Journal of International Business Studies

, Volume 42, Issue 5, pp 672–693 | Cite as

Small firm internationalisation unveiled through phenomenography



Phenomenography is proposed here as a qualitative methodology for investigating how owner-managers practise internationalisation in small firms, and it is applied in an empirical study of internationalising owner-managed small Australian wineries. The findings show a common internationalisation activity cycle but four qualitatively different ways in which these owner-managers practise internationalisation. We reveal that this variation in owner-manager internationalisation practices is determined by their understandings of internationalisation, which produce differences in the ways activities within their internationalisation activity cycle are orchestrated. In particular, phenomenography has enabled new insights into the multiplicity of firm internationalisation practices not able to be captured through other qualitative methodologies such as ethnography or semiotics, as they are not designed to capture such variation. Based on our findings, we propose an understanding-based theory to explain the idiosyncratic nature of owner-managed small firm internationalisation. Furthermore, we suggest that phenomenography, used independently or in conjunction with other qualitative methodologies, also has potential to reveal the varying practices of internationalising large MNEs by enabling an investigation of the collective or shared understanding of firm internationalisation within MNEs. Finally, we point out how phenomenography can be extended beyond firm internationalisation practices to investigate other topics within international business.


understandings internationalisation activity cycle owner-managed small firms internationalisation phenomenography 



The authors wish to thank Special Issue Editor Mary Yoko Brannen, Area Editor Alain Verbeke, Editor-in-Chief Lorraine Eden and three anonymous reviewers for their encouragement and constructive guidance provided throughout the development of this article.


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Copyright information

© Academy of International Business 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Regional School of Business, La Trobe UniversityWodongaAustralia
  2. 2.UQ Business School, The University of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia

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