Ethnography as Research Methodology for International Business Studies : Its Complementary Role to the Methodology Based on a Positivistic Paradigm

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Japan Academy of International Business Studies

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A goal of this paper is to introduce ethnography to the Japanese audience as research methodology for international business studies. Ethnography is defined as the study of describing a culture of a group of people. In the United States, ethnography has been established as one of the research methods in organizational studies. This does not apply to Japan, however. Thus, the paper aims to fill the void and inform the Japanese audience about how ethnography can contribute extending our understanding of the complexity of international cross-cultural management. The paper begins with outlining characteristics of ethnography in comparison to research methodology based on a positivistic paradigm. Research conducted under a naturalistic condition and a long-term commitment to the field epitomize the characteristics of ethnographic research. A general procedure for conducting ethnographic research follows. Second, the paper touches upon the history in which the construct of culture-a focus of ethnography-has been brought into the organization studies in the US. Two topics are introduced. One is how the researchers "discovered" a culture-like element in modern business organizations in 1930s. Second, it discusses how the emergence of Japanese corporations into the global economy in 1970s and 80s stimulated organization studies to re-discover the culture concept. Next, the paper introduces a multiple cultures perspective (MCP), a perspective that views the organization as the potential carrier of multiple, separate, overlapping, superimposed, or nested cultures, as a new foundation upon which international business studies is built. The paper points out the limitation of the use of culture construct in existing international business studies. They primarily focus on national culture only and see the culture as a static independent variable. In contrast, ethnography is able to examine a multiplicity of cultures in the organization focusing on a dynamic process of culture formation. The paper concludes with suggesting a contribution that ethnography can make in international business studies. As the globalization progresses, how do people react to a dynamic change caused by the globalization and what kind of new culture emerges within a multinational and multicultural organization? Ethnographic studies can give a first-hand insight to these questions.


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