19 Jun 2012

Whither Academia, Whither Cross Cultural Management Studies?

(To be published as the Editorial in IJCCM 12(2) August 2012)
It appears that the nature of scholarship has been shaped over the last decade or two by the now extensive use of academic journal lists.  Willmott (2011: 428) argues their effect is to ‘..stifle diversity and constrict scholarly innovation’ . He goes on to say 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’. Adler and Harzing (2009: 80), who Willmott quotes, also suggest that the use of such lists ‘..dramatically skews scholarship as it implicitly encourages conservative research that asks familiar questions using accepted methodologies rather than research addressing new, often controversial questions that are investigated using innovative methodologies.’
Yet it would be wrong to blame academia’s increasing reliance on rank-ordering and such metrics that cast out some and venerate others per se. This must surely be an effect rather than the cause. The nature of scholarship is part of culture. What is regarded as legitimate scholarship and scientific knowledge has evolved over the centuries into what we behold today. Along with this has been the evolution of ranking and rating of journals. Yet this tendency, Willmott argues, has turned into a form of control, in his case in point, for university managers to better and more effectively, and time-effectively, control academic performance through a vicarious use of journal rankings rather than looking at the quality of individual scholarly work: the journal rank becomes the measure rather than the ‘quality’ of the work – which of course has always been difficult to assess and measure. Yet control has always been a factor in cultural generation. This is the point of, for example, Said’s (1978) work on Orientalism, right through to Jack and Westwood’s (2009) excellent synthesis of Postcolonial Theory in international and cross-cultural management studies. Empires of various sorts have always dominated internationally the means of cultural production. Similarly, dominant groups in countries have always heavily influenced the legitimacy of cultural values and institutions. The work on whiteness studies in the United States has shown how the cultural privileges of whiteness has rendered ‘American’ culture invisible (McDermott and Sansom, 2005). Perhaps this is so much so even in cross-cultural management research where American culture is assumed, and this can be used in comparison with other countries.
In 2001 when International Journal of Cross Cultural Management (IJCCM) was first published, it was with the intention of challenging paradigms and soliciting contributions from around the world that did not just reflect western logics and scholarship. In some ways we may have been naïve when we said:
‘Power relations may be an important component of any cross-cultural interaction. This should be more recognized in the decisions made about what is and what is not good international scholarship. We do not claim to have all the answers. Many scholars working in non-western cultures and educated in the ‘western’ tradition may seek to emulate western approaches, and denigrate ‘indigenous’ knowledge. Our search for contributions that reflect culturally diverse concepts of scholarship is therefore an active process…’ (Jackson and Aycan, 2001: 5-6).
Particularly the expectation that ‘indigenous’ scholarship would miraculously manifest itself and turn up on our doorstep may have shown our naivety. It is only when one starts to look beyond the embryonic attempts of international and cross-cultural management studies to look at ‘indigenousness’ and indigenous knowledge to the wider social sciences that one is thrust again into the stark reality of global power dynamics where, for example Wiessner (1999) sees indigenousness as a function of marginalization. Indigenous people are seen as part of a globalized world through their exclusion from it. Rather than indigenousness simply being related to localness as for example Tsui (2004) contends, indigenousness is inexorable linked to the global, from which it is marginalized. Work on indigenousness in international and cross-cultural management studies unfortunately does not yet recognize this power relatedness to colonization and globalization. Nor did we in 2001.
Porsager (2004: 108) remarks that ‘Any research is indissolubly related to power and control, and indigenous scholars take these issues seriously nowadays, making indigenous research part of the decolonization process, which implies an assignment to indigenous peoples of the right to self-determination, not only from a political or economical point of view, but also with respect to research …... For indigenous peoples, this means being able to make decisions about the research agenda and methodologies for themselves without any outside influence.’ It is not so much that the new obsession with ranking and rating journals dictates research agendas and the nature of scholarship. This is simply part of an evolving and dominant academic culture that excludes non-dominant forms of knowledge, as is our acceptance of the scientific journal article as the appropriate means of scholarly dissemination.
I am not sure to what extent publishing the results of research on and about indigenous forms of knowledge actually furthers the interests of indigenous (that is marginalized) groups. It certainly may further the career aspirations of western (and possibly non-western) scholars. We should be mindful that reporting research findings in western scientific journals serves only one set of very narrow interests. In the general scheme of things, the extent to which journal editors and their contributors make a real difference to knowledge production has to be questioned. Fortunately it is much easier to extend the range and nature of influence of academic journals where electronic forms of worldwide communication are becoming more accessible, where the form of control is more financial and technical (witness the recent sale of Facebook) rather than cultural: the means rather than the message (or perhaps some scholars may disagree with this separation).
Hence eleven years later we are reasserting our mission to be different, and to not try to emulate the ‘big boys’ of management scholarly publication. Our slightly revised published aims are ‘…..to be the first choice for scholarship that develops critical advances in knowledge, which challenges orthodoxy in international and cross-cultural research, which critically reviews current knowledge taking it to the next level, which presents new and exciting approaches, alternative paradigms, alternative cultural perspectives, and challenges the hegemony of Western management knowledge’. Yet I am not sure we can do this by ourselves. The debate has to be taken to a wider academic public and not debated simply within the confines of our journal. We only have limited space within the journal but we need to make best use of this, while also giving voice to those least likely to be heard in the ‘top’ journals. We need to do this both within and outside the printed pages of our journal. Hence we are developing and extending our social networking and media capability to be more inclusive of those voices. We want to know how we can develop alternative forms of knowledge, yet also we want to hear from the cross-cultural scholars and ‘indigenous’ scholars who do not submit their work to us. We want to help those who have an idea, but not sure how to develop it. We want to encourage a new generation of cross-cultural management scholars. We have begun to identify some of these and have invited some of the most talented and dynamic onto our editorial team. We have also maintained continuity with more experienced colleagues who have worked so hard to set the tone and shape the sub-discipline we now know as cross-cultural management studies. This current journal issue, like most others, represents a mixture of more established scholarship, ground-breaking work, and new developments.
Academia has changed over the years. New forms of control have been introduced into our institutions, but merely to supplement or replace those that were there before. Academics, as ever, ‘play the game’ and learn to use this game to their career advantage. In Britain, as we approach the culmination of our REF (Research Excellence Framework) process, the jobs market becomes like the football transfer season, as universities eagerly try to attract those who are most REF-able. Yet this should only be regarded as part of the cultural context of academia. It certainly is not the cause of changes to academia, it is the change. And part of this change is what scholars produce and what they submit. Scholars are rewarded not for innovation but for conformity. As I look back over the last eleven years at the submissions to IJCCM, I see mainly conformity (albeit extremely well crafted, scientifically excellent and contributing significantly to our dominant modes of scholarship) rather than innovation, with some remarkable exceptions. Over the next few months we will be listing the top ten of these on our website and Sage will make them freely available for download. We will also be opening a blog and a Facebook page, so we welcome suggestions, comments and contributions.
Cross-cultural management studies will change over the next ten years. It has to. It also has to make a bigger contribution to the wider social sciences, and integrate more into on-going debates within the social and behavioural sciences. It needs to engage in new dynamics. China (as India) and its international activity is really beginning to change the geopolitical dynamics that influence knowledge production and transfer. This has little affected debate within international and cross-cultural management studies, yet has been the focus of scholarship in other social science disciplines (Jackson, 2012). Similarly, as above, cross-cultural management scholars have barely scratched the surface in studying indigenous knowledge. This has to be better incorporated into what we study.
Cross-cultural management studies will also have to become more useful. We have tended to focus on making MNEs manage more effectively across countries, but have neglected vast areas of international activity such as the development and aid industry which not only is worth some 100 billion US dollars, also has a tremendous influence on our perception of the so called ‘developing countries’ that make up the majority of the Earth’s landmass (e.g. babies with distended bellies, famine, war and natural and human disasters generally). Our discipline has always challenged stereotyping, yet has barely said a word about the types of stereotypes this engenders. The development sector is grappling with major concerns of managing across cultural boundaries, yet has largely eschewed cross-cultural management studies.
That our discipline is naturally conservative also goes hand-in-hand with the tendency to conform, and scholars are sometimes reluctant to confront the political nature of research and knowledge creation. The aspects that cross-cultural management studies has tended to stay clear of  including power and geopolitics, tend to be political in nature. That our discipline does not confront this in a way that contributes to our scientific endeavour is missing a great opportunity to make real strides towards developing a discipline that can make an impact on the wider social sciences, and on the real world. I believe our journal is poised to make significant contributions to this endeavour.

Adler, N. J. and Harzing, A-W. (2009) ‘When Knowledge Wins: Transcending the Sense of and Nonsense of Academic Rankings’, Academy of Management Learning and Education 8(1): 72–95., Organization, 18(4) 429–442
Jack, G. and Westwood, R. (2009) International and Cross-Cultural Management Studies: A Postcolonial Reading, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
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.
Jackson, T. and Aycan, Z. (2001) International Journal of Cross Cultural Management: towards the future, ) International Journal of Cross Cultural Management, 1(1): 5-9
McDermott, M. & Samson, F. L. (2005)  White racial and ethnic identity in the United States, Annual Review of Sociology, 31:245–61
Porsanger, J. (2004) An Essay about Indigenous Methodology, accessed at http://munin.uit.no/munin/bitstream/handle/10037/906/article.pdf?sequence=1, 1/07/11.
Said, Edward (1978/1995) Orientalism, London: Penguin
Tsui, A S (2004) Contributing to Global Management Knowledge: A Case for High Quality Indigenous Research, Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 21, 491–513.
Wiessner, S. (1999). “Rights and Status of Indigenous Peoples: A Global and Comparative and International Legal Analysis” Harvard Human Rights Journal, Vol. 12, Spring.
Willmott, H. (2011) Journal list fetishism and the perversion of scholarship: reactivity and the ABS list, Organization, 18(4), 429–442.

1 comment:

  1. I wouldn't normally comment on my own posting, but just as an addendum to my comment on the UK REF for those interested (as well as those interested in the vagaries of bibliographic metrics)- now that Scopus (as opposed to ISI) is to be used as the sole bibliographic source, the following website is a useful tool based on Scopus data: http://www.scimagojr.com/journalrank.php?area=1400&category=0&country=all&year=2011&order=cpd&min=0&min_type=cd
    I'm not quite sure why the 2-year impact factor (which they say is equivalent to ISI's 2-year impact factor) shows many of the top rated business management journals have lower impact factor, as Scopus is based on a wider database of journals than ISI's. Interesting!