Cross-cultural Management from the South: what a difference global dynamics make

The publication of Kriz, Gummesson and Quazi’s (2014) ‘Methodology meets culture: Guanxi-oriented research in China’  in International Journal of Cross Cultural Management 14(1) is timely. In their words ‘This paper focuses on the ways in which researchers can utilise the socio-cultural phenomenon of guanxi as a tool for more effective Chinese-related data collection.’ This is rare. For researchers to attempt a conceptualization of what a methodological would look like from the perspective of the cultural context under investigation, and then to implement it and integrate it into their research is worth celebrating.


Linda Tuhiwai Smith (1999) in her book on Decolonizing Methodologies makes the distinction between a research agenda that reflects control (done by outside researchers on indigenous people for purposes that reflect the need to understand and ultimately to affect policy) and an agenda that reflects resistance (done by indigenous people, for their own purposes, which may ultimately affect policy decisions about them). She suggests that these two agendas may be brought together in cross- cultural research. These different agendas will ultimately reflect the way research is undertaken, and the way the indigenous and indigenous knowledge is represented in the outcomes of research (Jackson, 2013).

I suspect that much of what we do as cross-cultural researchers reflects the former approach distinguished by Smith (1999), and in terms of developing our methodological approach may not be cross-cultural at all. We are of course familiar with the emic-etic distinction in cross-cultural scholarship (Peterson and Pike, 2002), yet I do not think this is the same point that Smith was making. Cross-cultural management studies is normally seen by its adherents as being approached from essentially a non-political perspective. Hence the rather neutral way in which ‘indigenous’ is regarded in the international management literature (Jackson, 2013). In fact it is not defined or described, but rather assumed as a concept describing what is ‘local’. I have suggested the term ‘endogenous’ may be a better way of describing coming from a local context, and perhaps better also captures what researchers are striving towards when they seek emic approaches to their studies. Smith is talking about control: what research is for and for whose ends.

So much of what we do as researchers is assessed by our institutions and our funders in terms of impact. Impact is about affecting some kind of outcome, often policy or practice. Yet the main questions here are what outcomes, for what reason and for whose purpose? Social and cultural anthropology, for example, is often seen as serving the ends of colonial authorities. Certainly psychology has not been immune from serving some kind of political interest (I remember reading Hans Eysenck’s (1971) book Race, Intelligence and Education, as an undergraduate. Eysenck was one of the leading British psychologists at that time, and followed the American educational psychologist Arthur Jensen in proposing a genetic view of intelligence and race: a view that many others saw as racist).

I share Bent Flyvbjerg’s (2001) view that the strength of social science (and I would include cross-cultural psychology within that ambit) is not in its ability to produce theories that can explain and predict accurately (instrumental rationality), as is the strength of the natural sciences to which social science is often compared, but in its ability to deal with value-rationality. This is a very important concept for cross-cultural management scholars to take on board. Firstly, not all socio-cultural contexts emphasize the instrumental rationality that is so prominently revered in the occident (after Max Weber). Secondly so much of what we deal with, and have to understand, is concerned with not only other peoples’ value structures but also our own. Certainly this also includes our ‘knowledge’ of the phenomena and noumena (after Kant) that we study. We may see ourselves as citizens of the world, but, firstly (and after Flyvberg, 2001) in social science, there is no ‘view from nowhere’; and secondly, each one of us is dealing with concepts of the ‘other’ (after Edward Said, 1978/1995). In this view, othering always has political connotations and implications.

The emic-etic distinction is not a political one, yet Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s distinction between indigenous research as control (etic?) and resistant (emic?) most definitely is, and is probably a more accurate reflection of what we do as cross-cultural management scholars.

Here I want to take Said’s work as a point of departure and focus on why methodological concepts such as Kris et al’s (2014) Guanxi-oriented research might be important in the context of emerging ‘Southern Theory’. Raewyn Connell (2007: p. x) asserts that ‘with anthropology now the designated intellectual container for primitive societies, the rest of social science formed itself on ethnocentric assumptions that amount to a gigantic lie – that modernity created itself within the North Atlantic world, independent of the rest of humanity. Models constructed on the basis of that lie, such as functionalist sociology, modernization theory and neoclassical economics, were then exported to the rest of the world with all the authority of the most advanced knowledge, and all the weight of First World wealth and power’. That this has been partially addressed by such as dependency theory and its apparent successor Wallerstein’s world system theory on the one hand, and on the other hand the more phenomenological approaches such as those of Foucault and Habermas and the already mentioned theory of Said – Orientalism and Postcolonial Theory – may be almost irrelevant now, as the global South takes a more prominent position in the world, with the need not to develop more theories from the North about the global South, but to identify and nurture theories from the South itself (although Connell, 2007, acknowledges the work of Said as inspiration for her own work on Southern Theory).

For cross-cultural management theorist, it is important to think outside the emic-etic distinction. Certainly much qualitative analysis within our field relies on concepts of socially constructed realities (as often does quantitative analysis). We need to look further to the way knowledge is created within the global context, the dynamics involved in this, and the way these changing dynamics may construct different ways of interpreting these realities. Power structures that ensured the dominance of western management theory have now been critiqued extensively within management studies. Although these critiques have relied on social sciences sources outside management studies, with little new theory emanating from our own discipline, it is a beginning. Cross-cultural management scholars are in a unique position to develop theories about how the global interacts with the local. Yet to be able to do this requires an ability also to develop appropriate methodologies and even ‘indigenous methods’ that combine an understanding of control and resistance. For me, this is what cross-cultural management scholarship is all about.


Connell, R. (2007) Southern Theory, Cambridge, UK: Polity

Eysenck, H. J. (1971) Race, Intelligence and Education, London: Temple Smith

Flyvbjerg, B. (2001) Making Social Science Matter, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press

Jackson, T. (2013) Reconstructing the Indigenous in African Management Research: Implications for International Management Studies in a Globalized World, Management International Review, 53(1):13-38

Kriz, A., Gummesson, E.  and Quazi, A. (2014) Methodology Meets Culture: Guanxi-Oriented Research in China, International Journal of Cross Cultural Management, 14(1)

Peterson, M. F and Pike, K. L. (2002) Emics and etics for organizational studies: a lesson in contrasts from linguistics, International Journal of Cross Cultural Management, 2(1): 5-20.

Said, E. W. (1978/1995) Orientalism, London: Penguin

Smith, L. T. (1999) Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, London: Zed Books

(This will appear in a slightly different form as the Editorial in International Journal of Cross Cultural Management 14(1) April 2014)


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