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Rethinking the Case Study in International Business and Management Research

Edited by Rebecca Piekkari and Catherine Welch

This important and original book critically evaluates case study practices and calls for a more pluralistic future for case research in international business (IB) and international management (IM).
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Chapter 6: ‘There is No Alternative’ – Or Is There? A Critical Case Study Approach for International Business Research

Pasi Ahonen, Janne Tienari and Eero Vaara


Pasi Ahonen, Janne Tienari and Eero Vaara INTRODUCTION Case study conventions in international business (IB) research reflect the functionalist emphases and positivist research traditions of the discipline. While this tradition has its merits, it runs the risk of sustaining simplified models of explanation that are inadequate in a complex global business landscape. To capture the economic, cultural and political complexities of the IB setting, case study research in IB needs to expand its horizons beyond current mainstream methodologies. We propose that one possible avenue for such an expansion is the adoption of critical perspectives in IB case study research. Critical perspectives are fundamentally interdisciplinary in nature. They draw from social theory and radical research traditions, complement and challenge mainstream insights, and offer important new avenues for IB studies. By questioning the normalized assumptions and axioms, critical approaches provide alternative ways to understand internationalization and globalization and their causes and consequences. We argue that this is especially the case when making sense of controversial corporate actions related to global industrial restructuring: downsizing, layoffs, offshoring and shutdowns. In this chapter, we present a critical alternative for case study research in IB. We illustrate the ways in which the adoption of critical perspectives both enriches and challenges mainstream IB research. We draw from critical discourse analysis (CDA) to present an approach that assists understanding of the discursive construction of globalization. We illustrate our approach by analysing a recent industrial shutdown case in Finland. In March 2006, UPM-Kymmene (UPM), one of the world’s largest...

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