Cross-cultural management studies and the Englishization of scholarly communication: a paradox

A version of this post by Terence Jackson and Henriett Primecz is to be published as an editorial in International Journal of Cross Cultural Management August issue 19(2).


As academics, we must ask the question why are we being shoehorned into a concept of scholarly production that restricts innovative, original, and indeed indigenous thought? Hugh Wilmott made this clear in his 2011 essay on journal list fetishism and the way this perverts scholarship. In fact it was in 2012 that this issue was last visited within the pages of International Journal of Cross Cultural Management where we quoted Wilmott as saying that a ‘monoculture is fostered in which a preoccupation with shoehorning research into a form prized by elite, US-oriented journals overrides a concern to maintain and enrich the diversity of topics, the range of methods and the plurality of perspectives engaged in business and management research’.

Yet this issue with restricting our scholarship has another, connected dimension, as a recent article by Boussebaa and Tienari in 2019 points out: that of the Englishization in scholarly production and the way it has perverted the nature of scholarly work, as a form of academic imperialism. We agree with these authors, partially, when they say that for many academics, writing in English requires a change in identity, and ‘As such, the politics of journal rankings and knowledge production are to some extent language politics, and language politics are, in effect, identity politics.’ (p. 2). However, as Groves points out ‘Thankfully, nobody speaks academic English as a first language. The English of the university is a very particular form that has specific features and conventions.’ In a way, every scholar who hopes to publish in an academic journal has to learn this dialect of English. Obviously for the non-native speaker this is an extra layer of learning on top of learning the everyday use of a foreign language. This is in a context quite often where editors are not tolerant of non-standard academic English use by non-native speakers.

Of course, the emphasis on journal publication is relatively new in the modern era, and is without a doubt somewhat outmoded given ‘new’ technology that has been in existent for at least two decades, and perhaps should be rethought in the ‘post-modern era’. As Boussebaa and Tienari on page 2 of their article argue, ‘Whereas in the past, what seems to have mattered most was writing aimed at producing quality scholarship, today, writing as a means of publishing in the most highly ranked journals has become an end in itself and, indeed, a veritable obsession in some quarters’. They go on to explain that scholarship suffers within this context as gaming becomes more important than the substance of scholarship, and scholarly diversity becomes an oddity ‘in an expanding sea of “normality’. This is a view reflected in an editorial by Alberts (2013) in Science, where he argues that judging a scholar’s contribution merely by the journal in which they publish encourages a ‘me-too-science’ and discourages longer-term risky sciences in under-studied areas of research.

This homogenisation of knowledge production appears to be exacerbated by the Englishization of management scholarship. It is ironic, that our own academic area, cross-cultural management studies, which appreciates cultural diversity and challenges such international normalisation, should suffer so badly by this induced universalism that detracts from learning from other cultural and linguistic contexts. Hence Boussebaa and Tienari’s assertion on page 5 of their article must surely resonate with cross-cultural management scholars:

Institutional systems and practices supporting the normalization of English in different locales work to regulate the identities of nonnatives, disciplining them into accommodating in their scholarly practice the social identity associated with being an English-speaking scholar (Boussebaa & Brown, 2017). This, in turn, likely leads to a loss of local knowledge – of linguistic knowledge (i.e., no longer using local languages to write and publish) but also of epistemic knowledge (Ibarra-Collado, 2006). This comes to the fore when the problematics of academic writing are considered, for example, in terms of meaning making and identity.

So, although this Englishization appears to provide a positive means to facilitating publication in top journals it simply contributes to creating a hierarchy that keeps those in ‘peripheral’ and ‘semi-peripheral’ countries on the margins of scholarly production. In management studies, as most of the literature is in English, not only must the non-native English speaker learn academic English to publish in top journals, but they need to read this literature in the first place. Englishization starts at the early stages of management students’ education as more and more business schools around the world teach more and more courses in English. The use of Anglo-American management textbooks from Nanjing to Nairobi reinforce a normalised view of the world of work and management, which in some cases is seen as blatantly inappropriate by some recipients of this knowledge (Jackson for example in 2004 refers specifically to Africa), but by others no doubt seen as a leg up on the international career ladder. Again, this has the effect of confining local and indigenous knowledge to the periphery and not relevant to the globalised Anglo-American international discourse.

This is a (geo)political issue involving knowledge production, yet we are not sure that trying to understand this in terms of Boussebaa and Tienari’s suggested reference to Postcolonial Theory is necessarily the way forward, although it is a good start. Such theory appears not to capture the position of what may be termed semi-peripheral countries such as those in Eastern and Central Europe, and also new global dynamics such as the position of ex-colonial countries such as India and former semi-colonies such as China as Jackson in 2014 suggested. It may be more fruitful to turn towards socio-economic reasons and the spread of global capitalism to construct alternative theories.

As Natalie Wilmott writes in an article in a special issue in International Journal of Cross Cultural Management in 2017 on Language in Global Management and Business, ‘I consider it impossible to separate the language and its use from the colonial origins of the spread of the language, and the capitalist process through which this spread has continued to the dominance of the language that we see today.’ Jack puts it more succinctly on page 122 in an editorial in 2004, when he says, ‘Language(s) and intercultural communication are simultaneously the precursor, the medium and the outcome of capital.’

Economic expansion is made possible through dominant patterns of language use, and capitalist expansion creates the conditions for such domination of a lingua franca language, in this case English. The special issue for which Jack is writing his editorial ‘..investigates such dialectical relationships between language(s), intercultural communication and global capitalism. The focus lies in trying to broaden out and to politicise our understandings of how language(s) and intercultural communication are ordered and patterned by capitalist relations of production, and vice versa.’ In the same special 2004 issue in the journal Language and Intercultural Communication Tietze on page 175 says that the English language is seen as a neutral conduit in which individuals acquire necessary management knowledge through which they ‘construct themselves as “appropriate individuals”’. Yet English, as a language, is not neutral but an expression of specific ideologies and sited in specifically sociohistoric contexts that ‘privilege particular collectives and agents over others and create a unifying system of knowledge and action’. As such they ‘express, symbolise and encourage the spread of a particular form of global capitalism’. Important for journals such as the International Journal of Cross Cultural Management is that ‘..the consequences of the dynamics created by the combination of English language and management discourse’ is that it ‘..creates a force field of power, in which self-perpetuating truths, ideologies and particular identities emerge and are established as ‘natural’ and ‘legitimate’. ‘The problem here is that journals, such as International Journal of Cross Cultural Management do very little to address this issue.

Why is this of concern to cross-cultural management scholars?

Writing in the special issue International Journal of Cross Cultural Managementon language in 2017, Tietze, Tansley & Helienek on page 166 say that ‘English has become the taken-for-granted language of management knowledge.’ ‘Yet, it is not the universal language of all social, occupational and management experience, even if it is treated as such.’ She goes on to say that ‘Scholars have responded to multicultural realities by developing tools to examine phenomena from cross-cultural perspectives, but they ignore that language and discourse are intrinsically interlinked.’. We have certainly dealt with some of these issues, academically, within the pages of International Journal of Cross Cultural Management, including the special issue on language already mentioned. But as a cross-cultural management journal it has not really addressed the underlying issue of Englishization in the creation and communication of management knowledge and the way it effects publication in this and other journals. As a management journal it is also contributing to the normalisation of management knowledge through a power dynamic within the world of business and management and within management academia. This is something that cross-cultural management studies set out explicitly to counter. While propagating English as a lingua franca to enable global discourse on cross-cultural management issue, we have also laid down the conditions to shoehorn scholarship into a particular mind frame that mitigates against giving voice to indigenous and peripheral perspectives. If this is the case, what can we do about it?

Changes in geopolitics and technology

Is it possible that changes over the last few decades in geopolitics and technology can make a difference?

China has of course been on the ascendency for some years, and as pointed out in an editorial of International Journal of Cross Cultural Management in 2014, this may well make a difference to the way management practices and principles, even despite the incorporation of Western influences, are spread throughout the globe, and perhaps the way that textbooks are written in the future. Yet, the tendency has been for management education in China to incorporate America textbooks and the use of English. The lack of English language skills of Chinese managers in Africa, however, has been pointed out as a negative by Jackson & Horwitz in 2017 that restricts communication with African staffs. Yet the Chinese (Mandarin) language has the potential to counter the dominance of English in the world.

An important bridge between the monoculture of the USA and the multi-cultural and multi-linguilism of continental Europe, namely the UK, is being dismantled under increasing pressure by popularist and nationalist politics that appear to favour isolationism on the one hand, and an Anglophone monoculture that seem to fit hand in glove with each other. The EU is not just a political bulwark against American dominance in the world, and in the field of management studies where each countries has its own heritage in the management of organisations within diverse socio-political backdrops, its linguistic diversity (exemplified in the management and business education by such institutions as ESCP-Europe) provides a counter to the dominance of the English language despite the Americanization of many of the ’top’ business schools in continental Europe.

On a more general note, the UK, and Scandinavia, have been the home of critical management studies, which foster reflection on everyday practices of management and capitalism, and has acted in part as a break on American’s dominance in the field of management studies.

Turning now to developments in technology, language translation through artificial intelligence such as Google Translate is getting better. But assuming that it gets very good over the coming years, this does not negate the argument that English, or any other language as lingua franca, is not culturally neutral. Certainly Tietze, Tansley and Helienek argue that translation as agent in management knowledge transfer is not neutral, so how would machine learning render it such?

As it is unlikely that the changes highlighted above will make any difference the question remains, what can we do about this situation?

Englishization in cross-cultural management scholarship

Although there is more research being undertaken on the issue of Englishization, this is still lacking when it concerns scholarly publication, and little where it concerns the paradox of the professed mission of cross-cultural management studies in challenging dominant cultural modes and their suppression of peripheral modes, and the cultural-linguistic imperialism that Englishization sustains. Firstly, we need more research. We also need to tackle this paradox. Are there alternatives to the Englishization of global scholarship? Is cross-cultural management scholarship able to address this issue? Critical scholarship can certainly theorise the issues through such pathways as postcolonial theory, but can this provide practical solutions to this paradox in scholarly communication within our subject area? Will emerging geopolitics offer solutions? Will technology produce solutions? Could parallel publishing in an international journal and in one’s own language in a local journal offer a way forward without accusations of self-plagiarisation?

The issue of Englishization is a serious one that cross-cultural management scholars in particular should be addressing as it undermines the foundation on which our sub-discipline is built. We would welcome debate on this paradox within the pages of International Journal of Cross Cultural Management, and indeed any comment on this website. 

© 2019 Terence Jackson and Henriett Primecz

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