Several Open Books

Advancing management studies through bottom-up research

 

MY RESEARCH PROGRAM

My research program in management studies focuses on social change and corporate social responsibility initiatives for the disenfranchised and marginalized in the emerging markets' supply chains of South Asia and South East Asia.

My main critique of the current state of the literature pertains to the predominant assumption that social change in emerging markets' supply chains is a consequence of the top-down and macro-level intervention of international development agencies and large multi-national corporations - often headquartered in the Western World. This assumption has led researchers to neglect the voices of local managers, local individuals and their collectives in the Global South, who are often understood as passive adopters or beneficiaries of imported guidelines rather than possible agents of social change.

I argue that we, as scholars, should pay more attention to local managers, local individuals and their collectives within circumscribed organizational fields in emerging markets' supply chains. I specifically highlight the importance of exploring how they organize bottom-up for social change (in both positive and perhaps less positive ways) through their work. While embracing a social constructivist epistemology and a postmodern orientation, more specifically, I am interested in understanding the following and overarching question:


"How do local managers, local individuals and their collectives organize for social change (or lack thereof) in emerging markets' supply chains?"


I respond to this question by adopting a social-symbolic work practice perspective. While paraphrasing Tom Lawrence and Nelson Phillips (2019:36), social-symbolic work practices pertain to "the purposeful, reflexive efforts of individuals, collective actors, and networks of actors to shape social-symbolic objects." These are abstract patterns or malleable ideas “rooted in an awareness of organizational life as constructed and therefore changeable” (ibid:4). Performing social-symbolic work practices assumes an act of human agency that is relational because it is nested in an organizational context in which individuals find themselves firmly enshrined and constrained (Battilana 2006; Emirbayer and Mische 1998). In other words, "the social reality in which they [individuals] are embedded is providing them with the motivations, resources, and constraints" to organize for social change (Lawrence and Phillips 2019:8).


I have predominantly investigated CSR initiatives and social change in the apparel supply chain of Bangladesh. This is a particularly important organizational field because it represents the second largest apparel manufacturing hub worldwide but it is also highly contested with regard to social issues. It was hit by the Rana Plaza tragedy in 2013, a factory collapse where more than 1,100 workers lost their lives (Chowdhury 2017).

In my research, I for instance observed how senior managers in the Bangladeshi apparel supply chain organize for CSR initiatives for workers between the market pressure for low prices from their global buyers and the normative expectations of their domestic environment. Again, I looked into the social symbolic work practices of non-governmental organization implementers of CSR initiatives to construe, blur and expand boundaries (Grodal 2018; Langley et al. 2019) in the factory and in the community in Bangladesh to empower female workers. Recently, I looked at how Bangladeshi Hijras - defined as third gender individuals (Knight 2016) - seek employment opportunities in the apparel supply chain while having to grapple with the discrimination they encounter from society, their work colleagues and their own community.


In sum, I believe that local managers, local individuals and their collectives posses many of the agential skills and abilities to organize for social change through their work. This area of research remains untapped and represents a fundamental shift in perspective from the traditional and top down approach of managing social change in the Global South.


RESEARCH METHODS

I am particularly passionate about empirically grounded and problem-driven exploratory research. I work with primary and original qualitative data through face-to-face and ethnographic interviews while being on the field. I particularly value observations and participatory examination (Lincoln and Guba 1985). Although I am well aware of the efforts and sacrifices needed to attain this type of inductive of research, I believe this iterative and in person approach to data collection elevates the quality of my findings, adding credence to the validity of my arguments. Thus, I adopt an array of different research research approaches, predominantly focusing on grounded theory, content analysis and in-depth case studies (e.g. Eisenhardt 1989; Eisenhardt, Graebner, and Sonenshein 2016).

During my research career, I conducted over a hundred interviews in Bangladesh, seventy interviews in Sweden and thirty-five interviews in Japan with different types of respondents. I am currently involved in data collection in Thailand.


REFERENCES

Battilana, J. 2006. “Agency and Institutions: The Enabling Role of Individuals’ Social Position.” Organization 13(5):653–76.

Chowdhury, R. 2017. “Rana Plaza Fieldwork and Academic Anxiety: Some Reflections.” Journal of Management Studies 54(7):1111–1117.

Eisenhardt, K. M. 1989. “Building Theories from Case Study Research.” Academy of Management Review 14(4):532–550.

Eisenhardt, K. M., M. E. Graebner, and S. Sonenshein. 2016. “Grand Challenges and Inductive Methods: Rigor without Rigor Mortis.” Academy of Management Journal 59(4):1113–1123.

Emirbayer, M., and A. Mische. 1998. “What Is Agency?” American Journal of Sociology 103(4):692–1023.

Grodal, S. 2018. “Field Expansion and Contraction: How Communities Shape Social and Symbolic Boundaries.” Administrative Science Quarterly 63(4):783–818.

Knight, K. 2016. I Want to Live with My Head Held High: Abuses in Bangladesh’s Legal Recognition of Hijras. New York, NY: Human Rights Watch.

Langley, A., K. Lindberg, B. E. Mørk, D. Nicolini, E. Raviola, and L. Walter. 2019. “Boundary Work among Groups, Occupations, and Organizations: From Cartography to Process.” Academy of Management Annals 13(2):704–36.

Lawrence, T. B., and N. Phillips. 2019. Constructing Organizational Life: How Social-Symbolic Work Shapes Selves, Organizations, and Institutions. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Lincoln, Y. S., and E. G. Guba. 1985. Naturalistic Inquiry. London: Sage Publications.