was the inclusion of attention to cross-cultural issues (see, for example, Laurent, 1986). Since then, the broader consideration of HRM in multinational enterprises has been defined as international HRM (IHRM; Dowling, Welch & Schuler, 1999; Edwards, Ferner & Sisson, 1996; Teagarden &Von Glinow, 1997). While HRM is relevant within a single country, IHRM addresses added complexity due to diversity of national contexts of operation, the inclusion of different national categories of workers (Tung, 1993), and co-ordination across national borders via the cross-national transfer of management and management practices (e.g., Gregersen, Hite & Black, 1996). A related area of research has developed in comparative HRM research (Brewster, Tregaskis, Hegewisch & Mayne, 1996). In parallel with (and not unrelated to) the internationalization of HRM has been the increasing recognition of the importance of linking HRM policies and practices with organizational strategy in a domestic (single-country) context (Becker & Gerhart, 1996; Wright & McMahan, 1992).

As researchers and practitioners have paid increasing attention to the strategic nature of IHRM and the implications for organizational performance (Caligiuri & Stroh, 1995), we have witnessed the emergence of SIHRM, which has been defined as"human resource management issues, functions, and policies and practices that result from the strategic activities of multinational enterprises and that impact the international concerns and goals of those enterprises" (Schuler et al., 1993, p. 422).

Schuler et al. (1993) presented an integrative framework of SIHRM, in which they acknowledged that a fundamental issue is the tension between the needs for global co-ordination (integration) and local responsiveness (differentiation) (Doz & Prahalad, 1991; Nohria & Ghoshal, 1994). …