Cooperative Strategies, vols. 1-3.
Cooperative Strategies: European Perspectives.
Cooperative Strategies: Asian Pacific Perspectives.
Paul W. Beamish and J. Peter Killing, eds. San Francisco: New Lexington Press, 1997. 483, 397, and 427 pages, respectively. $49.00, each.
Although the topic of cooperative interorganizational relationships has been an integral part of the organizational theory literature since at least the 1970s, it has caught the attention of strategic management scholars only more recently. Since the mid-1980s, there has been a significant interest in the study of cooperative relationships between business firms, usually large ones, as a strategic mechanism for enhancing competitiveness. Most work in this area has focused on joint ventures, which can be purely cooperative but often involve an equity/ownership relationship. Moreover, while much of the literature on cooperative strategy has been country specific, the rapid globalization of business has provided a strong rationale to examine these relationships across national boundaries. A major early effort to explore this international perspective was an edited book of readings by Contractor and Lorange (1988). The books reviewed here, edited by Beamish and Killing, represent an ambitious new attempt to extend what we know about cooperative strategies between firms in an international context.
The 45 papers published in this three-volume set were initially submitted and presented as part of one of three regional conferences on international alliances held in 1996: one in Canada, one in Switzerland, and one in Hong Kong. Since each conference was to have had a focus on issues that were relevant for that part of the world, the final papers were organized and published in separate volumes depending on their North American, European, or Asian Pacific "perspectives." Nine of these papers were also selected for publication in the Journal of international Business Studies.
Not surprisingly for a group of 45 papers on a broad subject area, the topics offered (not to mention the authors and their backgrounds) are extremely diverse. The theoretical perspectives include agency theory, transaction cost economics, procedural justice, institutional theory, game theory, resource dependence, and more. Substantive issues include, but are not limited to, discussion of alliance formation, structures, strategy implications, motivation, trust, performance, conflict, control, commitment, communication, satisfaction, and knowledge acquisition/transfer. While some of the papers deal with a broader range of types of cooperative relationships, by far the dominant relationship studied is joint ventures, often between a multinational parent firm and its sub-units. Diversity in the countries studied is most apparent in the European volume, with studies of cooperative alliances in Spain, Russia, Hungary, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Turkey. Not surprisingly, the North American volume is dominate d by U.S. firm alliances, although many of these are with Japanese firms. The Asian volume includes studies of alliances in several countries, although the dominant country is China. Finally, there is a nice mix of purely conceptual (about one-quarter) and empirical papers.
Whether or not all this diversity of countries and topics is appealing really depends on the reader. I found myself both pleased and frustrated. On one hand, the papers gave a fascinating glimpse into the structure and operation of cooperative relationships across the world. What was particularly interesting to me was that despite the geographic location of the firms studied, there were many common themes that emerged, particularly issues of trust, control, commitment, and mutual benefit. The books also demonstrated very clearly that a great deal of interesting work is being done on cooperative strategies, much of which does not reach the mainstream management journals. On the other hand, I found the range and diversity of the papers to cry out for some sort of attempt at integration. The editors of the volume do a little of this, but their effort is mostly an attempt to categorize the papers into several broad areas: theoretical advances, alliance formation, relationship dynamics, the role of information and knowledge, and, in two of the volumes, performance. This approach helps to organize the papers but, as noted above, there were many themes that cut across papers that should have been discussed. An important reason for publishing a large set of papers like this, especially papers that have had the benefit of discussion at a conference, is not simply to demonstrate how much is going on in a topic area. Rather, it should be to bring some closure to the area by indicating what we know and what we still need to know. Beamish and Killing leave this pretty much up to the reader, which is a daunting task in a three-volume set.
As indicated by the titles of the volumes, the authors group the papers by geographical perspective. This is an obvious approach for publishing the books but it is also a bit misleading. While the papers in each volume mostly do have the geographical perspective Beamish and Killing suggest, this is not always the case (for instance, one paper in the European volume uses mostly Asian examples), and the theory papers do not have any particular geographic perspective. In addition, most of the authors of the Asian Pacific volume were trained (and/or are faculty members) in North American and European universities. Thus, the three "perspectives" refer simply to the location of most of the organizations studied. They do not refer to any particular theoretical orientation or methods of research that might be prevalent in one region or another and thus might result in different ways of thinking about cooperative strategies based on that region's unique perspective.
Despite these concerns, the books have much to offer. Beamish and Killing have done an impressive job of encouraging, organizing, and editing what is undoubtedly the most significant body of research to date on the cooperative strategies of business firms operating internationally. The papers demonstrate the breadth of research being done on the topic while offering to future researchers a wide range of ideas and methods for developing their own work. The books also have many implications for practice, although the focus of the papers is clearly academic.
Contractor, F. J., and P. Lorange (eds.)
1988 Cooperative strategies in International Business: Joint Ventures and Technology. San Francisco: New Lexington Press.
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|Author:||Provan, Keith G.|
|Publication:||Administrative Science Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 1999|
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