Special Issue ‘Social Networks ‒ The Dark and Bright Sides of Informal Networks’
Sven Horak, St. John’s University, USA
Fida Afiouni, American University of Beirut, Lebanon
Yanjie Bian, University of Minnesota, USA, Xi’an Jiatong University, China
Alena Ledeneva, University College London, UK
Maral Muratbekova-Touron, ESCP Europe, France
MOR Deputy Editor:
Carl Fey, Aalto University, Finland, and Chinese University of Hong Kong, China
Submission Deadline (full paper): 31 January 2019
Special Issue Theme Background
Research on the mechanisms of organizing and managing via interpersonal relations has a rich history in the management and organization-oriented literature. So far, however, the informal dimension of managing and organizing by drawing on informal networks in an international context has received comparably less attention. Recent research has pointed out that social capital and network theories have largely been developed by Western scholars based on circumstances and social structures that are typical of Western societies. Thus, current theory takes into account to a lesser extent their character and nature and the way in which informal ties and networks are formed in other parts of the world (Ledeneva, 2018; Li, 2007b; Qi, 2013; Sato, 2010). Besides the growing body of literature concerned with informal ties and networks in emerging and transitioning countries, for example guanxi(China), blat/ svyazi (Russia), and wasta (Arab World), a trend for analyzing pervasive informal networks in advanced and industrialized economies, such as yongo (Korea), has arisen. While insights from the latter research stream indicate that informal networks persist, the results generated in both research streams will help in developing the extant informal network theories further.
With this MOR special issue, the guest editors aim to advance these trends by shedding light on the ambivalent operating modes of informal networks. Although informality can be regarded as a normal approach or the status quo of managing and organizing in many parts of the world, it tends to have a bitter aftertaste in the Western world (Ledeneva, 1998), since terms such as favoritism, nepotism, cronyism, or even corruption are at times perceived to be equivalents. Given the importance of informal coordination in many of the largest economies in the world (e.g., China, India, Russia, and the former Soviet Union states, the Arab world, or South America), there is a need to understand better the dark and the bright side of managing and organizing through informal networks.
Theoretical framing to analyze informal networks has been provided by several increasingly intertwined access points with roots in sociology or economics (Hennart, 2015). A typical approach to analyzing informal networks has been to use a social network and/or social capital frame. Granovetter (1973, 2017) sharpened the understanding of social networks by introducing different types (natures) of ties for network organization to the literature. Burt (1995) and Coleman (1988) contributed to it with their work on the specific structures of social networks and their respective parameters. The concept of social capital has been used as a frame to discuss informal ties (Bourdieu, 1986; Burt, 1992; Putnam, 1995; Tsai & Ghoshal, 1998) by addressing the ‘intangible,’ informal mechanisms supporting economic interaction in social networks, for example by means of the shared norms and values that evolve in societies. Viewed from a broader perspective, informal networks can be characterized as an informal institution, since they set ‘the rules of the game,’ as famously described by Douglass North, by drawing on customs and traditions, values, norms, or beliefs that influence behavior and decision making (North, 1990). Typically they are said to be of greater importance for the coordination of activities in transitional economies, where formal institutions (e.g., contracts, formal rules, law, courts, etc.) are ineffective or non-existent (North, 1990; Peng, Pinkham, Sun, & Chen, 2009). This follows the rather popular view that, as soon as formal institutions develop towards effectiveness, informal networks may disappear, as people may rather draw on ways to coordinate activities that are formal and often regarded as more reliable. However, recent research has shown that informal institutions can persist even in environments in which formal institutions have been firmly established, which makes gaining an understanding of informal networks even more important (Horak, 2014; Horak & Klein, 2016; Li, 1998, 2007a, 2007b).
Progress has been achieved in increasing the understanding of informal networks in respective countries, such as guanxi in China (Bian, 1997, 2017; Li, 2007a, 2007b; Luo, 2000; Opper, Nee, & Holm, 2017, Chen and Chen, 2009, Chen, Chen and Huang, 2013), blat and svyazi in Russia (Ledeneva, 1998, 2006; Smith et al., 2012; Yakubovich, 2005), yongo in South Korea (Horak, 2014; Horak & Klein, 2016; Horak & Taube, 2016), clanism in Kazakhstan (Minbaeva & Muratbekova-Touron, 2013), or wasta in the Arab world(Abosag & Lee, 2013; Al-Husan, Al-Hussan, & Fletcher-Chen, 2014; Hutchings & Weir, 2006). Though recent insights have complemented the extant knowledge, informal network research in an international context is still in its infancy, with the bulk of the research interest concentrating on guanxi. Despite the progress that has been achieved, there is a need to broaden the scope by taking a holistic and more inclusive view of informal networks, thereby extending the knowledge base upon which an integrative informal network theory can emerge. To achieve this, there is still a knowledge gap to fill concerning both sides of the coin, that is, the dark side and the bright side of informal networking. The latter refers, for instance, to an often-high level of trust between network members, a high level of sociability, a reduction of transaction costs, and a reduction of the risk of free riding of network members. The dark side of informal networking, on the contrary, relates to its vulnerability to corruption in any form, favoritism, and nepotism, to name a few examples. Important theoretical questions in this regard remain unanswered so far, such as:
- When and under which conditions are informal networks perceived positively or negatively? Which factors influence the positive versus negative perception of informal networks?
- When and under which conditions do informal networks support illegal or unethical practices?
- How do informal institutions (e.g., corruption) and formal institutions (e.g., laws) interact? How do they influence each other?
- How can positive network effects be nurtured and negative ones extinguished?
- What are the implications for international business ethics theory as a consequence of the dark side–bright side discussion concerning informal networking?
In addition to the theoretical knowledge gaps mentioned above, multinational corporations (MNCs) deal either consciously or, more likely, unconsciously with informal networks in respective markets worldwide. However, we do not know much about how MNCs manage informally, that is, whether systematic processes are in place to manage informal ties, as reported by Kim (2007) in the case of Samsung, or whether they are hidden and treated discretely or even avoided or intentionally ignored. In any case, MNCs must decide whether engaging in informal networking is ethical, given the ambivalence of informal networks, that is, the existence of a dark and a bright side.
The special issue aims to add, extend, and complement the current theory. The special issue is very open to studies inside a firm as well as between firms. We expect manuscripts to bring strong empirical contributions that develop and extend theory as well as more conceptual papers that integrate critique and expand existing theory. We encourage the use of methods that are appropriate to both the research context and research questions and therefore welcome both qualitative and quantitative methods of investigation and analysis. Contributions should report original research that is not under consideration at any other journal.
Papers should fit but are not limited to the following themes:
- How can the dark side of informal networks be described in its respective local or an international context? How are informal networks misused?
- How can the bright side of informal networks be described in its respective local or an international context? How do positive features turn into negative ones?
- Construct knowledge: How can respective informal networks be characterized in terms of their structure and nature? What are the differences from the extant theory?
- How can foreign staff (e.g., expatriates) become members of respective informal networks? Can these networks be used without becoming members?
- Which questions important to international business ethics arise in connection to the involvement in and usage of informal networks? Should informal networks be judged through the ethical lens at all? How is culture intertwined with respective informal networks?
- How do local or multinational firms deal with informal networks in respective markets? Can they be ‘formalized’ and managed?
- Does engaging in informal networking oppose the corporate code of conduct of MNCs?
- How do and/or should firms deal with potential information flowing or being exchanged through informal networks in cases in which employees are more loyal to their informal networks than to a firm’s code of conduct? Can intellectual property be protected in such a dynamic environment?
This call for papers is open and competitive, and all submitted papers will be subjected to anonymous review by referees with expertise in the field.
Full paper shall be submitted by 31 January 2019 via the MOR (Cambridge) website:
It is important that all papers for the special issue conform to MOR’s submission requirements published under the following link:
Special Issue PDW Workshop:
Consistent with the new MOR Special Issues process, the guest editors will organize a PDW workshop as part of a major conference in the Summer of 2019. The Editor in Chief of MOR will attend this PDW. The workshop is central to the process of finalizing the papers to be included in the special issue and provides the guest editors and authors further help in framing the special issue and final guidance for revisions for papers that will be published in the special issue or in a regular issue of the journal. The guest editors will update the authors on where the event will be held once the time and place is decided.
January 31, 2019 – Deadline for uploading full paper.
General Call for ‘Engaged Indigenous Scholarship’ Papers
Announcing a renewed initiative that seeks to attract and publish research embodying engaged indigenous scholarship in the context of transforming economies.
Management and Organization Review (MOR) is announcing a renewed initiative that seeks to attract and publish research embodying engaged indigenous scholarship in the context of transforming economies. Tsui (2004: 501) defines ‘indigenous research’ as ‘scientific studies of local phenomena using local language, local subjects, and locally meaningful constructs, with the aim to test or build theories that can explain and predict … phenomena in the local social cultural context’. By scientific studies, she emphasizes the need for high-quality indigenous research as judged by the scientific community.
This scientific community is not monolithic. The Editors of MOR believe that management and organization science scholarship may suffer from perpetuating and replication of western, especially an American brand, of management and organization theories to management and organization phenomena in China and all other transforming economies. While this imitation is understandable and commonsensical for newly emerging research communities striving to learn and gain legitimacy, it can have the unintended consequence of stifling diversity and innovation in management knowledge. To counteract this tendency, MOR seeks to encourage heterogeneity by developing indigenous management theories, methods, and institutions that are sensitive to local contexts.
Engaged Indigenous Scholarship is critically important for the development of management knowledge that expresses and celebrates the unique contexts and settings of different countries and regions. It also provides indigenous scholars a career strategy for building on their strengths because it focuses on studying topics whose origins and meanings arise from the local cultures and contexts that they know best and to which they have direct access. This is a central founding objective of the International Association for Chinese Management Research, and its journal, Management and Organization Review.
Engaged Indigenous scholarship provides a constructive way to undertake original contextual management and organization research. As discussed on this website, Engaged Indigenous Scholarship is a participative form of research that incorporates the views of key stakeholders (academics, practitioners, policy makers) to understand a complex problem in its particular context (Van de Ven, 2012). By definition, stakeholders are participants who have different stakes or interests in a study topic, and therefore know the indigenous values and local circumstances of the specific context being studied. By exploiting differences in the viewpoints of these key stakeholders, engaged indigenous scholarship produces knowledge that is more penetrating, comprehensive, and insightful.
Engaged Indigenous Scholarship entails a fundamental shift in how we as researchers define our relationships with the topics being studied and the stakeholders (other researchers, students, and practitioners) in the indigenous communities being studied. It begins with the recognition that we often study topics or problems that exceed the limits of our individual capabilities. Because each of us is a product of a certain history, culture, and disciplinary training, we inevitably examine a topic or issue from a limited conceptual lens. We can understand these topics better if we step outside of ourselves and engage other relevant stakeholders in research problem formulation, theory building, research design, and communicating and applying research findings. These forms of engagement require researchers to participate in a collective learning process and to become reflexively aware of whose perspectives and interests are manifested and served in a study. Engagement entails humility in recognizing one’s own limitations and profound respect for other kinds of knowledge producers.
This renewed initiative of MOR seeks to attract and feature empirical studies of indigenous phenomena related to management and organizations in transforming economies. MOR welcomes exploratory studies of new, emerging and/or poorly understood indigenous issues that require abductive reasoning and creative hunches rather than testing deductive hypotheses. Data on indigenous phenomena can come from any source, including qualitative and quantitative data from experiments, case studies, field surveys, and ethnographies.
The Deputy Editor leading this initiative is Professor Emeritus Andrew Van de Ven at the University of Minnesota.
Bruton, G. B., Zahra, S. A., & Cai, L. 2017. Examining entrepreneurship through indigenous lenses. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, doi: 10.1177/1042258717741129.
Jackson, T. 2013. Reconstructing the indigenous in African management research: Implications for international management studies in a globalized world. Management International Review, 53(1): 13–38.
Tsui, A. S. 2004. Contributing to global management knowledge: A case for high quality indigenous research. Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 21(4): 491–513.
Van de Ven, A. H. 2012. Indigenous Management Research in China from an Engaged Scholarship Perspective. Management and Organization Review, 8(1): 123–13.
All papers for MOR should be submitted electronically through MOR’s Scholar One Manuscripts site.