How Do Small Businesses in Developing Countries Participate in Social Irresponsibility?

10127264163_3280e1b6e0_z[We’re pleased to welcome Vivek Soundararajan of Birmingham Business School. Vivek recently published an article in Business & Society entitled “Small Business and Social Irresponsibility in Developing Countries: Working Conditions and ‘Evasion’ Institutional Work” with co-authors Laura J. Spence and Chris Rees of University of London.]

This article is an outcome of my ongoing research about working conditions in developing country supplier facilities. My fieldwork observations in small knitwear exporting facilities located in Tirupur, India shook numerous assumptions drawn largely from a developed country perspective that we usually work with when dealing with small businesses. This prompted me to write this article along with my co-authors Prof. Laura J. Spence and Prof. Chris Rees. A prevailing notion among scholars BAS Coverand policy makers about developing country small suppliers of developed country buyers is that they are resource dependent, powerless and passive. Indeed, small suppliers are resource dependent and may hesitate to retaliate against multinational corporations’ requirements or other institutional demands related to working conditions. But, they do not simply agree with everything or abandon the relationship. They discreetly bypass various institutional demands by engaging in numerous irresponsible business practices which we refer to as ‘evasion work’ – a form of institutional work. In this article, we illustrate numerous ways in which they engage in ‘evasion work’ and the conditions that enable them to engage in such work. We believe that our study highlights the need for a more critical research on the organization of working conditions in small businesses that are part of global supply chains. Our study also adds to the ongoing conversation about the agency of resource-dependent and powerless actors. In terms of practical implications, we emphasize the need for sustainability initiatives tailored to meet the capabilities and characteristics of suppliers in developing countries.

The abstract for the paper:

Small businesses in developing countries, as part of global supply chains, are sometimes assumed to respond in a straightforward manner to institutional demands for improved working conditions. This article problematizes this perspective. Drawing upon extensive qualitative data from Tirupur’s knitwear export industry in India, we highlight owner-managers’ agency in avoiding or circumventing these demands. The small businesses here actively engage in irresponsible business practices and “evasion” institutional work to disrupt institutional demands in three ways: undermining assumptions and values, dissociating consequences, and accumulating autonomy and political strength. This “evasion” work is supported by three conditions: void (in labor welfare mechanisms), distance (from institutional monitors), and contradictions(between value systems). Through detailed empirical findings, the article contributes to research on both small business social responsibility and institutional work.

You can read “Small Business and Social Irresponsibility in Developing Countries: Working Conditions and ‘Evasion’ Institutional Work” from Business & Society free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to know about all of the latest research from Business & Society? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!

*Bazar image attributed to michael_swan (CC)

Vivek Soundararajan (PhD, Royal Holloway, University of London) is a research fellow at Birmingham Business School, University of Birmingham, United Kingdom and a visiting lecturer at Royal Holloway University of London. His research interests include corporate responsibility, multistakeholder initiatives, labor and environmental standards, sustainable global supply chains, small business responsibility, and emerging country contexts. He has obtained various grants, honors and awards for excellence in research, including two prestigious awards for his doctoral dissertation, namely, “Best Dissertation Award, Social Issues in Management (SIM) Division, the Academy of Management, USA” and “Honourable Mention, Thomas A. Kochan & Stephen R. Sleigh Best Dissertation Competition, Labor and Employment Relations Association (LERA), USA.”

Laura J. Spence (PhD, Brunel University/Buckinghamshire College) is professor of business ethics in the School of Management at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her research includes a wide range of critical approaches to understanding corporate social responsibility and business ethics. In particular, she is known for her work on small- and medium-sized enterprises and the emerging concept of small business social responsibility. Her articles have been published in Accounting, Organizations and Society; Business Ethics Quarterly; California Management Review; and Organization Studies.

Chris Rees (PhD, University of Warwick) is professor of employment relations in the School of Management at Royal Holloway, University of London. His research interests include the sociology of work, employee voice, and transnational and European labor regulation. His work has appeared in journals such as European Journal of Industrial Relations, Human Resource Management Journal, Transfer: European Review of Labour and Research, and Public Management Review.

The September Issue of Administrative Science Quarterly is Now Online!

The September issue of Administrative Science Quarterly is now available and can be read online for free for the next 30 days. This issue offers a range of astute articles on organizational studies as well as insightful book reviews.

The lead article entitled “Place and Institutional Work: Creating Housing for the Hard-to-house” was authored by Thomas B. Lawrence of the University of Oxford and Graham Dover of the Mindset Social Innovation Foundation. You can read the abstract here:

The places in which organizational life occurs can have profound impacts on actors, actions, and outcomes but are largely ignored in ASQ_v60n3_Sept2015_cover.inddorganizational research. Drawing on ideas from social geography, we explore the roles that places play in institutional work. The context for our study is the domain of housing for the hard-to-house, within which we conducted two qualitative case studies: the establishment of Canada’s first residential and day-care facility for people living with HIV/AIDS, and the creation of a municipal program to provide temporary overnight accommodation for homeless people in local churches. In examining these cases, we found that places played three key roles: places contained, mediated, and complicated institutional work. Each of these roles was associated with a distinct ontology of place: places as social enclosures, as signifiers, and as practical objects. Our findings have significant implications for how we understand the relationship between location and organizations and allow us to develop a process model of places, institutions, and institutional work.

Click here to access the Table of Contents of the September issue of Administrative Science Quarterly. Want to know about all the latest from Administrative Science Quarterly? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!

Pedro Monteiro and Davide Nicolini on Material Elements in Institutional Work

[We’re pleased to welcome Pedro Monteiro and Davide Nicolini, both of the University of Warwick. Their paper, “Recovering Materiality in Institutional Work: Prizes as an Assemblage of Human and Material Entities,” recently appeared in the January 2015 issue of Journal of Management Inquiry.]

In summer 2014 the Victoria and Albert inaugurated in JMI_72ppiRGB_powerpointLondon an exhibition on the role of objects in movements for social change. From banners to provoke debate, t-shirts and badges that unify a campaign or tents used in peace camps, objects are central for activist groups struggling to alter the world.

The transformations and stability of society is an issue that accompanies the social sciences from its birth. In organization studies, this translates in a field of inquiry on institutional dynamics, that is, the processes through which changes or maintenance of taken-for-granted social elements happen. Traditionally these studies emphasize the (institutional) entrepreneurs and their heroic battles – overlooking that battlefields are usually full of soldiers, not generals, as Brecht puts in his famous “Questions From a Worker Who Reads”.

Bringing attention to the distributed and situated effort of multiple actors, authors proposed the notion of institutional work to shift attention to the struggle (not always coherent or successful) of individuals to change or maintain stabilized practices, industry regulations and similar structures. However, to date, these studies focus mostly on humans despite our daily experience that protests are made not only of human demonstrators, but also signs, loudspeakers and similar materials. The current paper is a call to arms to takes seriously the role of objects in institutional dynamics and embraces a more ecological thinking that focus not on single humans but on the alignment among individuals, materials and discourses in social processes.

You can read “Recovering Materiality in Institutional Work: Prizes as an Assemblage of Human and Material Entities” from Journal of Management Inquiry for free by clicking here. Want to know about all the latest research like this from Journal of Management Inquiry? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!

s200_pedro.monteiroPedro Monteiro is a PhD researcher at Warwick Business School and visiting student at São Paulo Business Administration School (FGV-EAESP). His doctoral project explores multidisciplinary collaborative work in the development of high-complex products based on ethnographic methods and practice theory. His main interests are around the organizing and work involved in collaboration, knowledge circulation, and innovation. He is also interested in feminist and queer analyses of organizations and the use of visual representations to communicate interpretive methods and theory.

davide_nicolini_smallDavide Nicolini is professor of organization studies at Warwick Business School where he codirects the IKON Research Centre. In the past he has held positions at The Tavistock Institute in London and the University of Trento and Bergamo in Italy. His work has appeared in a number of major North American and European journals. His current research focuses on the development of the practice-based approach and its application to phenomena such as knowing, collaboration, innovation, and change in organizations. His latest monograph Practice Theory, Work and Organization. An Introduction was published by Oxford University Press in 2013.

Mandela and his Metamorphosis at Robben Island

JMI_72ppiRGB_150pixw[Editor’s Note:  We are pleased to welcome Wayne F. Cascio, University of Colorado-Denver and Fred Luthans, University of Nebraska, Lincoln as Guest Editors. They have provided some background on their article, “Reflections on the Metamorphosis at Robben Island: The Role of Institutional Work and Positive Psychological Capital”, recently published in the January, 2014 issue of the Journal of Management Inquiry.]

Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners from South Africa were imprisoned on notorious Robben Island from the mid-1960s until the end of the apartheid regime in 1991.  The stark conditions and abusive treatment of these prisoners has been widely publicized. However, upon reflection and in retrospect, over the years a type of metamorphosis occurred.  From first-hand accounts of the former prisoners and guards, it seems that Robben Island morphed from the traditional oppressive prison paradigm to one where the positively oriented prisoners disrupted the institution with a resulting climate of learning and transformation that eventually led to freedom and the end of apartheid. This metamorphosis led to one of, if not the greatest, societal transformations in modern history.

The primary research question we sought to answer was this: How were the political prisoners who were incarcerated at the Robben Island maximum-security prison from the mid-1960s to early 1991 able to transform their experience of imprisonment from one of abuse and subjugation to one of learning and transformation? At a macro level of analysis, we use the theoretical lens of institutional work, and, at a micro level, positive psychological capital (hope, efficacy, resilience, and optimism) to explain what happened.

Institutional work aimed at disrupting institutions involves attacking or undermining the mechanisms that lead members to comply with institutions. At Robben Island, this took two forms: separating existing rules and practices from their moral foundations, and undermining core assumptions and beliefs.  Evidence of this form of disruption can be found in the quote of former prisoner Patrick Lekota that, “The warders were primed to see us as terrorists, Communists, and devils with horns.  But these largely uneducated people, many of whom came from orphanages, eventually wanted to understand why we were there.  It was tremendously refreshing and inspiring to see these ordinary people appreciating our cause.”

To do the work of disrupting the institutional norms of the prison on Robben Island, the prisoners drew from and developed their positive psychological capital, or PsyCap. They used specific practices or coping strategies (setting goals, establishing a code of conduct, institutionalizing education for all, and maintaining a common identity and a united front) as forms of institutional work to operationalize and enhance PsyCap. 

We used four facets of PsyCap – hope, efficacy, resiliency and optimism (the “HERO” within) to provide evidence of the important role that the prisoners’ apparent high level of PsyCap played in helping explain the metamorphosis at Robben Island. People who are hopeful believe they can set goals, figure out how to achieve them through appropriate pathways, and motivate themselves to accomplish them. They also proactively determine how to circumvent any obstacles they encounter in order to accomplish their goals. Efficacy refers to an individual’s conviction (or confidence) about his or her abilities to mobilize the motivation, cognitive resources, and courses of action needed to execute a specific task in a given context successfully. Resilience includes at least three kinds of adaptive responses: (1) an ability to cope or function positively, despite inordinate demands. (2) Self-repair and recovery from periods when the individual was functioning poorly, or from episodes of illness, injury, or disaster. (3) Readiness to anticipate and deal with demands that may be inevitable, for example, those in the jobs of first-responders, i.e., soldiers, firefighters, police, and members of rescue services.

In spite of incredible hardship, brutality, and constant emotional agony, the political prisoners on Robben Island were remarkably resilient. They had a clear purpose or vision, which was to free South Africa from the apartheid regime and to build a democratic state in its place. Their struggle had meaningfulness, which reflected a deeper understanding with feeling, as well challenges that were worthy of the investment in and leverage of their positive psychological capital. 

Optimism focuses on the future. Here is an illustration that is analogous to the “glass-half-full” mantra of optimists: Former Robben-Island prisoner Ahmed Kathrada often referred to a quotation in which two prisoners looked out of a prison cell.  One saw stars and the other saw bars.  He, like many of his fellow prisoners, saw stars. 

In-depth analysis of first-hand and published accounts of events on Robben Island yields a rich tapestry of details that illustrates each facet of the HERO within and provides a deeper understanding of the metamorphosis that took place over time.  From the early 1960s to the departure of the political prisoners in 1991, Robben Island arguably moved from being the worst to the “best” prison in South Africa, at least as far as black people were concerned. 

With the benefit of reflective analysis, we argue that the political prisoners, and especially their leaders, disrupted the institution and drew from and exhibited PsyCap. Those processes resulted in the dramatic metamorphosis from abuse and subjugation to learning and transformation at Robben Island. This disruptive, but positive, approach has many lessons for leadership. The Robben Island metamorphosis indicates, at least under oppressive conditions, that organizational participants become empowered when they have a common vision; when they feel that they are in control of their actions, and that they can self-govern; when they are responsible; believe that they can prevail (i.e., through hope, efficacy, resilience, and optimism); can live in the organization under perspectives that they value; and can grow from the experience.  These findings provide support for authentic, ethical, positive leadership.

wayne_f_cascioWayne F. Cascio is a Distinguished University Professor at the University of Colorado, and he holds the Robert H. Reynolds Chair in Global Leadership at the University of Colorado Denver.  He has served as president of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (1992-1993), Chair of the SHRM Foundation (2007), the HR Division of the Academy of Management (1984), and as a member of the Academy of Management’s Board of Governors (2003-2006). He is a senior editor of the Journal of World Business.

He has authored or edited 27 books on human resource management, including Short Introduction to Strategic Human Resource Management (with John Boudreau, 2012), Investing in People (with John Boudreau, 2nd ed., 2011), Managing Human Resources (9th ed., 2013), and Applied Psychology in Human Resource Management (7th ed., with Herman Aguinis, 2011).  He is a two-time winner of the best-paper award from the Academy of Management Executive for his research on downsizing and responsible restructuring.

In 1999 he received the Distinguished Career award from the HR Division of the Academy of Management. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Geneva (Switzerland) in 2004, and in 2008 he was named by the Journal of Management as one of the most influential scholars in management in the past 25 years.  

In 2010 he received the Michael R. Losey Human Resources Research Award from the Society for Human Resource Management, and 2013 he received the Distinguished Scientific Contributions Award from the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.  From 2011-2013 he served as Chair of the U.S. Technical Advisory Group that is developing international standards for the Human Resources profession, and he represented the United States to the International Organization for Standards. Dr. Cascio has consulted with many organizations on six continents and is an elected Fellow of the National Academy of Human Resources, the Academy of Management, the American Psychological Association, and the Australian HR Institute. His work is featured regularly in business media, including The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Time, The New York Times, National Public Radio, and Harvard Business Review, among others. 

Dr. Cascio earned his B.A. degree from Holy Cross College, his M.A. degree from Emory University, and his Ph.D. in industrial/organizational psychology from the University of Rochester.


Fred Luthans (1024)Fred Luthans received his BA, MBA and PhD from the University of Iowa. He is University and George Holmes Distinguished Professor of Management at the University of Nebraska. Before coming to Nebraska in 1967, while serving as an officer in the U.S. Army, he taught leadership at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. A former President of the Academy of Management, Luthans also received the Academy’s Distinguished Educator Award. He received the University of Iowa Distinguished Alumni Award and an Honorary Doctorate from De Paul University.  Luthans is currently editor or co-editor of Journal of World Business, Organizational Dynamics, and Journal of Leadership and Organization Studies. He is the author of several well-known books and numerous research articles (e.g., he was recognized as one of the all-time “Top 5 Authors” of the Academy of Management Journal and the Review and in two of the past three years received Emerald’s Award for authoring one of the 50 most cited articles in 300 Business, Economics and Management journals. In total, his work has over 21,000 citations). He is generally recognized as the author of the first mainline textbook in Organizational Behavior (now in its 12th edition) and has the market-leader in International Management (now in its 8th edition) both published by McGraw-Hill.  His latest professional books are (with Bruce Avolio) The High Impact Leader (McGraw -Hill) and (with Carolyn Youssef and Bruce Avolio) Psychological Capital published by Oxford University Press. Professor Luthans’ research at first focused on a behavioral approach to management or what he called O.B. Mod. (organizational behavior modification). In recent years, he has given relatively more attention to the theory-building, measurement and impact of what he founded and has termed “positive organizational behavior (POB)” and “psychological capital (PsyCap)”. He has been actively doing teaching, research and consulting in Europe, Southeast Asia and especially China over the past 30 years. Currently, he is Chair of the Master Research Council for HUMANeX Ventures. For further information see his entry in Wikipedia, some interviews on YouTube, or his publication profile in Google Scholar (Fred Luthans).










Institutional Work in ‘The Wire’

JMI_72ppiRGB_powerpointWhat does the HBO TV series The Wire have to do with institutional work?

Mike Zundel and Robin Holt of the University of Liverpool Management School and Joep Cornelissen of VU University Amsterdam published “Institutional Work in The Wire: An Ethological Investigation of Flexibility in Organizational Adaptation” in the Journal of Management Inquiry’s January 2013 issue. The abstract:

Analysis of institutional work is habitually complicated by the need to combine agentic and structural features. Drawing on the work of Gregory Bateson, the authors suggest that such complications emerge from an error in epistemology whereby the stability and “it-ness” of things is presupposed. As an alternative, they develop a processual analysis that considers the flexibility of adaptation in relational patterns. Here, institutional phenomena are not stable but characterized by regenerative and degenerative cycles of influence that afford or restrict room for maneuver without classifying them “as” something. The authors explicate this by drawing on empirical material covered in the HBO TV series The Wire.

Click here to read the article and here to learn more about the Journal of Management Inquiry. You can also sign up for e-alerts to stay up to date on the latest research from the journal.