I have for sometime been interested in developing a theory of cross-cultural interfaces (Jackson, 2011), which rather than focusing (after Hofstede) on cultural differences among national groups, looks more at the realities of cultural interaction within a broader world view that incorporates power relations and geopolitical dynamics. Hence I’ve recently explored the concept of indigenous management (Jackson, 2013) in a global context, where far from being able to conceive this, as much of the international management and business literature does, as purely representing the local, it must be seen in the context of the global, and being in a (weak) power relationship with the global, yet offering resistance as discussed, for example, in Postcolonial Theory. I’ve also written about the changing nature of cultural interfaces in the face of changing global dynamics in view of the ascendancy of the South (Jackson, 2012). Hence PCT loses its edge as we can no longer just consider North-South global dynamics with the South being in a weaker position, but have to theorize about a South-South and South-North-South dynamic and how this affects (yes, affects) knowledge, including management knowledge that can no longer be considered as purely emanating from the West (or global North).
Yet how do we structurally analyze these interfaces? If for example we are interested in analyzing the position of an organization or an individual in cultural space, in order to understand more about the cultural and social influences on that individual and therefore to understand the types of cultural and social product these influences may result in, how can we do that?
I’ve more recently been looking at social network analysis as a possible way of approaching this. Firstly, let me deal with the shortcomings of this type of theory, and its possible value.
The shortcomings of network analysis relate to its sole focus on structural relations, yet it could be argued that any analysis has to begin with these basic structural arrangements, but not to end with them. Similarly, the reason why these structural relationships have been created in the first place, why they take their particular form, and the way they are changing, cannot be solely understood by the structural relationships themselves. Yet the value of social network analysis is its emphasis on relationships within a wider structural context, involving power dynamics that facilitate or militate against successful and appropriate transmission of materials or information (including both highly codified as well as uncodified and tacit information such as norms, beliefs and values, as well as insider knowledge associated with indigenous groups). What I like particularly about this type of theory is it stresses the lack of autonomy of individuals, groups and indeed nations. Extant cross-cultural management scholarship often assumes autonomy, and eschews power dynamics in a wider global context. Social network analysis provides a basis on which to build a broader theory of cross-cultural interfaces, which incorporates a context of power relations from geopolitical level to local level, yet still remains inadequate to complete this theory building.
In brief, the three principles outlined by Hafner-Burton et al (2009) serve to demonstrate both the usefulness of network analysis concepts, while at the same time highlighting its one-sidedness. The principles that govern network analysis, where the focus is on relationships defined by links among nodes, or agents, are significant. According to Hafner-Burton et al (2009) these are: (1) nodes and their behaviour are mutually dependent, not autonomous; (2) links between nodes are channels for the transmission of materials (such as the trade of commodities, or money) or information (including norms, beliefs, values); and, (3) persistent patterns of association among nodes (agents, actors) give rise to structures that define, enable or restrict their behaviour.
What network theory points to is the international structural arrangements that have arisen within a geopolitical context that provide the channels for the flow of information, knowledge, norms, beliefs and values. Extant cross-cultural management studies do not appear to recognize this context and the structural relationships driven by power dynamics that give rise to various forms of hybrid structures and content through the interactions of different cultural spaces, that then contribute to further hybrid cultural spaces or Third Spaces in Bhabha’s (1994) terms.
I believe that network analysis may have great potential as a starting point for developing an understanding of where an organization, community or individual is positioned at the nexus of a cultural interface, enabling a better understanding of the cultural influences emanating from nodes (such as other organizations, communities and individual, both local, national and international) and, another possible strength of network analysis, understanding the power dynamics within that network.
Bhabha, H. K. (1994) The Location of Culture, New York: Routledge
Hafner-Burton, E. M., Kahler, M., & Montgomery, A. H. (2009). Network Analysis for International Relations. International Organization, 63(3), 559-592.
Jackson, T. (2011) From Cultural Values to Cross-cultural Interfaces: Hofstede Goes to Africa, Journal of Organization Change Management, 24(4): 532-58
Jackson, T. (2012) Postcolonialism and Organizational Knowledge in the Wake of China’s Presence in Africa: Interrogating South-South relations, Organization. 19(2): 181-204. (SSCI impact factor: 1.671; ABS 3*)
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.