Strategies and Methodologies in International Business and Comparative Management Research

By Schollhammer, Hans | Management International Review, Annual 1994 | Go to article overview

Strategies and Methodologies in International Business and Comparative Management Research


Schollhammer, Hans, Management International Review


During the past two decades international business operations have become massive in scale and are continuing their rapid expansion. Corrolary to this development is the ever increasing flow of publications that deal with a wide range of issues concerning international business and comparative management. The research effort which they reflect focuses, on the one hand, on the operations of multinational corporations and, on the other hand, on comparisons of managerial phenomena in different countries or regions. Conceptually it is possible to distinguish between international management (concerned with the management and operations of multinational firms) and comparative management (concerned with cross-cultural similarities and differences of management issues). However, from the point of view of a critical analysis of the related research the differentiation between international and comparative management is less discernible. In addition, the strategies and methodologies that researchers apply in the pursuit of knowledge in this area are very similar. This article focuses thus on the research effort in this broad domain and its purpose is a) to review selectively research on international business and comparative management issues from a methodological point of view, b) to evaluate the used techniques of inquiry in the light of the substantive-theoret significance of the findings, and c) to point out trends and research gaps.

The Magnitude of International Business and Comparative Management Research

The vast scope of the stated purpose becomes obvious if one reflects on the ever increasing number of publications that deal with a large variety of issues pertaining to international business and comparative management. The most extensive, specialized reference guide in this area is The International Executive, an abstract published since 1959 on a quarterly basis. The following Table 1 summarizes the number of publications that were referenced since 1959 when the field received a major impetus with the publication of Harbison and Myer's Management in the Industrial World and then with John Fayerweather's book Management of International Operations in 1960. These two books can now be considered as pathbreaking and they provide a perspective for the remarkable proliferation of the international business and the comparative management literature in the intervening twelve years.

The most significant publications tend to be referenced under the "general management" label and the figures in Table 1 reflect the growing number of contributors. Whereas only ten years ago a very small group of scholars were doing research on international business topics, this number has grown remarkably since then. It seems therefore appropriate to do some stock-taking of the development and present state of the field from a research point of view.

The Research Orientations

The very broad range of international business publications with a diversity of foci is difficult to classify(1). However, assuming that any contribution to the field that enhances knowledge may be called research one can, as a first approximation, group the research effort and the resultant publications into two broad categories: a) Those that aim primarily at the establishment of a theory by advocating various models, conceptual frameworks or typologies that can be used for developing hypotheses and for verifying or codifying relevant knowledge on international business and comparative management. b) Those that present primarily empirically derived information by describing, analyzing and evaluating factual data on international business issues.

Each of these two major research orientations has in turn various sub-categories. On the theory-building side the existing research publications can be grouped into two categories. There is, on the one hand, an endeavor to conceptualize, i. e., to develop models, frameworks or typologies as an aid for the systematic detection, explanation and evaluation of international business phenomena. …

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