'Thinking About How We Think': Using Bourdieu's Epistemic Reflexivity to Reduce Bias in International Business Research.

VerfasserGuttormsen, David S.A.

1 Introduction: Linking Knowledge and Reflexivity

Regardless of methodological, philosophical, theoretical, paradigmatic and disciplinary persuasion, all International Business (IB) researchers are in the business of knowledge production. As such, IB researchers are inevitably affected by knowledge biases relating to the researcher's social background, positioning in the intellectual field and intellectualisation (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992). Bourdieu (1990a) argues that in the social sciences, if we do not understand the things which affect how we produce knowledge, the progress of knowledge itself might be hampered. As knowledge is (re)produced in various social and cross-cultural contexts, it becomes imperative to question the social scientific claims that IB researchers promulgate about the phenomena we study (Kuhn, 1962; Maclean et al., 2012a; Welch & Piekkari, 2017). This is particularly vital to IB research due to its focus on investigating cross-border phenomena that cannot be assumed to have equivalents, or even exist, in every society we study (Buckley & Chapman, 1997a; Usunier, 2011). Although it might seem more relevant for qualitative research, reflexivity matters across the qualitative and quantitative research fields, due to both exhibiting underlying conditions that influence how we think about IB phenomena, and thereby how we produce knowledge about them.

However, this continues to be ignored, perhaps unconsciously or unintentionally, as reflected in the development of several prominent IB theories (see Shenkar (2001); Buckley & Chapman (1997b); and Williamson (2002) for apt critiques of the cultural distance construct, transaction cost theory and cultural dimension-based models, respectively, in this regard). Where it does appear, reflexive engagement has resulted in several laudable theoretical developments and new perspectives in IB research. Examples include the need to examine the determinants of outward foreign direct investments based on the premise of Chinese multinationals (Buckley et al., 2007); the emergence of indigenous research (Amaeshi et al., 2008; Holtbrugge, 2013; Redding & Witt, 2015); the benefits of producing new or alternative IB knowledge through exploring methodology beyond the mainstream (Chapman et al., 2004a, 2008; Delios, 2017; Doh, 2015; Moore, 2011); and the importance of incorporating context in IB research (Aguinis et al., 2020; Harzing & Pudelko, 2016; Pudelko, 2020; Teagarden, Von Glinov, & Mellahi, 2018). It is because of this that Buckley et al., (2017) ask why certain questions continue to be posed in IB research whereas others have not. Indeed, better reflexive engagement with knowledge production is essential if future IB scholarship is to contribute to interdisciplinary discourses and address 'grand challenges'. The significance of knowledge production demands a comprehensive engagement with reflexivity as both an epistemological and ontological concern (Alvesson, 2003), and the importance of reflexivity should motivate the research field to employ a rigorous reflexive methodological approach, and a curiosity about how we produce knowledge in IB research.

The purpose of the current paper is to develop a theoretically founded methodological process concerning how to practice epistemic reflexivity, for both qualitative and quantitative researchers. This will be achieved by drawing upon the work of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, one of the most influential theorists in the post-war era (Chanlat, 2014a, b; Jenkins, 2002; Joas & Knobl, 2009; Sallaz & Zavisca 2007; Swartz, 1997). Bourdieu's reflexive sociology can be used to advance reflexivity in IB research not only as a methodological issue (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992), but as an epistemological concern regarding knowledge production.

Bourdieu (1993) defined reflexivity as 'the scientific objectivation of the subject of objectivation' (p. 63). Objectivation involves scrutinising the researcher through turning the tools of analysis back onto the researcher themselves. With this approach, IB researchers can achieve reflexive research through a systematic exploration of social scientific knowledge claims by scrutinising their own Self, cultural practices, biases and 'unthought categories of thought' (Bourdieu, 1990c; Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992: 40). The process of objectivation must take place on three levels, or 'realms' (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992):

(i) To scrutinise the social background of the IB researcher and other impinging

contextual facets; (ii) To scrutinise the researcher's intellectual position in the academic field; and (iii) To scrutinise their intellectual biases.

This incorporates important scrutiny of the relationships between the study subject, the researcher and the knowledge claims researchers make on that basis.

As human beings, IB researchers possess innate biases. Thus, according to Bourdieu, a social scientist would only be able to practice an objective science when they become reflexively aware of such biases (Bourdieu, 2004). Linking reflexivity to knowledge production is appropriate, as the former explores how subjectivity challenges the latter (Woolgar, 1988). Indeed, reflexivity concerns the opposing idea of the existence of an objective reality (and thus an objectivist ontology) as well as neutrality of knowledge (Hammersley & Atkinson, 1995).

As the first realm above is widely acknowledged in IB reflexive methodology, the paper's methodological contributions largely relate to the second and third realms. First, we extend the focus of the concept to include intellectual bias and positioning, providing reflexivity in IB research with a necessary epistemological and theoretical foundation (Alvesson, 2003; Weick, 1999). By employing Bourdieu's reflexive sociology to this end, we can elevate reflexivity to an epistemic form integral to knowledge production beyond simply investigating relations between researcher and subject (Alvesson & Skoldberg, 2009). Second, the paper advances a theoretically grounded understanding of the IB researcher's role: by positing an inherently subjective researcher, the contribution moves beyond the conventional arrival point for reflexivity, that is to say, hermeneutic methodology. Whereas hermeneutics emphasises that understanding is formed through 'interpretation of interpretation' (i.e., solicited based on something we already know; Alvesson & Sandberg, 2021; Alvesson & Skoldberg, 2009), the Bourdieusian approach contributes the aspect of forming understanding based on what we do not initially know, in addition to pre-understanding the formation of knowledge as constitutive and relational to context and co-existing producers of said knowledge. Third, based on the above, we offer a new methodological process concerning how to practice epistemic reflexivity in the form of six reflexive, self-interrogating 'thinking tasks' with which the researcher is encouraged to intellectually engage. This process should be engaged with during the design and conducting of the research study as a way of scrutinising the possible (negative) influence of knowledge biases. This process will also show how new perspectives and discovery of how the design itself, or how we as IB researcher have conducted the study and analysed findings, potentially provides new understanding of said data, and subsequently findings and contributions, through reflexive interrogation. We argue that the process is a new contribution because it consolidates various key elements of Bourdieu's epistemic reflexivity in line with the theoretical underpinnings of this 'reflexive sociology'.

In addition to contributing a methodological process for dealing with various knowledge biases in IB research, we argue that enhancing epistemic reflexivity has importance beyond the methodological realm. It directs focus beyond the accuracy of research designs and findings and toward a deeper and inquisitive engagement with the conditions of the IB knowledge we as social scientists are claiming to have produced. In a positive way, this forces us to consider if our research is relevant and authentic to those/what we are investigating and not a "scholastic fallacy", in the sense of being knowledge producers based on a transposition of experienced reality, to satisfy the needs of researchers to deploy particular methods (1) or concepts in particular ways (Bourdieu, 1990b). Contesting the inherent structure of the ways we produce knowledge can further improve our ability to avoid losing out on discovering new IB knowledge by simply replicating the current architecture of conducting research (Bourdieu, 1993).

In this paper, we begin by outlining the scope of reflexive methodology in an IB research context. Second, we establish the theoretical foundation for revising the methodological process by demonstrating the benefits of Bourdieu's epistemic reflexivity. Third, we elaborate on, and advance, epistemic reflexivity as a methodological process and detail a practical guide for improving and conducting epistemic reflexive research. Lastly, the paper outlines the implications for IB methodological literature of the paper's key contribution, to wit, developing Bourdieu's concepts of epistemic reflexivity into a practical methodology.

2 Positioning Reflexive Methodology in IB Research

This section outlines the extent to which reflexive methodologies have been adopted at the interface between IB and cognate disciplines, before summarising key trends about, and some limitations of, reflexivity in IB research.

2.1 Reflexive Methodology in General Management Theory and in IB Studies

Although work on reflexivity in the IB discipline has been relatively limited, reflexivity has been theorised, problematised and developed in various other disciplines for more than half a century, for example, in social psychology (e.g., Gergen & Gergen 1991); in sociology (e.g., Durkheim, 1912; Latour, 1988); in international relations...

Um weiterzulesen


VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT