Journal of International Business Studies

, Volume 42, Issue 6, pp 765–786 | Cite as

Selling, resistance and reconciliation: A critical discursive approach to subsidiary role evolution in MNEs

  • Julia BalogunEmail author
  • Paula Jarzabkowski
  • Eero Vaara


Studies of political dynamics between multinational enterprise (MNE) parents and subsidiaries during subsidiary role evolution have focused largely on control and resistance. This paper adopts a critical discursive approach to enable an exploration of subtle dynamics in the way that both headquarters and subsidiaries subjectively reconstruct their independent-interdependent relationships with each other during change. We draw from a real-time qualitative study of a revealing case of charter change in an important European subsidiary of an MNE attempting to build closer integration across European country operations. Our results illustrate the role of three discourses – selling, resistance and reconciliation – in the reconstruction of the subsidiary–parent relationship. From this analysis we develop a process framework that elucidates the important role of these three discourses in the reconstruction of subsidiary roles, showing how resistance is not simply subversive but an important part of integration. Our findings contribute to a better understanding of the micro-level political dynamics in subsidiary role evolution, and of how voice is exercised in MNEs. This study also provides a rare example of discourse-based analysis in an MNE context, advancing our knowledge of how discursive methods can help to advance international business research more generally.


primary data source strategic change strategy processes discourse analysis case study MNE integration 



We would like to thank Tomi Laamanen for his thoughts on an early draft of this paper. We would like to thank the editor, Julian Birkinshaw, for his encouragement and insightful comments during the editorial process. We would also like to thank the three anonymous reviewers, whose comments helped greatly with the development of the paper. The authors gratefully acknowledge financial support in the preparation of this manuscript from the UK ESRC/EPSRC/Advanced Institute of Management (AIM) Research: RES-331-25-3014 (Balogun) and RES-331-25-3013 (Jarzabkowski). Also the UK ESRC: RES-000-22-2979 (Balogun).


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Copyright information

© Academy of International Business 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Lancaster University Management SchoolLancasterUK
  2. 2.Aston Business School, Aston UniversityBirminghamUK
  3. 3.Hanken School of Economics and EMLYONHelsinkiFinland

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