The Globalization of Strategy Research: Permanent Pluralism or Prelude to a New Synthesis?
Advances in Strategic Management, Vol. 27, 2010
Posted: 11 Jun 2011
Date Written: June 10, 2010
The field of strategic management emerged and developed in North America before migrating to other parts of the world. Historically, the relationship between North American strategy research and research elsewhere was asymmetric: North America led, other research communities followed. More recently, however, the pattern of interaction has shifted as strategy research communities outside North America have attained critical mass and begun to challenge North American dominance.
The challenge takes several forms. To begin with, whereas a decade or more ago top management journals rarely featured strategy research conducted outside North America, today the volume of work by non-North American strategy researchers that appears in these journals is substantial, and arguably approaching parity. Moreover, strategy research communities outside North America are no longer inclined to defer to the North American community as sole arbiter of research quality, nor do they routinely accept North American views of what constitutes “cutting edge” research. This newly gained confidence in their own abilities and judgment has emboldened non-North American researchers to explore intellectual traditions distinct from those that ground North American strategy research.
As North American strategy researchers are increasingly exposed to these new ideas and approaches, optimistically, this should give rise to cooperation, consolidation and common ground. But, for the present, strategy research seems to be moving in the opposite direction, toward increased rivalry and fragmentation as new rhetorical, discursive, and practice perspectives emerge and gain traction.
For some, this fragmentation reflects the effects of globalization on the larger cycle of variation, selection and consolidation in the evolution of strategy research. For others, however, it is the result of a confrontation between diverse intellectual traditions and socioeconomic conditions that not only make fragmentation and hostility likely to persist, but also give rise to distinctive and potentially irreconcilable schools of thought (O’Shannasy, 2001) .
Whether strategy research is destined for permanent pluralism or merely in transition to greater coherence is difficult to say precisely because we do not understand adequately how fields evolve in general, and how globalization will affect the intellectual evolution of our field in particular (Baum, 2007). At one level it can be argued that the end-state does not matter. What matters at this point is letting a “thousand flowers” bloom by encouraging new ideas and giving new voices an opportunity to be heard. This is the policy we adopted for this volume of Advances in Strategic Management. We cast our net wide deliberately, inviting contributions that tackle and capture the globalization of strategy research, with particular emphasis on contributions that “challenge the historically dominant North American tradition in strategy research – from both outside as well as inside North America.”
We believe we have succeeded in bringing together as diverse a collection of contributions as space allows, but in the course of reading and editing them it became clear to us that not only do many of these contributions challenge the dominance of the North American influence in strategy research, but they also challenge each other. For us, as editors, this posed a dilemma: Espousing diversity may satisfy our belief in the importance of keeping an open mind, but stopping there would ignore how the increasing conceptual diversity of strategy research is changing the field.
A useful starting point for understanding the impact of this diversity on the field of strategy is the wider historical context. As with the broader impact of globalization, the emergence of a challenge to North American dominance of strategy research is due in part to technological change, specifically convenient access of researchers via the Internet to articles published in what are often colloquially referred to as ‘second tier’ management journals.
Easier access to these journals has increased their influence, and reduced the power of so-called ‘top tier’ journals, which are almost invariably North American, to enforce a particular approach to strategy research. It has also allowed non-North American researchers, and North American researchers who dissent from the dominant perspective, to link up and form new research perspectives. The increased diversity, however, has intensified competition for what Collins (1998) terms the “intellectual attention space”. This, in turn, has triggered greater attention to fundamental questions of legitimacy, or more specifically, why it is increasingly difficult for strategy researchers to agree on how knowledge claims should be judged.
This the main issue that we examine in this opening chapter. We begin by framing the issue of intellectual or scientific legitimacy in general. This is a large issue so, by necessity, we focus on several key points that are useful to our analysis. We continue by examining how the history of the field of strategy or, more precisely, the “emergence narrative” of how the field began has been used to legitimize the dominance of North American strategy research. We show that contrary to the emergence narrative that now prevails, there were alternative visions of how the field should evolve, but that these alternatives were marginalized when certain epistemologies, specifically logical empiricism, were promoted as the best way of legitimizing research. Research that challenges the dominant North American approach to research could only make headways if it sought different sources of legitimacy. In the final part of the paper we therefore examine the various ways in which emerging perspectives in strategy have sought to consecrate their research, and consider to the extent to which different consecration tactics exacerbated the fragmentation of the field of strategy as a global enterprise.
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