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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 23: How to Use Ethnographic Case Studies to Decipher National Cultures

Philippe d’Iribarne


23. How to use ethnographical case studies to decipher national cultures Philippe d’Iribarne INTRODUCTION Empirical research using attitude scales, dominated by Hofstede’s work (1980 [2001]), enjoys an almost hegemonic status in the field of cross-cultural management. An exhaustive literature review of this field (Boyacigiller et al. 2004) refers only to large-scale quantitative studies, making the use of such methods appear self-evident (Sackmann and Phillips 2004). This assumption is particularly pronounced in English-language research.1 By contrast, the bulk of research using an interpretative approach focuses on the analysis of specific organizational cultures. In principle this approach could be applied to all forms of culture, including national cultures (Alvesson 2002). Yet with regard to national cultures, the aim of interpretative research at the organizational level is not to highlight the supposedly persistent characteristics of certain cultures. It is rather a matter of analysing how, within a given organization, the interaction of people from different societies and with different habits drives the emergence of a local culture, understood as a common way of doing things (Brannen and Salk 2000; Sackmann and Phillips 2004). The challenge is then to decipher what represents national culture and what is uniquely local. Consequently, Schein’s complaint (1996, p. 229) seems particularly justified: ‘I believe our failure to take culture seriously enough stems from our methods of inquiry, which put a greater premium on abstractions that can be measured than on careful ethnographic or clinical observation of organizational phenomena’. The reasons behind this situation are no doubt complex. Here,...

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