International Business Research, Methodological Individualism, and the Judgement-Based View: Implications for Business Historians
I’m attending the Reading-UNCTAD International Business Conference, which is being held this weekend at Henley Business School. I was part of a panel on International Business History that went well, I’d like to think. One of the other panels, Where is the individual in IB research?, focused on units of analysis in International Business research. The Panellists were Mark Casson, University of Reading; Timothy Devinney, Leeds University Business School; Marcus Moller Larsen, Copenhagen Business School, and Dunning Fellow; Elisa Giuliani, University of Pisa.
I really enjoyed Mark Casson’s paper, which was a very robust defence of methodological individualism in International Business research. Casson stressed that when articles in IB journals refer to the decisions and actions of firms, the authors are really using a form of verbal shorthand for referring to groups of individuals.
“Firms don’t take decisions, individuals do. When you say that a firm pursued an international strategy, you really mean that that the CEO persuaded the individuals on the board to go along with his or her strategy.” Professor Casson also pointed out that individuals establish firms to exploit their ideas. Firms founders are highly heterogeneous and firms have a character that is influenced by the personality of the founder.
In the Q&A session, Professor Casson elaborated on some of the implications for future research in IB journals of his methodological individualism. He stressed that there needs to be increased attention to entrepreneurs and more careful reflection on how we define entrepreneurship. Here, Casson appeared to me to be drawing on the Foss-Klein judgment-based view of entrepreneurship (JBV) and some of the themes that are developed in some papers in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Institutional Economics. Casson spoke at great length about the need for research that focuses on named individuals, is based on the extensive study of primary sources in archives, takes social and political context into account, and which looks at case studies of entrepreneurs in different time periods. In effect, he was calling for the re-integration of Business History into International Business research.
Casson’s call for more history in IB journals is consistent with a broader trend in management research, namely the so-called Historic Turn. Casson’s remarks support my view that the JBV of entrepreneurship and the approach to studying entrepreneurship developed by Business Historians are congruent and natural allies.