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Towards a more balanced treatment of culture in international business studies: The need for positive cross-cultural scholarship

Abstract

The results of a content analysis of 1141 articles published in the Journal of International Business Studies over a 24-year time period (1989–2012) reveal that a pervasive tendency exists in the international business (IB) literature towards emphasizing the adverse outcomes associated with cultural differences more than the positive effects. We argue that this imbalance is not an accurate reflection of the reality of cross-cultural contact in IB and that it has hindered our understanding of the processes and conditions that help organizations leverage the benefits of cultural differences in a wide range of contexts. We offer several explanations for the predominance of the negative over the positive in theory and research on culture in IB; and, using a Positive Organizational Scholarship lens couched in the context of March’s (1991) exploration vs exploitation organizational learning framework, highlight a complementary perspective, namely the idea that cultural differences can be an asset, not just a liability in a range of IB contexts. We conclude by offering an integrative framework within which both positive and negative effects of cultural differences can be understood and provide a road map for future research on culture in IB.

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Notes

  1. A full listing of the 244 articles is available upon request.

  2. A full report of findings is available upon request.

  3. We gratefully acknowledge an anonymous reviewer for this insight.

  4. We thank Editor-in-Chief, John Cantwell, for this important insight.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to Editor-in-Chief John Cantwell, Associate Editor Mary Zellmer-Bruhn and three anonymous reviewers for their guidance and their insightful comments on earlier versions of this article. We also thank a number of colleagues whose advice and ideas have helped us improve the article: Nancy Adler, Rangga Almahendra, Björn Ambos, Allan Bird, Mary Yoko Brannen, Julian Birkinshaw, Paula Caligiuri, Cristina Gibson, Harry Lane, Hyun-Jung Lee and Laurence Romani; as well as participants (in particular, Kim Cameron) of the symposium “The upside of cultural distance: A positive organizational scholarship perspective” at the Academy of Management Conference, Orlando, 9–13 August 2013. Thanks are further due to Christof Miska who provided invaluable assistance in the literature search and content analysis.

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Correspondence to Günter K Stahl.

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Accepted by John Cantwell, Editor-in-Chief, 6 October 2014. This article has been with the authors for two revisions.

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Stahl, G., Tung, R. Towards a more balanced treatment of culture in international business studies: The need for positive cross-cultural scholarship. J Int Bus Stud 46, 391–414 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1057/jibs.2014.68

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Keywords

  • culture
  • cross-cultural management
  • Positive Organizational Scholarship