Business and Management in an Age of Rising Nationalism: Historical Perspectives 

14 04 2017

As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, there are an increasingly number of data points that support the thesis that economic nationalism is on the rise and that political developments may be contributing to the ongoing process of deglobalization. Brexit and the election of Trump are perhaps the most famous of these events.  Public intellectuals and business people are now talking about deglobalization as never before (see here). I’ve also pointed out that academics in business schools have yet to provide managers with concrete and practical advice about how to manage the political risks associated with elevated levels of economic nationalism and protectionist sentiment.  For instance, one of my blog posts critiqued Michael Witt, a political scientist at INSEAD, for failing to give managers advice that was non-obvious and useful. Here’s what I wrote


Late last year,  Dr Witt wrote two pieces in which he pondered what deglobalization means for multinational firms. His first piece did an admirable job of summarizing the political science literature on globalization and deglobalization and tells people how two of the three main schools of thought in IR (Realism and Liberalism) view these phenomena. Somewhat curiously, Witt doesn’t say much as about Constructivism, another interpretative tradition in IR, which is unfortunate since constructivism has a great deal  to offer here. Anyway,  his second piece, which was published a week after the first one, sought to offer concrete advice to business executives interested in this topic. Sadly, the main pieces of managerial advice he provided weren’t that useful to managers

I am, therefore, glad that my fellow business historians are now preparing to enter the conversation and to give advice to managers. A special panel on historical perspectives on managerial responses to rising nationalism will be held at this year’s American Academy of Management conference in Atlanta.  Business historians have written extensively about how firms managed previous episodes of deglobalization and my impression is that this panel will draw on this research. In a sense, the panel in Atlanta will complement a recent British Academy of Management event that was held in the city of Coventry. (A few months ago, I blogged about the unfortunate choice of venue for this otherwise excellent event, which included such speakers at  Steven McGuire, University of Sussex, Thomas Lawton, Open University Business School, and Neil Rollings,  University of Glasgow).

My hope is that the events in Coventry and Atlanta will result in publications that give advice to practitioners that goes beyond simply stating the obvious (e.g., “in times of elevated political risk, consider creating an in-house department for engaging in political risk analysis”). Given the calibre of the scholars who attended the two events, I’m very optimistic that high quality manager-relevant research outputs will emerge. It also occurs to me that the volume of the extant business-historical research on managerial responses to rising levels of economic nationalism may now be sufficient to support a meta-analysis paper targetted at a journal such as the International Journal of Management Reviews.

Anyway, here are the details.

Sunday  10.30-12.00pm, Hyatt Regency Atlanta, Spring
Chair: Daniel Wadhwani, U. of the Pacific

Panelist: Matthias Kipping, Schulich School of Bus, York U.

Panelist: Takafumi Kurosawa, Kyoto U.

Panelist: Stephanie Decker, Aston Business School

History can provide management scholars with a unique lens for understanding the current rise of nationalism, and the choices that businesses, managers, and entrepreneurs face in response to those changes. In part, this is because both supporters and critics of the current wave of nationalism point to historical examples and their consequences in justifying their positions. But, even more so, historical waves of globalization and de- globalization allow us a mirror for reflecting on the options and consequences that both policymakers and managers face today. For instance, on the eve of World War I, much of the world economy was economically integrated, with the relatively free mobility of firms, people, and capital across borders. This earlier wave of global integration fell apart with the rise of nationalism and nationalist policies during the interwar period, and a different kind of globally integrated economy had to be rebuilt by policymakers and businesspeople in the post-World War II world. This panel will discuss the lessons of such earlier waves of nationalism and de-globalization for our own time. It draws together four leading business historians, with expertise in four different regions of the world as well as in different aspects of management research. The panel will examine how rising nationalism affected not only the global context in which managers operated, but also consider its implications for business strategy, organizational behavior, social and political legitimacy, labor mobility and entrepreneurship. The goal of the panel will remain focused on the relevance of history for understanding managerial choices and consequences in the face of nationalism in our own time.



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