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  • Subject index

This Handbook presents a comprehensive and contemporary compendium of the field of cross-cultural management (CCM). In recognition of current trends regarding migration, political ethnocentrisms and increasing nationalism, the chapters in this volume not only cover the traditional domains of CCM such as expatriation, global (virtual) teamwork and leadership, but also examine emerging topics such as bi/multi-culturalism, migration, religion and more, all considered from a global perspective. The result is a Handbook that acknowledges and builds on a variety of research traditions (from mainstream to critical), updates existing knowledge in relation to current challenges, and sets the direction for future research and developments, making this an invaluable resource for researchers in the field, and across related areas of international business, management, and intercultural relations. Part 1: ...

Critical Perspectives on Cross-Cultural Management
Critical perspectives on cross-cultural management
Laurence Romani Mehdi Boussebaa Terence Jackson

Broadly speaking, critical cross-cultural management (CCM) research is a stream of studies that examines the various ways in which power permeates intercultural situations and corporate efforts to manage them. Underpinning it is the view that the ‘cross-cultural’ and its management are not neutral phenomena, but rather imbued with power relations. These power relations are seen to be rooted in both society and materiality, for example in societal ideas about given countries or ethnic groups, and in material conditions such as the weight of commercial relationships between countries.

Thus, rather than approaching intercultural situations as influenced by objective cultural values and cultural dimensions (as positivist studies tend to do, see Sackmann, in this volume), or as the expression of cultural sense-making (as interpretivist studies tend to do, see Gertsen and Zølner, in this volume), critical studies instead look to uncover relations of power associated with the notion of cultural differences and managerial actions that deal with this difference (see Jackson, 2011; 2012; Boussebaa and Morgan, 2014; Boussebaa et al., 2014; Primecz et al., 2016; Romani et al., 2018a, Mahadevan et al., 2020). For instance, critical CCM studies ask how colonial discourses shape multicultural workplaces (Muhr and Salem, 2013) and cross-cultural work arrangements such as offshore outsourcing (Ravishankar et al., 2013).

Critical CCM studies also approach the concept of culture differently from positivist and interpretivist streams of studies; culture is not seen as primarily cognitive, for example in the form of values or meanings. Rather, for critical CCM scholars, the concept of culture must be approached with attention to political and economic institutions, structures and processes, discourses and ideologies, and the dynamics that have ensured the spread and dominance of certain geographically originated cultural forms throughout the globe (see Frenkel and Shenhav, 2003; Jack et al., 2008; Jackson, 2012; Mahadevan et al., 2020). Thus, for critical researchers, the concept of culture and the academic knowledge of ‘culture’ comprise associated power relations, and the aspects that contribute towards the nature of those relations, such as economic, military and political factors (see Westwood and Jack, 2008). Non-critical theories tend to downplay the role of ‘social structures and economic influences upon culture’ (Kelly, 2014, p. 359) and CCM broadly appears to have indeed abstained from addressing global power dynamics (Jack et al., 2008; Jackson, 2012; 2014a; Boussebaa and Morgan, 2014). Critical scholars will argue that in order to understand culture and its effects, we need to understand the social and material context in which ideas are formulated. In addition, knowing that factors such as social class, race and gender influence ideas, communication, and thus culture, means that culture cannot be studied in isolation. In critical CCM, intercultural interactions and the concept of culture are therefore approached at the intersection of multiple aspects, such as race, language, gender or religion (see e.g. Mahadevan, 2012; Boussebaa et al., 2014; Özkazanç-Pan, 2015; Primecz et al., 2016).

Finally, critical CCM studies also problematize the scholarly field of CCM itself (Jack and Westwood, 2009). For instance, its promotion of English as a ‘lingua franca’ for CCM scholars and thus its contribution ‘to the cultural-linguistic imperialism that Englishization sustains’ (Jackson and Primecz, 2019, p. 118). In a nutshell, critical CCM approaches CCM theory and practice as embedded in power inequalities, considering historically constituted structural and discursive forms of possible oppression but also resistances, agency and emancipation.

This chapter simply offers a short introduction to critical CCM: we do not claim an authoritative voice on this diverse stream of studies, nor do we offer a unified story of their origin or establish a definitive approach to critical CCM. We proceed as follows. First, we position critical CCM in a broader tradition – critical management studies (see Alvesson and Willmott, 1992; Fournier and Grey, 2000; Adler et al., 2007) – and focus our discussion on meta-theoretical themes in this tradition. Simply put, critical CCM studies tend to see the social world as characterized by power imbalance (in their inclination to the sociology of radical change) and aim for a change for the better (agenda of emancipation). To show existing power imbalance, researchers engage in questioning the taken for granted (with de-naturalization) and, simultaneously, reflect on their role in reproducing power imbalance when developing knowledge (concern with reflexivity and performativity). Next, we present major streams of research within critical CCM, namely interpretivist studies adopting a critical agenda, Marxist analyses and postcolonial studies. Finally, with the help of two examples, we elaborate on what is currently one of the most distinctive methodological and theoretical contributions of critical CCM to the broader field of CCM: de-naturalization. The first example challenges hidden ideological premises in the CCM field in its approach to globalization and indigenous knowledge, and thus questions the taken-for-granted political neutrality and objectivity of CCM studies. The second example revisits CCM studies’ endeavour to investigate the influence of national culture on organizations and managers and invites CCM researchers to consider new research questions. The chapter concludes with a short discussion of possible actions for a more democratic diffusion of CCM knowledge and future theoretical challenges for critical CCM studies.

What Kind of Studies are Critical CCM Studies?

Behind critical CCM lies critical management studies (CMS), a wider effort to develop a critical approach to the study of management. Formulated by, among others, Alvesson and Willmott (1992) and inspired by various critical theorists such as Marx, Habermas, Foucault, Bourdieu or Said, CMS is a broad church and a contested terrain. Yet, if one goes beyond each theoretical framework and contemplates what these studies have in common, it appears that research conducted under the banner of CMS shares features that distinguish it from other streams of management research. Distinctive features of CMS are: an inclination towards the sociology of radical change and an emancipatory agenda; processes of de-naturalization; reflexivity; and a concern with performativity (see Burrell and Morgan, 1979; Fournier and Grey, 2000; Adler et al., 2007; Taskin and Willmott, 2008). We develop these features below.

But first, a word on terminology. In this chapter, consistent with other chapters of this volume, we adopt the terminology of Burrell and Morgan's (1979) paradigm taxonomy to organize research at a meta-theoretical level. This work is well known in organization studies, but less often used to organize studies in CCM (for exceptions, see Lowe et al., 2007; Patel, 2017; Primecz et al., 2009; Prasad, 2015; Romani et al., 2018b; Barmeyer et al., 2019). Looking at organization studies through a sociological lens, Burrell and Morgan (1979) differentiate research paradigms based upon two aspects: the first is objective versus subjective ontology, epistemology, human nature and methodology; the second is the sociology of radical change versus the sociology of regulation. However, we are aware of the difficulties involved in classifying studies along organizing logics that will include some and exclude others (see e.g. Hassard and Wolfram Cox, 2013), and we resist Burrell and Morgan's view on paradigm incommensurability. We use here their classification principally to show the common orientations of critical CCM studies to the sociology of radical change and how they differentiate from other major streams of research in CCM (see Chapters 1 and 2), as illustrated in Figure 3.1

Figure 3.1
Figure 3.1 Paradigmatic positioning of CCM studies

Sympathetic to the Sociology of Radical Change and Emancipation

Critical CCM studies tend to resist the views of the sociology of regulation. Sociology of regulation refers to theoretical works where the primary purpose is to explain the regulatory aspects of society. These works emphasize unity, cohesiveness and regulations that support a given form of society or organizations. They also tend to see society as rather stable, ‘ordered’ in a certain way. The seminal work of Hofstede (1980) is an example of research inclined to the sociology of regulation. Culture is defined as stable, persistent and pervasive. Cultural dimensions are constructs that emphasize unity (e.g. of binary oppositions such as individualism–collectivism) across all cultures in the world. Cultural differences are presented as something to deal with in line with the established managerial order of, for example, expatriates representing the interests of central headquarters. These assumptions and features are present in many studies in the positivist tradition (see Sackmann, in this volume). Interpretive studies (see Gertsen and Zølner, in this volume) also tend to be prone to the sociology of regulation as they identify patterns of consensus and cohesion in the adherence to cultural meaning-making and cultural interpretations that provide cohesion. These cultural meanings are seen as shared, thus providing a form of cohesion beyond social differences, generations, political orientations or other forms of disparities. Interpretive studies conceptualize culture as frames of intersubjective meaning structures, thus stressing commonalities, regularities and cohesion, stability and persistence of, for example, cultural interpretations (see e.g. Geertz, 1973; d'Iribarne, 1989; Brannen and Salk, 2000; Chanlat and Pierre, 2018; d'Iribarne et al., 2020).

In contrast to the above studies adopting a sociology of regulation, critical CCM studies adopt what Burrell and Morgan call a sociology of radical change. Simply put, the sociology of radical change addresses management theory and practice as serving the benefit of those in a power position. This situation may contribute to a social order in which the powerful can oppress and exploit those less privileged, and critical researchers consider that this unfair situation ought to be changed.

The [CMS] premise is that structural features of contemporary society, such as the profit imperative, patriarchy, racial inequality, and ecological irresponsibility often turn organizations into instruments of domination and exploitation. Driven by shared desire to change this situation [CMS aims in its] research, teaching and practice to develop critical interpretations of management and society and to generate radical alternatives. (Extract from CMS domain statement, Academy of Management, 2019)

This desire to provide alternatives is commonly referred to as the emancipatory agenda of CMS: that is, liberating individuals from that which stops them from being free (e.g. alienation, oppression, exploitation).

Rather than studying cultural patterns of cohesion or consensus, critical researchers are interested in contradictions, fluidity, ambiguities, conflicts, hidden structures and possible emancipation. They also tend to see society as somehow unstable, due to the struggles taking place between various actors in their quest for a better position of power. Critical CCM researchers are specifically interested in showing what can be problematic in intercultural interactions and their management. For example, when studying intercultural interactions, they will pay attention to implicit hierarchies – based, for example, on gender and language – that order the positions of people in interactions, as well as their country of origin, and how all these aspects are intertwined with what people name (national) cultural differences (see e.g. Ailon-Souday and Kunda, 2003; Moore, 2016; Sambajee, 2016; Mahadevan et al., 2020). Critical CCM studies will, for example, stress how the ‘national culture’ of employees, and how that national culture allegedly influences their work, are presented very differently depending on the employees’ position in the organizational hierarchy (see e.g. Ybema and Byun, 2009; Fornstedt, 2020). Thereby, these studies are focused on how changeable is the notion of ‘cultural difference', in relation to power positions.

In our classification of critical CCM studies, we broadly include CCM studies sympathetic to the sociology of radical change (see also Romani et al., 2018a), thus considering this stream of research as spanning two paradigms (called radical humanism and radical structuralism by Burrell and Morgan, 1979). In CMS, there is, however, some debate as to whether all studies inspired by the sociology of radical change (e.g. postmodern studies) are to be seen as critical studies (see Alvesson and Willmott, 2012; Hassard and Wolfram Cox, 2013; and the review by Klikauer, 2015).

The sociology of radical change is ‘essentially concerned with man's [sic] emancipation from the structures which limit and stunt his [sic] potential for development’ (Burrell and Morgan, 1979, p. 17). Depending on their theoretical inspirations, critical CCM will endorse different forms of actions for reaching this emancipation. For example, some might consider forms of rebellion (or civil disobedience) as the solution (inspired by Marx and Engels, 1848), others will argue for changing oppressing ideologies (in line with Gramsci, 1992), while others will praise undistorted communication (see Habermas, 1984). Critical works on intercultural communication (e.g. Nakayama and Halualani, 2010; Martin and Nakayama, 2013) provide helpful frameworks for identifying societal actors, for example ethnic minorities whose opinion (voice) is seldom heard, and to support their emancipation. Chapter 9 in this volume provides a more detailed presentation of the notion of emancipation and how it can be understood and done differently (e.g. through collaborative research, critical performativity, or activism) by critical CCM researchers.

Doing De-naturalization

Closely linked to the sociology of radical change and the agenda of emancipation is the notion of de-naturalization. In order to provide emancipatory alternatives, researchers first need to show that current forms of management, despite being seen as normal, are inherently unjust. De-naturalization means to challenge what is taken for granted as being ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ to the extent that we believe there is no alternative. De-naturalization is done by problematizing phenomena or practices revealing that they are the outcome of particular relations of power. These power relations take various forms and are produced through historically constituted organizational structures, societal institutions and available discourses in society – or discursive regimes. Showing that what we take for granted is the result of a power relation opens up the possibility to consider alternatives.

Critical CCM has, from its start, worked on de-naturalizing the field's taken-for-granted conception of culture as a set of largely unchanging and objective norms and values (see e.g. Lowe, 2001; McSweeney, 2002; Søderberg and Holden, 2002). Critical CCM scholars argue that culture should not be seen primarily as cognitive, because it is not separate from the social and material context in which ideas are formulated (e.g. Mahadevan, 2017). Social class, race, gender, religion or language are also part of intercultural interactions.

Race, for example, is an important topic in critical CCM (Primecz et al., 2016; Jackson, 2017; Mahadevan et al., 2020) while CCM has a history of ignoring it, either by assuming or silencing it, or by avoiding it as a politically sensitive subject. For example, when CCM studies construct the cultural profile of a country, the image developed tends to become ‘canonical’ (see Jack and Westwood, 2009), and thus oblivious of race and minority groups within most countries. Critical CCM scholars approach race as the historian Painter (2010, p. ix) asserts: ‘race is an idea, not a fact'. It is a cultural construct, rather than a biological one, and a product of power dynamics over several centuries. Similar to other cultural constructs, such as the unifying idea of ‘Africa’ (Ahluwalia, 2001, p. 13) these authors see ‘race’ as a Western invention. Yet, race is power-laden and should be studied as such. This involves examining the binaries or dichotomies used in conceptualizing race (e.g. white/black), the power relations from which this is drawn, its power implications, and the implied superiority/inferiority that is attached to differences (see e.g. Holgersson et al., 2016). The idea of race is part of the Western culture: it needs to be interrogated and understood by scholars who are equipped to study culture in an international and global world of work. Demonstrating the importance of race in intercultural interactions, Kassis-Henderson and Cohen (2020) show how a black US lawyer working in France is treated very differently when people see her as an American woman, from when she speaks French without an accent and is assumed to be a black woman from former French colonial territories. Therefore, these intercultural interactions encompass much more than cultural differences (understood as either values or meaning) between the United States and France; race and historical relationships between a colonial power and overseas territories also take centre stage. Race is not the only aspect to intersect with culture; language (e.g. Sambajee, 2016), age, ethnicity (e.g. Holgersson et al., 2016), religion (e.g. Mahadevan, 2012), nationality (e.g. Moore, 2016) or gender (e.g. Moore, 2015) do so too, as Özkazanç-Pan (2015) elaborates when she presents postcolonial feminist contributions to CCM. Likewise, our current geopolitical order and politics about migration all permeate intercultural interactions (e.g. Fornstedt, 2020; Foroughi, 2020; Hunger et al., 2020; Kakar and Mahadevan, 2020, as well as Chapters 27 and 30 in this volume).

Another form of de-naturalization performed by critical CCM researchers concerns CCM knowledge itself. Critical scholars show that knowledge developed about organization and management is dependent and mediated by the researchers producing such knowledge (see e.g. Ailon, 2008). They challenge ‘the objectivism and scientism of mainstream research where there is an assumption and/or masquerade of neutrality and universality’ (Taskin and Willmott, 2008, p. 34). Critical CCM researchers show that despite its universalistic claims, mainstream CCM knowledge not only is inscribed into one (specific) research tradition (see Lowe, 2001; McSweeney, 2002), but also is culture-specific; it has been developed in the West for a (mostly) Western audience. Yet, it is presented as neutral and globally relevant (see Jack and Westwood, 2009; Jackson, 2014a).

In opposition to the universal claims of, for example, CCM knowledge based on cultural dimension frameworks, indigenous managerial knowledge, that is knowledge that builds its legitimacy on its locality and contextual roots, is assumed as only relevant to the local context from which it originates. Indigenous knowledge offers, however, transferable concepts across contexts and can inform theory (Jackson, 2013). The rejection of indigenous knowledge echoes an implicit world order in which the West is seen as superior, its knowledge prevailing over others. In addition, this focus on Western forms of knowledge entails marginalization of what is portrayed as ‘local’ and ‘indigenous', depriving our field of research of novel perspectives (see also the discussion by Frenkel and Shenhav, 2006). For this reason, Jackson (2013, p. 25–26) defines indigenous (management, knowledge) as referring to ‘the ongoing product of a relationship between geopolitical control and local resistance, of marginalization of a society or people with common interests, values, knowledge, institutions and practices, and defence of these against encroachment from global or national control'. Critical CCM researchers are thus sensitive to the (ideological, political, historical) conditions that take part in the production of CCM knowledge and aim to de-naturalize the taken-for-granted superiority of positivist and ‘universal’ knowledge.

Reflexivity and Concerns with Performativity

In de-naturalizing CCM knowledge, critical scholars have thus pointed to the implicit assumptions that permeate the outcome of research studies, and, simultaneously, they have stressed that researchers, as authors, do not construct neutral and ‘objective’ accounts (see e.g. Girei and Natukunda, 2020). To address this tendency, critical researchers are expected to engage in reflexivity. Taskin and Willmott (2008) briefly present reflexivity as the capacity to recognize that knowledge production is contingent because researchers are themselves embedded in research communities, with their own power struggles, existing conversations, audiences, language in use, and conventions that influence the knowledge produced and how it is conveyed. Simply put, reflexivity is an introspective exercise in which researchers engage to become aware of and then engage with the fact that who they are is closely linked to their knowledge production. Klitmøller (2020) shows how his own reflexive practice helped him to understand that his research collaboration supported the reproduction of global inequalities around language, class and race within the workforce of a multinational company. How reflexivity is embedded in the CCM research process and can lead to new insights is explored by Mahadevan (2011; 2015) and Özkazanç-Pan (2015). Reflexivity can thus become a core aspect in the investigation process (see Chapter 9 for examples of reflexivity as a ‘method').

The last distinctive feature of CMS is its concern with ‘performativity'. Many management studies have internalized the view that management relations are instrumental. For example, improving employees’ cultural intelligence in preparation for expatriation is a justifiable end as long as it is linked to (increase or protection of) corporate performance. These instrumental relations, ‘in terms of maximizing output from a given input, [is] what has been termed “performativity”’ (Taskin and Willmott, 2008, p. 33). CMS resists taking the sole perspective of managers and their agenda in the development of organizational and management knowledge and has been called anti-performative. Through the years, the CMS relationship with performativity has evolved and multiple positions have been identified, from a refusal to engage with practitioners, to the consideration of forms of engagement (see Chapter 9 for a short introduction to this topic). In CCM research, however, to the best of our knowledge, neither the performativity debate nor the instrumentalism of CCM management has been specifically addressed, expect maybe in Chapter 18, in this volume. In this chapter, Tienari shows similarities between managerial instrumentalism in the management of multinational organizations and current conditions of CCM knowledge production in internationally ranked business schools.

Streams of Research in Critical CCM

As indicated earlier, multiple theories inspire CMS and the same goes for critical CCM (although the range of works is currently not as broad in critical CCM as it is in CMS). A complete review of the variety of works that could be associated with critical CCM would cover not only CCM but most likely also migration studies and critical diversity management. Theoretical inspirations might range from postmodern, feminist or critical realist traditions (to name a few). Below, we briefly introduce three sets of critical CCM studies in the domain of international management. They share a ‘critical’ sensitivity and represent different theoretical perspectives in the spectrum of critical studies: interpretivist studies with a critical agenda; Marxism-inspired studies; and studies drawing on postcolonial theory.

Interpretive Studies with a Critical Agenda

Interpretive CCM studies have a central focus on understanding social phenomena in their cultural contexts; that is, exploring what events mean from the points of view (the interpretation) of those involved (see Gertsen and Zølner, in this volume). Among the broad range of studies adopting an interpretivist ontology and epistemology, those interested in narratives and discourses have sometimes adopted a critical agenda (see e.g. Vaara et al., 2003; 2005; Barinaga, 2007; Ailon, 2008). A critical agenda requires researchers to examine the multiple assumptions on which they build their research and knowledge, and to consider possible alternatives. This was done by Søderberg and Holden (2002) stressing, at the time, the dominant essentialist approach to culture in CCM (see also McSweeney, 2002). CCM understanding of cultural differences as based on value (differences) is questioned and critical researchers show with a social constructivist approach that such differences are not absolute but contextually constructed. Some researchers adopted the critical agenda of showing that what is presented as ‘normal cultural differences’ is actually a story (narrative) imbued with power relations. For example, the description given by employees of their Japanese or Dutch colleagues (and how culture influences their work) varies significantly, depending on which hierarchical levels individuals are at (Ybema and Byun, 2009). Similarly, Ailon-Souday and Kunda (2003) show how talks about ‘national identity’ within an American–Israeli merger served the resistance by Israeli employees to integration. Israeli employees often utilized ‘national identity’ to distinguish themselves from their US colleagues and also to create racial hierarchies within the company. This was done through forms of stereotyping that denigrated colleagues while representing the Israeli as ‘superior’ workers and ‘“purer” manifestations of organizational ideals’ (Ailon-Souday and Kunda, 2003, p. 1087). Similar power-related constructions of cultural differences are also found in Koveshnikov et al. (2016), Vaara et al. (2003), van Marrewijk (2010) and van den Ende and van Marrewijk (2015). Further insights into how narratives of cultural differences are entwined with power within international corporations are illustrated by Gertsen et al. (2012) as well as in Chapter 2, in particular the section on interpretive studies on discourses and narratives.

Marxism-Inspired Studies

Researchers inspired by the late work of Marx tend to approach power as entrenched in material structures, paying attention to access and control of resources, and see ideology as a means of control aimed at advancing and protecting the material interests of the dominant in a long-term struggle between social classes. Marxist concepts of ideology suggest that there is an integral relationship (dialectic) between structure and ideas, between the social–economic and the ideological, between the institutional and ‘cultural'. This is not purely a deterministic relationship. The realm of ideas does not deterministically follow the socio-economic. There is an interaction between the ideological and socio-economic, such that particularly the dominant ideas of the ruling class affect the socio-economic order in a very real and practical way (see Marx and Engels, 1976). In this view, critical CCM scholars in effect approach culture as ideology, and thus national cultures as national ideologies meant to advance the material interests of a national ruling class.

According to this perspective, researchers building on the work of Bourdieu (1977), for example, will approach the study of intercultural interactions with a sensitivity to how access to resources is linked to maintenance of the privileged position of some. For example, Goxe and Paris (2016) pay attention to existing differences in expatriation opportunities. Studying the capital mobilized and developed by expatriates, they show that not all capitals provide equal help to gain top positions. Expatriates from emerging countries and those from the middle class (if from Western countries) experience a glass ceiling, keeping the most prestigious (and influential) positions to a limited group of managers originally from and belonging to a (global) upper class. Culture (if not Western) and class of origin appear this time to be intertwined in the reproduction of global social inequalities. Likewise, Hunger et al. (2020) study the career opportunity of high-skilled migrants entering a programme for their labour market integration in Sweden. The authors show how the migrants’ various forms of capitals are not valorized by their local Swedish employer, which implicitly imposes a fit to Swedish (ethnic) ‘culture'. In other words, the local Swedish employees use a non-inclusive view of Swedish culture to naturalize and maintain their privileged position in the hierarchy of the organization. Studies inspired by the work of Bourdieu and that consider how culture (in intersection with other diversity markers) is used to reproduce discrimination are well established in critical diversity management and migration studies.

Postcolonial Studies

Perhaps to date the most prolific stream of critical CCM studies is that inscribed in postcolonial theory (see Jack and Westwood, 2009). Inspired by the work of Said (1978) and other postcolonial theorists (e.g. Fanon, 1967), this stream views CCM as ‘orientalist’ (Westwood, 2006). It brings to the surface how the national ‘other’ is constructed in a binary opposition (e.g. East/West) that claims knowledge of, and thus also authority on, her (see Fougère and Moulettes, 2007). For instance, Fougère and Moulettes (2012) analyse how such a construction of the ‘other’ is done in international business textbooks. Similarly, Hartt et al. (2012) show how the US airline Pan Am constructed the ‘idea of Latin America’ (and of ‘Latin American people') and, in the process, participated in practices of dependency that served US interests.

Researchers inspired by postcolonial studies also examine tensions and inequalities between actors located in the West and those based in the world's periphery, for example regarding access to managerial knowledge and education (Szkudlarek, 2009) or whether local expertise is appreciated at all (Foroughi, 2020). This can take the form of expectations that are placed on employees to conform to an imagined Western culture and its central position in international trade (see Jack and Westwood, 2009; Boussebaa, 2015; 2020a; 2020b).

Researchers inspired by the work of Bhabha (1994) may approach power through the concept of ‘hybridity', showing how hybridity ‘produces ambivalence, is disordering, and offers spaces for the disruption of asymmetrical authority relations’ (Jack et al., 2011, p. 282). For instance, Boussebaa et al. (2014) show how Western multinationals expect employees in offshore outsourcing companies (in India) to mirror or mimic Western identities and Ravishankar et al. (2010) show how employees mobilize specific discursive resources as forms of accommodation and resistance to the demands they face at work.

Researchers inspired by postcolonial theory also work on decolonizing CCM methodologies and theoretical framing to provide room for alternative voices and frames in CCM knowledge (see Jack and Westwood, 2009; Jackson, 2011; 2013).

De-naturalization and its Potential for Research Breakthrough

Critical CCM has most distinctively contributed to CCM by its engagement with de-naturalization, for example stressing the prominent focus on cognitive aspects in the study of culture, the cultural embeddedness of CCM knowledge, and the field's almost sole focus on culture in the study of intercultural interactions – instead of intersecting markers of difference (e.g. gender, race, religion). Among all distinctive features of critical CCM studies, de-naturalization is probably the most accessible for reaching a novel perspective on CCM research. We therefore develop, in this section, how de-naturalization can be done, and we choose to engage with the method of problematization (see Chapter 9 on how de-naturalization can be reached through other methods). In simple terms, ‘problematization’ (Alvesson and Sandberg, 2011) is about making assumptions explicit, so that these familiar assumptions and what is taken for granted can be questioned or changed. Our first example shows how economic globalization may be problematized as a form of cultural imperialism, thus departing from mainstream CCM studies’ view of it as an economic process mediated by cultural differences. The second example illustrates the problematization of assumptions about what is to be studied regarding the relationship between culture and organizations.

Problematizing Ideology Assumptions

Following Alvesson and Sandberg (2011, p. 255), problematization is about challenging taken-for-granted assumptions. In their classification of the various forms of assumptions that can be problematized, ‘ideology assumptions include various political-, moral-, and gender-related assumptions held about the subject matter'. In CCM, globalization is often portrayed as something relatively new and studies typically fail to include in their analysis recognition of the fact that the phenomenon has been, until very recently, largely a Western project associated with commercial, political and military stakes (see Boussebaa, 2020b; Westwood and Jack, 2008). Studies of global leadership or multicultural teams often take this project for granted and go on to uncritically investigate culture in relation to questions of performance, overlooking the political and ideological agenda of the project and alternative interests. Business education furthers the problem by portraying globalization and CCM practice as ‘neutral’ phenomena (Boussebaa, 2020c).

The current globalization project, in fact, started several centuries ago, with the Spanish conquest of America and shortly after the colonization of much of the rest of the world by other European empires. Britain, for instance, established several trading companies that went on to operate globally and which were soon followed by professionals, such as accountants and engineers, whose services helped colonial expansion (Boussebaa and Morgan, 2014). This first phase of ‘globalization’ was then followed by a US-led phase following the Second World War, in which many of the world's largest multinationals had their headquarters in, and were controlled from, the United States and, to a lesser extent, former European colonial powers (Boussebaa and Morgan, 2014). Since the 1980s, multinationals have also emerged in Japan and, more recently, countries such as China and India, thereby challenging Western globalization (Boussebaa and Morgan, 2014; Jackson, 2014a; 2014b).

Thus, until recently, globalization has, in effect, meant Western economic expansionism; inevitably this has been accompanied by a process of cultural Westernization (see e.g. Frenkel and Shenhav, 2003). It is no surprise that contemporary transnational business cultures typically are ‘extensions or transformations of the cultures of Western Europe and North America’ (Hannerz, 1990, p. 244). This is why, in the humanities and social sciences, cultural globalization is often understood to be little more than ‘cultural imperialism’ (see e.g. Tomlinson, 1991; 1997).

Cultural globalization in the world of business may be viewed in the same way. For example, Western companies – in collaboration with ‘comprador managerial cadres’ (Boussebaa et al., 2014) – have consistently sought to produce Westernized transnational workforces as a means of expanding around the world. Illustrating this is Gagnon and Collinson's (2014) analysis of leadership development programmes at two Western multinational enterprises. It shows how the programmes promoted an ‘English-speaking and “western”’ leader identity. Of course, this process does not go unchallenged. More often than not, Westernization typically results in ‘hybridity’ (Bhabha, 1994) rather than sameness, thereby challenging efforts to make the ‘other’ like ‘us'.

Another dimension of this process of Westernization is the marginalization of ‘indigenous’ voices in the non-West, often considered in the international management literature (e.g. Tsui, 2004) as ‘local'. Labelling them as ‘local’ is a function of power and colonization (Smith, 1999) and marginalizes this knowledge, presenting it as unfit to contribute to mainstream (Western) knowledge and culture (Wiessner, 1999). Indigenous knowledge is dynamic rather than a static artefact (Briggs and Sharp, 2004), constantly producing new knowledge and social forms within a changing cultural interface (Jackson, 2011). It is also a political concept (Smith, 1999) and probably a reason why it is avoided by mainstream international and CCM scholars (Jackson, 2013). The under-representation of indigenous knowledge in management scholarship leads to a lack of diversity in terms of knowledge sources (what do we know and how do we know it?), idea and concept generation (how do we think about what we know and how do we formulate this into theories and knowledge?) and bears consequences and impact on diverse communities within a global world (are ‘global’ CCM theories and subsequent practices appropriate to the diverse organizational and social communities with which businesses and international managers come into contact?).

Jackson (2013) has identified the informal economy as a major site for indigenous knowledge and practice, a vibrant force in the shaping of African cities and alternatives to state domination. The under-representation (or ignoring) of this part of the world economy in CCM studies is surprising, as the informal economy constitutes between 70% and 80% of total employment. In addition, in both sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, about 80% of all women in non-agricultural trades are employed or run their own firms in the informal economy (Verick, 2006). CCM scholars could learn much here, for example by exploring different forms of leadership, including matriarchal forms of leadership. This is a huge omission from our scholarship, and from our attempts to understand knowledge in the global arena.

In summary, this example of problematization shows the hidden ideological assumptions supporting our current views on globalization in CCM studies, as well as the (lack of) consideration of knowledge emerging from the majority world. So-called ‘local’ knowledge is marginalized and ‘exoticized’ to the profit of Western-centric forms of knowledge serving the ideological, political and economic agenda of West-centric globalization.

Problematizing Field Assumptions

Mainstream views on culture, that is the taken-for-granted, are nation-bound, mostly unchanging over time (see Nojonen, 2015), and largely unaffected by globalization. In addition, most mainstream CCM research questions are concerned with the study of culture's impact on organizational behaviour (see the review by Kirkman et al., 2017). These assumptions (nature of culture and forms of cultural influences) are what can be called ‘field assumptions’ (Alvesson and Sandberg, 2011). By engaging in problematization, one could instead make a clean sweep of these assumptions and even consider their opposite: that culture is more malleable and changing than one assumes, and that organizations do not just adapt to cultural differences but in fact serve to globalize culture.

This has important consequences on the kind of research questions to ask. For example, one could study how organizations shape culture on a transnational, often global, scale in accordance with their globalization projects; how the process is influenced by national cultures and enmeshed with geopolitical relations of power; and how employees in different countries consent to and/or resist such efforts, wittingly or unwittingly. This problematization challenges field assumptions regarding what is to be studied in CCM, that is cultural influences on organizations. It encourages us to look elsewhere and consider how multinationals are engaged in producing culture at the global level.

A growing body of institutionalist research on economic globalization (e.g. Morgan, 2001; Faulconbridge and Muzio, 2012; Boussebaa and Faulconbridge, 2019) shows precisely this. For instance, Morgan (2001, p. 115) usefully argues that multinationals constitute ‘transnational social spaces’ that ‘cannot be reduced to the interplay of pre-existing national groups’ and within which ‘transnational communities’ may be emerging. Research on global professional service firms provides important insights into these dynamics. For instance, Boussebaa's research into international management consultancies shows that the firms have established various staff mobility and knowledge management systems that are transnational in scope and that facilitate extensive cross-national communication, interactions and flows of people and knowledge (Boussebaa, 2009). Such efforts contribute to a ‘transnational organizational reality’ (Boussebaa, 2009, p. 847) or perhaps a ‘transnational logic that can be distinguished from discourses articulated in particular local domains’ (Boussebaa et al., 2012). Studies in other sectors, such as accounting and law, also show how global professional service firms use various global practice groups and global systems of recruitment and training as a means of producing a transnational professional workforce that is allegedly capable of serving international organizations’ clients across nations (Greenwood et al., 2010). The firms, in effect, seek to develop ‘global, cosmopolitan professionals who are detached from national professional regimes and who support their employing firm's attempts to develop global professional standards’ (Faulconbridge and Muzio, 2012, p. 143). In short, these firms could be studied as sites aiming to produce a form of cultural globalization that transcends and potentially influences national professional cultures. In summary, with this problematization of field assumptions, new research questions could, for example, consider not so much how cultural differences affect organizational behaviour but rather how multinationals work to globalize culture in line with their globalization project and how this effort is mediated by cultural contexts.

Facing Tomorrow's Challenges

In this final section, we would like to touch briefly on two topics that are of specific relevance to critical CCM studies. First, in view of the agenda of emancipation pursued by critical CCM studies, researchers’ responsibility to contribute to broader access to knowledge for the emancipation of marginalized groups may benefit from the use of emerging technologies. Second, one of the pillars of the theoretical basis of critical CCM, namely postcolonial theory, needs to be assessed in its capacity to address today's changing geopolitical order.

Democratic Knowledge for Emancipation: Emerging Technologies

The nature of knowledge sharing appears to be changing through the opposition of two trends. The first trend is what could be argued a tendency towards more elitism in scholarly knowledge. Scholarship itself, increasingly, is considered the preserve of limited academic circles, mostly in Western Europe and North America. Increasingly too, the value of this knowledge is associated to highly ranked universities, if published in a selected few scholarly journals that appear far removed from the diversity and changing nature of management and organizational knowledge of the Majority World (see Jackson and Primecz, 2019). To this, one can add how the current publication incentives of international scholarship support a US system of knowledge production that encourages perverse behaviour (see Boussebaa and Tienari, 2019). Many cross-cultural management scholars are driven in their quest to publish in these (US) top journals and to have access to exclusive institutions. This connects fundamentally to the integration of indigenous and Majority World knowledge and practice into our scholarship, and how indigeneity may remain a weak voice with weak agency (Jackson, 2013).

The second is a trend towards the propagation of unmediated knowledge through digital technology, a trend that appears to be pulling in the opposite direction. Social media may have the potential to provide better representation of under-represented and marginalized knowledge. Once indigenous knowledge is freed from its time and place constraints it becomes relevant. If it is seen as positioned at a certain time (precolonial) and place (the developing world), it is easy to compartmentalize it, exclude it from global discourse. It then remains the preserve of anthropologists, CCM researchers and human rights lawyers. Although social media itself is subject to manipulation and exclusion and to power relations within society, there remains the potential for democratization of knowledge. By implication this involves democratizing and integrating indigenous knowledge in global discourse. Furthermore, it also involves a decision about how we communicate research and to whom. Social media may provide a means of influencing not only policy makers through communicating CCM research results, and not just our colleagues, but also those we are researching.

Theoretical Challenges and Necessary Novelty

Today, emerging economies are acquiring organizations and investing in the countries of the former colonizers. Economies that used to be in a position to influence international trade are now also being increasingly influenced by countries of the global South: the Majority World. Changing geopolitics have the potential to transform knowledge, including management knowledge (Jackson, 2012; 2014b; Jackson and Horwitz, 2018). Even critical CCM scholars who have engaged with postcolonial theory (e.g. Jack and Westwood, 2009), a theory situated in place and time, now face the challenge of coping with the new geopolitical landscape, one which is dependent not just on North–South interaction (or West–East), but also South–South interactions with quite different antecedents and dependencies such as those involving China or India in Africa (Jackson, 2012). Postcolonial theory is proficient at analysing global North–South dynamics and dependencies, but to use this analysis on, for example, China–Africa relations is more problematic. In the near future, critical CCM will need to explore the cultural implications of such ongoing transformations and may need to work towards new theories capable of explaining it.


The aim of this chapter has been to provide a starting point for scholars who wish to understand and recognize critical CCM studies. It first proposes a few meta-theoretical themes that help draw the profile of critical CCM works and then offers a very succinct review of three major inspirations: critical interpretivist; Marxist; and postcolonial studies. A broader review of existing studies deserves to be undertaken, to do justice to the variety of works and inspirations nourishing critical CCM (including postcolonial feminism, post-structuralist studies). A more in-depth review of each stream would also point to their inner nuances and the many insightful theoretical concepts they use. In addition, a discussion of the strengths and limits of critical CCM studies would also provide a more reflexive perspective on these works. In this chapter, rather than engaging in this extensive review work and reflexive consideration, we have chosen to provide instead a point of departure for readers to recognize the vast amount of studies that can be included in critical CCM works. Indeed, these studies spread across multiple disciplines, touching on the phenomenon of intercultural interactions and their management (in migration studies, international business, diversity management, to name only a few).

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