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Meet the editors of... critical perspectives on international business

An interview with: Professor George Cairns and Dr Joanne Roberts
Interview by: Margaret Adolphus

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Photo: Professor George CairnsProfessor George Cairns is a professor of management at RMIT Melbourne. His research interests include the relationships between people and their workplace, where "workplace" is defined as the separate, but related social, organizational, physical and technological environments of work, and alternative forms of organizational analysis.

Professor Cairns has undertaken studies, published and presented at conferences across the world on contemporary workplace issues.

Photo: Dr Joanne RobertsDr Joanne Roberts is a senior lecturer in management at Newcastle Business School, Newcastle University. Joanne’s research interests include knowledge-intensive services, new information and communication technologies and knowledge transfer, communities of practice and the internationalization of business services.

She has participated in a number of research projects including a European-wide investigation into "Patents in Services" funded by the EU. Most recently she has completed research on communities of practice in collaboration with members of the EU Dynamics of Institutions and Markets in Europe (DIME) Network of Excellence.

About the journal

critical perspectives on international business (cpoib) was founded in 2005 to provide a vehicle for academic discussion of issues that were being aired in the more popular media by authors such as George Monbiot and Naomi Klein. It publishes material that engages critically with the broad field of international business, on such issues as globalization, production and consumption, economic change, societal change, politics and power of organizations and governments, environment, etc. Particularly, the journal aims to stimulate debate at a multidisciplinary level and publishes refereed academic papers, position papers and review articles.


Journal mission

The journal was founded in 2005 to provide an academic forum for issues aired by such authors as Naomi Klein and George Monbiot. In your founding editorial you say that you seek to counter the prevalent "logic" of managerialism. What do you mean by this and what were the other aspirations for the journal?

Academic research concerning international business is dominated by work that takes a managerial perspective, that is to say its primary concern is with performance and profitability. As such, it tends to focus on issues of concern to managers in multinational enterprises and to pay little or no heed to those that concern workers in sweatshops in less-developed economies. Where it does look outside the corporation, it tends to conceive people as "consumers", rather than as "parents", "partners" or "citizens". Since the rise of neoliberalism from the 1970s onwards, managerialism has spread into all sectors of the economy as state owned companies were privatized and public sector activities like education and health care became increasingly subject to market forces.

However, neoliberalism and managerialism are perspectives, and there are other ways of analysing international business. Moreover, the study of international business has many dimensions including its impact on culture, environment, politics, economic and social development. In addition, it has an impact on what kind of world we leave for future generations. Indeed, international business is also influenced by a diverse range of factors beyond market forces. There are then many issues that are rarely addressed in mainstream international business publications.

You describe your "mission" as being to "engage critically with international business". Can you enlarge on this and define what you mean by critically?

A frustration and dissatisfaction with the existing range of academic outlets for research on international business was one of the main reasons why we decided to establish cpoib. Although there are several excellent international business journals these tend to be dominated by a mainstream understanding of the key issues in international business – a concern with the efficient operation of various aspects of cross-border business activity. However other dimensions of international business are being considered in other disciplines and scholars in the field are increasingly addressing such issues. By establishing cpoib we wanted to provide an outlet for such research and to encourage a broader appreciation of international business, its operations and impacts. Beyond the types of international business that are the focus of mainstream study – the capitalist enterprise – there are many less glamorous issues that we feel need to be addressed, such as sweatshop production, trade in toxic waste, and tax avoidance.

You place much emphasis on your interdisciplinary approach, but in fact, all Emerald journals would make this claim. What is it about your approach which enables you to look at business through a critical lens – is it that you seek to team up with academics from the social sciences who take a more societal view?

cpoib is open to papers that are single, inter-, multi- or transdisciplinary in approach. We recognizse that in the contemporary world a cross-disciplinary approach can offer novel and valuable insights. cpoib’s interdisciplinary nature is reflected in the Editorial Advisory Board (EAB) which includes economists, geographers, organizational and management theorists, and social scientists from media and technology experts to political scientists. During the past three years, we have published papers from these different fields and from across the world. We are open to further diversity and continue to amend and expand our EAB with a view to promoting inclusivity. Indeed, we take the view that it is not possible to study international business without taking into account broader social issues.

Still on the interdisciplinary theme, in your article "Perspectives on a personal critique of international business", cpoib, Volume 1 Number 1, 2005, you allege that managerial research tends to focus on business lessons without looking too much at wider issues. Do you think that the management sciences tend to focus on the enterprise and business in isolation, and is this because management is still a vocational discipline, with many students going into business and many faculty former business people?

The dominance of the neoliberal discourse is a key reason why much managerial research fails to address the wider social issues. Since the end of the 1980s with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the prospect of an alternative to a neoliberal capitalist system has been undermined. The ethos of "there is no alternative" has come to dominate political debates and business education. Yet, it is important to remember that capitalism may take a variety of forms. There are still alternatives. The way in which international business develops is determined by the choices made by governments, company boards, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), consumers and workers. We welcome contributions from all of these constituencies.

Do you see your audience as primarily academic, i.e. researchers and educators in particular fields, or do you also aim to reach out to, say, the media, policy makers, NGOs, and business itself?

Our audience is primarily researchers, educators and students in business and management studies and the social sciences more generally. However, we seek to cultivate a broader audience including those engaged in the practice, and responding to the impact, of international business. So for example, our recent piece "A discussion of Fashion Victims" responding to War on Want’s Fashion Victims report (critical perspectives on international business, Volume 3 Number 2, 2007 pp. 170-185) sought to encourage fashion retailers, workers, consumers and academics to reflect on the consequences of the production and consumption of cheap clothing.

Editorial focus

Many of your articles are theoretical rather than empirical – do you see yourselves as primarily contributing to the theoretical debate, or are you also looking for empirical work to take the discipline forward?

Although we welcome both empirical and theoretical papers, you are quite right that we have published relatively more theoretical papers to date. However, we certainly do not have a preference for theoretical work. The theoretical bias merely reflects the nature of the submissions that we have received over the last three years. We have published empirical studies, (for example: Halsema and Halsema 2006; Otto and Böhm, 2006; Sliwa and Grandy, 2006; Tallberg, 2007; among others), and we would certainly welcome the opportunity to consider more empirical studies for inclusion in future issues of cpoib. Whilst we have published more theoretical papers, we would certainly not agree with any view that they are abstract, since we always look for relevance to the "real" world of international business activity and its impacts.

You regularly publish position papers. What makes a good position paper?

Position papers are an important feature of cpoib. The idea is to give authors the opportunity to raise issues, questions and challenges without the usual rigour of the academic peer review process. If you like it is our equivalent of a "soap box", giving authors an opportunity to air their thoughts on particular topics of current interest and relevance to international business, with a view to stimulating debate and encouraging further research in the area. It can be seen as an opportunity for authors to focus their thoughts on a particular issue and to share their concerns with others. We also encourage contributions in this form from non-academics, including international business practitioners, members of NGOs and activists (see for instance, Kingsnorth, 2005).

Position papers are not subject to the usual blind review process. However, they are reviewed by editors and where appropriate a specialist from the editorial advisory board. This allows for a fast review process and hence allows us to include discussion on topics of current interest. A good position paper is one that reflects a thorough appreciation of the extant debates but poses new and challenging questions thereby opening up novel directions for further discussion and research.

Can you say a bit about your policy of peer review, including what your reviewers are looking for?

All research articles are subjected to a process of double blind peer review. This is essential in order to ensure the high quality that we seek to maintain. Initial submissions are read and assessed for quality and suitability by the editors. About 50 per cent of the papers submitted do not go on to the formal review process, but are returned to authors with comments from the editors and encouragement to either revise the paper with a view to resubmission or to seek publication elsewhere.

When reviewing papers to determine their suitability for the journal, we are looking for several characteristics. First, papers must have relevance to international business. Second, they must develop a critical perspective on the paper’s subject of focus. Third, the paper must make an original contribution to knowledge in the field. Where papers fail to meet this criteria but show potential we are keen to work with authors to encourage the development of their papers.

You say that you are "open to submission of work that explores new and innovative forms of thought and representation". Can you give examples of the type of approaches you have in mind?

We are keen to include a variety of types of contributions from interviews to poetry and photographic essays, reviews of relevant academic conferences and other non-academic events that have relevance to international business, such as art exhibitions and performances. In 2005, for example, we published an account of the G8 summit (Böhm and Cairns, 2005) and we regularly publish book reviews. We would definitely like to see more variety in our reviews section. We encourage diversity and we are keen to consider alternatives to the standard journal article.

To date, out of ten issues you have had four special issues. What is your policy for these and what other special issues do you have lined up?

Special issues provide the opportunity to draw together a range of research focusing on a particular theme. They are often the result of workshops or conference streams where authors have had an opportunity to engage with other contributors and together they seek to develop understanding and knowledge in a particular area of relevance to international business. We welcome special issue proposals. The current issue is a special issue on "The Internet and its paradoxical nature in international business" and we have a number in development including one on the subject of corruption for Volume 4.

Publishing issues

Is your objective to publish four issues a year?

So far we have been able to produce four quality issues each year and we feel confident that we can continue to do this. We have no plans at present to expand the number of issues beyond four.

How long does it take, on average, and as an approximation, from submission to publication?

The length of time from submission to publication varies from paper to paper. If a paper is accepted as it is or with minor revisions it could be published within four months of submission. On average papers take 12-18 months from submission to publication. However, when a paper requires substantial revisions the time between original submission and publication depends to a large extent on how quickly authors revise and resubmit their work. We endeavour to provide an efficient review process.

What is the function of your editorial board?

Our Editorial Advisory Board (EAB) is very important for a number of reasons. It draws together a range of internationally recognized expertise in the field of business and management and the broader social sciences. The EAB influences the development of the journal and ensures high quality through the reviewing process. EAB members also actively contribute to the journal through the production of papers, reviewing papers, advising on appropriate reviewers, and promoting the journal in their teaching and research activities. In addition a number of EAB members have edited special issues.

And finally…

Nearly three years on from the founding of your journal, what is your perception of the health of critical management studies?

Critical management studies has to some extent lost its momentum and is in danger of being incorporated back into mainstream management studies. However, a journal like cpoib offers a forum within which to nurture critical management research and to educate future generations of critical scholars.

References

Böhm, S. and Cairns, G. (2005), "Academia, the G8 and other misfortunes: notes on two journeys", critical perspectives on international business, Vol. 1 No. 4, pp. 277-284.

Cairns, G. and Roberts, J. (2007), "A discussion of Fashion Victims: Various responses to the report by War on Want", critical perspectives on international business, Vol. 3 No. 2, pp. 170-185.

Halsema, A. and Halsema, L. (2006), "Jobs that matter: Butler's 'performativity' in the Dutch police force", critical perspectives on international business, Vol. 2 No. 3, pp. 230-243.

Kingsnorth, P. (2005), "Whatever happened to the revolution?", critical perspectives on international business, Vol. 1 No. 4, pp. 273-276.

Otto, B. and Böhm, S. (2006), "‘The people and resistance against international business: The case of the Bolivian 'water war'", critical perspectives on international business, Vol. 2 No. 4, pp. 299-320.

Sliwa, M. and Grandy, G. (2006), "Real or hyper-real?: Cultural experiences of overseas business students", critical perspectives on international business, Vol. 2 No. 1, pp. 8-24.

Tallberg, T. (2005), "Bonds of burden and bliss: the management of social relations in a peacekeeping organisation", critical perspectives on international business, Vol. 3 No. 1, pp. 63-82.

Publisher's note

Professor George Cairns and Dr Joanne Roberts were interviewed in November 2007.

Visit the information page for: critical perspectives on international business