Why Postcolonial Management Theory Can Help Us To Produce More Competitive Companies and Stronger Economies

1 07 2019

AS: By my count, there are about 30 management academics around the world who do work in the area of postcolonial management theory. A number of these scholars will be at EGOS, the European Group for Organization Studies conference, which takes place later this week in Edinburgh. I’m inviting any and all scholars interested in this area of research to contact me, as I am planning to organize a super-informal gathering on Friday from 17:45 to 18:30. So if you are reading this and want to join me for some conversation about shared research interests, please get in touch.

Here’s some background that explains why I am now quite interested in postcolonial management theory.

At one stage in my evolution as an academic, I was hostile to and utterly dismissive of postcolonial theory. Way back then, I used a pretty strong version of the rational-actor theory as a lens for understanding the world. As I’ve matured as an academic, and have been increasingly influenced by the rational thinking movement, I’ve come to recognize that postcolonial theory can be a useful corrective to the ethnocentric biases that distort our cognition. I suppose my way of using postcolonial theory is a bit different from that of other academics who associate themselves with postcolonial theory as a political movement. For me as a social scientist, postcolonial theory is mainly useful because it can help to remove the biases that might otherwise keep me from seeing important causal relationships. That’s because colonialist ideas weren’t created to allow people to see they world more clearly or to identify causal relationships with greater accuracy. They were created to justify colonial rule, land grabs, and the other phenomena associated with imperialism.

Engaging a bit with postcolonial theory can be useful to any academic to deals with international business and/or cross-cultural management. I also think that postcolonial theory is useful for practitioners (e.g., political leaders or say investors) in the former colonial powers (e.g., France of the UK) because it can help to check any lingering assumptions of racial and ethnic superiority that might otherwise lead decision-makers to make costly errors. Having an ethnocentric bias can cost you money. My view is that the sense of British superiority that is one of the legacies of British imperialism has contributed to the hubristic decision of the British government to pursue a form of Brexit that will reverse Britain’s involvement in European economic integration. Simply put, colonialist thinking, which can manifest itself in a longing for a return to the glories of the British Empire or the belief that a competitor firm isn’t a threat because it is run by people with darker skins, can be very costly indeed.  For these reasons, I’ve become super interested in postcolonial management theory. I’ve listed some papers in postcolonial management theory below.

Postcolonial management theory draws on postcolonial theory, which observes that Western colonialism (i.e., the five-hundred-year process by which Western powers gained control of almost 90 percent of the globe), was legitimated by the construction of intellectual systems that depicted Western culture and institutions as inherently and permanently superior to those of non-Western cultures. As the management academic Banu Özkazanç-Pan has pointed out “colonial discourse[s]’ that ‘represents the East as backward, unable to change, inferior, and feminized, while it represents the West as progressive, advanced, and masculine” (Özkazanç-Pan, 2008, 966). Colonialist ideologies did far more than point out some specific ways in Western countries might have measurably better performance metrics in some dimensions than non-Western countries. Colonialist ideologies said that the West was inherently and always better than the East.  Colonialist ideologies contributed to the Otherization of non-Western peoples by depicting them as alien, inferior and monolithic. Otherization is huge problem because it reinforces various inherent cognitive biases and acts a barrier to the recognition of common humanity as well as individual and regional variation.). Scholars interested in Orientalism noted that Western writers legitimated imperialism by representing non-Western societies as static, undeveloped, cruel, and irrational. In Orientalist discourses, the non-West is typically defined in opposition to the West, which is depicted as wealthy, rational, and generally superior (Said, 1978). Orientalist thinking attaches tremendous significance to macro-geographical terms such as “the East” and “the West” that exaggerates differences between macro-geographical regions whilst minimising differences within such regions.

Postcolonial theory posits that colonialist habits of thought still shape the thinking of many people, Westerners and non-Westerners alike, long after the demise of the European colonial empires. Essentially, postcolonial scholars have called on us to free ourselves from the vestiges of colonial thinking. So in my view, an important function of postcolonial research in management is to improve the cognition of practitioners and fellow academics.

Boussebaa, M. (2015). Professional service firms, globalisation and the new imperialism. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal28(8), 1217-1233.

Hopkinson, G. C., & Aman, A. (2018). Micro-political processes in a multinational corporation subsidiary: A postcolonial reading of restructuring in a sales department. Human Relations, 0018726718817818.

Jack, G., Westwood, R., Srinivas, N., & Sardar, Z. (2011). Deepening, broadening and re-asserting a postcolonial interrogative space in organization studies.

Nkomo, S. M. (2011). A postcolonial and anti-colonial reading of ‘African’leadership and management in organization studies: Tensions, contradictions and possibilities. Organization18(3), 365-386.

Ozkazanc-Pan, B. (2018). CSR as gendered neocoloniality in the Global South. Journal of Business Ethics, 1-14.

Siltaoja, M., Juusola, K., & Kivijärvi, M. (2019). ‘World-class’ fantasies: A neocolonial analysis of international branch campuses. Organization26(1), 75-97.

Srinivas, N. (2013). Could a subaltern manage? Identity work and habitus in a colonial workplace. Organization Studies34(11), 1655-1674.

Yousfi, H. (2014). Rethinking hybridity in postcolonial contexts: What changes and what persists? The Tunisian case of Poulina’s managers. Organization Studies35(3), 393-421.


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