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Reimagining Expatriation Cycles

Special issue call for papers from Journal of Global Mobility

Paper submission deadline: 1 February 2018


Guest Editors:

Anthony Fee, University of Technology Sydney, Australia

Peter Dowling, LaTrobe University, Australia

Allen Engle, Eastern Kentucky University, USA


Expatriation research is diverse in both focus and form. Yet a central organising anchor to these studies has been the ‘expatriation cycle’, sometimes termed the ‘expatriate lifecycle’ or ‘expatriation-repatriate cycle’ (e.g. Harzing & Christensen 2004). While slightly different configurations and terminology exists, ‘expatriation cycle’ is typically used to delineate a series of chronological experiences and HR activities that span three stages of an expatriate assignment: pre-expatriation (e.g. recruitment, selection and preparation for an assignment), expatriation (e.g. expatriates’ cross-cultural adjustment, role and performance during an assignment), and post-expatriation (e.g. expatriate’s readjustment and redeployment in the home country following an assignment).

While lacking the explanatory power of theoretically-grounded models, in the 60 years since studies of expatriation began in earnest (Fayerweather 1959) this framework has provided both structure and direction. Over this period the bulk of research has centred on issues associated with overseeing ‘traditional’ forms of expatriation, characterised by particular personnel (typically white males), jobs (professionals, usually managers or technical experts), employers (Western multinationals and their subsidiaries) and placements (short-term, single-destination, organisation-assigned). Researchers have mapped antecedents, correlates and outcomes of major stages of the expatriation cycle, and drawn on the framework to identify particular activities warranting greater empirical and conceptual development; the emergence of repatriation as a topic of study in the 1980s and 1990s (e.g. Harvey 1989) is one example of this. We now know much about the configurations of various HR activities associated with each stage, from recruitment to repatriation.

Despite this progress, several limitations in this body of knowledge have been observed (e.g. Mayrhofer & Reiche, 2014). Notably, in the past decade ‘expatriation’ has revealed itself as more multifarious and complex than previously imagined. While ‘traditional’ forms of expatriation remain commonplace (BGRS 2016), new configurations of expatriation and global careers have emerged (Mayrhofer, Reichel & Sparrow, 2012). As documented in the pages of this journal (e.g. Suutari et al., 2013, Valk & Hannon, 2016) expatriation as a concept, a process and a research field has expanded to include greater variety and flexibility in terms of how international jobs (and careers) are instigated, managed, experienced and evaluated. Increasingly common are ‘non-traditional’ types of expatriates (e.g. McNulty & Hutchings 2016), characterised by changes to expatriates’ demographics, motivations and professions; placements’ aims, destinations and durations; and employing organisations’ origins, status and relationship to the expatriate. Thus, ‘expatriation’ includes work assignments that are short-term, rotational, fly-in-fly-out, self-initiated, or various combinations of these. It encompasses international business travellers, frequent flyers, and/or international commuter marriages (Mäkelä, Sarenpää & McNulty, 2017), and includes positions managed or hosted by a range of ‘non-traditional’ organisations or agents, including multinational organisations from emerging economies, government agencies, international non-government organisations (INGOs), and small and medium enterprises (SMEs). On one level these recent variations may be seen as empirical elaborations on the early explicit understanding that expatriation was a common responses to a wide range of problems and that the precise goals and purposes of expatriation could be firm specific and highly contextual.

One outcome of this diversity is a shift in focus away from viewing expatriation as a single-country, single-placement and/or single-firm assignment and towards a less tightly defined view of globally mobile careers and lifestyles, with both organisations and individuals exploring the use of expatriation in more complex ways (BGRS 2016). While studies have begun to unravel some of the distinct expatriation experiences of these various ‘non-traditional’ configurations (Howe-Walsh & Schyns 2010; McNulty & Brewster 2017; Näsholm 2014; Shaffer et al. 2012), it is timely to consider what these new forms of expatriation mean for our use of the expatriation cycle as an organising framework. That is, how far do we diverge from classical expatriation cycles – necessary to catch emerging patterns of more protean and personalized ‘international assignments’ – before we can no longer say we are talking about expatriation?

Given this diversity and proliferation of international work forms, the objective of this special issue is to re-consider the form, use and purpose of the expatriation cycle. In particular, we seek a range of perspectives that (re)imagine expatriation as a process: the various mechanisms and activities that encompass or support the expatriate experience, the relationships between these, and their relevance to expatriation at a time when placement types, organisational forms, and operating contexts are in flux.   

A number of different research approaches are suitable for inclusion in this special issue. These include original empirical studies (both inductive and deductive), comprehensive meta-analyses, and/or conceptual papers that review and critique existing literature with the view of extending or developing theory. We also encourage submissions addressing different stakeholders (e.g. family, co-workers, home and host business units) and levels of analysis (e.g. individual, team, business unit, organisation or multiple levels of these).

Submissions need not take the full expatriation cycle as the unit of analysis; indeed, insightful papers that address specific stages of the expatriation cycle are welcome. Nonetheless, papers considered for inclusion in this special issue should be positioned in the context of ‘expatriation’ as a holistic experience in unique and more than cursory ways.

While we are open to ideas about topics from prospective authors, an illustrative list of topics and related research questions that we believe fall within the remit of this special issue include:

What do new forms of expatriation mean for the use of the expatriation cycle as an organising framework for (a) researching, and/or (b) managing, globally mobile workers? Is it still useful to use a single ‘umbrella’ process to understand these multifarious forms of expatriation? How might cycle/s of expatriation be re-imagined to shed new light on emerging modes of global mobility?

Related to this, to what extent and in what ways is our current understanding of the ‘expatriation cycle’ relevant (or not) to particular non-traditional forms of expatriation?  For example, how do organisations that manage non-traditional and/or multiple types of international workers (e.g. inpatriates, self-initiated expatriates, international business travellers, single-parent expatriates, female expatriates) approach the ‘cycles’ of expatriation in light of their different experiences, challenges, intentions, and relationships with employers?

How might the various factors that are contributing to new forms of global mobility help us to understand ‘expatriation cycles’ afresh, including those drivers occurring at the macro (e.g. political or technological changes), meso (e.g. cost or performance metrics), and micro (e.g. career progression and development)? By way of example, what is the relationship between exogenous factors like nations’ (mutable) temporary migration policies and firms’ configuration of expatriation cycles? How have different forms of information and communication technology (e.g. availability of video conferencing) influenced cycles of expatriation for particular stakeholders?  

Beyond specific organisational activities like selection, training, or performance management, how do the ‘experiences’ of the expatriation cycle transpire at different stages and for different expatriate types (e.g. inpatriates, frequent international business travellers) or for different stakeholders or actors (e.g. expatriates, line managers, HR personnel, host-country nationals)?

How might the relationships between activities at different stages of the expatriation cycle be more fully developed using unique theoretical lenses (e.g. knowledge management, stakeholder theory) or research designs or methods (e.g. longitudinal studies, participant observation)?

What theoretical drawstrings might integrate the immense and sometimes contradictory research findings across the expatriation cycle? For instance, what insights on the classic expatriation cycle (defined above) might be offered by theoretical perspectives from other disciplines sympathetic to non-traditional modes (e.g. organisational behaviour, psychology)?

While the expatriation cycle has been typically viewed from an organisational perspective, how do individual (non-traditional and traditional) expatriates experience their dislocation, liminality or identity across a period of expatriation, and what are the implications of this for themselves, their employers, and our understanding of expatriation as a cycle? 


Submission Guidelines & Timeframe


To be considered for the special issue, manuscripts must be submitted by 1 February 2018. Submitted papers will undergo a double-blind review process and will be evaluated by at least two reviewers and a special issue editor. The final acceptance is dependent on the review team’s judgments of the paper’s contribution on four key dimensions:

Theoretical contribution: Does the article offer novel and innovative insights or meaningfully extend existing theory in the field of global mobility?

Empirical contribution: Does the article offer novel findings and are the research design and data analysis rigorous and appropriate in testing the hypotheses or research questions?

Practical contribution: Does the article contribute to the improved management of global mobility?

Contribution to the special issue topic.

Authors should prepare their manuscripts for blind review according to the Journal of Global Mobility author guidelines, available at www.emeraldinsight.com/jgm.htm. Please remove any information that may potentially reveal the identity of the authors to the reviewers. Manuscripts should be submitted electronically at: http://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/jgmob. For enquiries regarding the special issue please contact Anthony Fee (anthony.fee@uts.edu.au).


Important Dates

Paper submission deadline: 1 February 2018

Acceptance notification: 1 September 2018

Publication:  December 2018



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