Key themes from panel of the 50th Anniversary of AIB UK & I Chapter - History and Future
The Panel took place on 15 April 2023 at the 49th AIB UK & I Chapter Annual Conference at the University of Glasgow. The panel was composed of Peter Buckley (University of Leeds), Davide Castellani (University of Reading), Margaret Fletcher (University of Glasgow), Marian Jones (University of Sheffield), Marianna Marra (University of Sussex), Hinrich Voss (University of Bristol), Catherine Welch (Trinity College Dublin). The panel was organised by Frank McDonald (University of Leeds) and Heinz-Josef Tuselmann (Manchester Metropolitan University).
History of the Chapter
The panel began with a reminder of the publication in 2022 of the History of the AIB UK & I Chapter (available on https://www.aib-uki.org/history.html). Marian Jones reflected on her experiences in helping to address the challenges faced by the Chapter, especially cultivating the doctoral work of the Chapter. She also referred to other challenges faced by the Chapter, including encouraging greater involvement by a wide range of scholars and of developing suitable theoretical and methodological approaches to address issues relevant to the discipline. Marian reflected on the ability of the Chapter to effectively address the need for changes it had faced, and she was confident that the Chapter would continue to rise to the key issues it now faces with the grand challenges.
What are some of the grand challenges?
The presentation by Hinrich Voss (see attached slides) highlighted some of the key grand challenges. These centred on a number of issues that are already evident and that are likely to grow in the coming years. This included climate change and associated issues with loss of land due to rising sea levels, and the availability and security of food and water supplies. Other key issues were the emergence of mega-cities with extremely high populations in the developing world, and high population growth in many parts of the world. These climate change and demographic factors are likely to exerting pressures for large-scale migration of people. The presentation emphasised the need to extend and develop research to enable meaningful contributions to the implications of these matters for the strategy and management of multinational enterprises and for national and international policy issues.
Theories and methodologies to address the ‘grand challenges’
Peter Buckley reviewed the history of the emergence of International Business as a discipline and emphasised that it became focused on the strategy and management of the multinational enterprise. Peter illustrated how International Business developed this focus from the work of Hymer, Dunning and others. This had led to well-developed theories such as internalisation theory. These theories had been and were being refined in response to radical changes in international business environments, the rise of emerging economy multinational enterprises, and the development of a better understanding of how diversity in the people that undertake strategy and management issues in multinational enterprises affected outcomes. These changes to the foundations of the study of multinational enterprises had accelerated in recent years and we were now faced were a host of grand challenges that have significant implications for how we should develop the work of our discipline. Peter stressed that solid and robust modelling of the real world is essential to provide the basis for useful work.
Catherine Welch emphasised the need for changes in both theorising about and in the selection of appropriate methodologies. This was necessary to enable effective examination of the complex array of phenomena that shaped how international business took place and the effects of this on societies. This required moving away for linear based theorising with oversimplified modelling of the complex factors that influence the activities of and outcomes from multinational enterprises. Developing new non-linear methodological approaches was also highlighted as being necessary. These were available in techniques such as multilevel modelling (MLN) and other quantitative and qualitative approaches that incorporate non-linear causal pathways. See attached Catherine’s slides.
Questions raised about the place of theory and methodology to address the grand challenges
The place of theory in addressing the grand challenges was clearly regard as a critical issue in the panel’s discussion. A major issue was the level of abstraction from the complexity of the real world (the assumptions made in theories) that was required to decide on appropriate modelling. In the discussions on this issue the role of theory or what is meant by the term theory was often not clear. In some of the discussion theory seemed to be about predicting outcomes determined from postulations based on high levels of abstraction in the modelling process. This approach it was implied requires additions to and developments of existing theory. This often involved interdisciplinary approaches and a multitude of methodologies to enable the application of appropriate theory to understand real world situations. The view appears to suggest that there is a need in addressing grand challenges issues to clearly identify the boundaries of the applicability of theory. This could involve use of non-linear theories and methodologies. The discussion however revealed questioning of the oversimplification of the real world that often accompanies such predictive modelling. This it was argued can lead to a degree of sterility in theory that renders research too abstract to be of value for explaining real world phenomena. This can and often does makes predictions connected to the grand challenges of little value. The more explanatory approach to modelling is focused on explaining and thereby understanding phenomena in many and diverse situations rather than making predictions. Marian Jones referred to a paper by Locke and Golden-Biddle, (1997) that had insights into how we might develop more explanatory approaches to theorising.
The debates on what theory is and what it is for in the social sciences is of course not new and has been extensively discussed for many years (DiMaggio, 1995, Melitz, J., 1965). Obtaining a better idea of the how we should model and design research on issues connected to the grand challenges is however important if we are to make useful contributions to the debate on these crucial issues.
It seems that we need a clearer understanding what is meant by theory and its purpose in the context of the grand challenges. Modelling based on predictive theorising using high level abstraction (often involving unrealistic assumptions) might be most useful for macro issues. For example, the importance for the development of key principles for cross-border strategy and management of firms arising from important national and international carbon reduction policies. Explanatory theorising based on modelling with lower levels of abstraction (with more realistic assumptions) might be best suited to understanding micro issues. This may for example include the implications of the psychological and sociological characteristics of managers of multinational enterprises for how adjustment by firms works in the context of national and international policies on carbon reduction. This distinction between predictive and explanatory theory may however be a false dichotomy and the real requirement may be developing and using appropriate theory that has sufficient explanatory power to make meaningful predictions. This may boil down to establishing clear boundary conditions in which the findings of the research prevail. This has implications for the type of research projects that are necessary to address the grand challenges and for the kind of research that is publishable in journals and other types of outlets. There may be a ‘horses for courses’ decision on modelling and methodological approaches that depends on what the research is seeking to achieve and in which conditions the results are appliable. There is it seems a need for reflection and discussion on what is meant by appropriate modelling to effectively address the grand challenges and on finding suitable methodologies required to investigate phenomena associated with the grand challenges.
The issue of applying the results of research on the grand challenges to users was not explicitly considered. We need however to consider where our research can usefully be applied. Several possibilities exist: for the strategy and management of multinational enterprises, for those affected by the activities of multinational enterprises, for governmental and non-governmental organisations developing policies towards multinational enterprises. Applying the results of research on the grand challenges to users (in terms of other areas of academic research and for practitioners in the public and private sectors) is crucial if our discipline is to make useful contributions to addressing the grand challenges. The targeting and application of research to users of results of research may have important implications for what is appropriate modelling and methodological approaches to secure useful and robust findings.
The importance of interdisciplinary research was acknowledged in the discussions. How to develop such research and how to get it published was touched upon but needs more refection and discussion. Agreement was reached on the need to read widely beyond our discipline and indeed beyond the social sciences to develop a better understanding of how to address the grand challenges.
The means to develop collaboration to address the grand challenges
Marianna Marra highlighted the opportunities to develop collaboration with the Special Interest Group (SIG) in International Business and International Management of the British Academy of Business (BAM. Joint developments with AIB and the SIG including workshops and special sessions at BAM conferences had and were planned to take place. Opportunities to develop collaboration to help to address the grand challenges were welcomed by the BAM SIG and offered connection to the wider Business and Management community via the BAM network. Margaret Fletcher outlined the resources available and the main activities of the AIB Teaching and Education Shared Interest Group that could be harnessed to help to link research on the grand challenges to teaching. See attached Margaret’s slides. Davide Castellani (Chair of AIB UK & Ireland Chapter) provided assurances that the Chapter was and would continue to develop policies and programmes to help our discipline to address the grand challenges. He also highlighted that the Executive of the Chapter welcomed any thoughts and suggestions to help to develop this work.
Comments, questions and discussion on issues raised by the panel are welcomed on this blog. This will hopefully help us to define and develop the key issues that need to be tackled to enable our discipline to respond effectively to the grand challenges.
~ Frank McDonald, University of Leeds
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Locke. K., and Golden-Biddle, K. 1997. Constructing Opportunities for Contribution: Structuring Intertextual Coherence and "Problematizing" in Organizational Studies. Academy of Management Journal 40, 1023-1062
DiMaggio, P.J., 1995. Comments on" What theory is not". Administrative Science Quarterly, 40, 391-397.
Melitz, J., 1965. Friedman and Machlup on the significance of testing economic assumptions. Journal of
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Van Tulder, R. and van Mil, E., 2022. Principles of Sustainable Business: Frameworks for Corporate Action on the SDGs. Taylor & Francis.