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The thick description and comparison of societal systems of capitalism


  • Gordon Redding

    (Euro-Asia and Comparative Research Centre, INSEAD, Fontainebleau, France)


Critiques of international business theory have recently pointed to weaknesses in the handling of context, of culture, and of policy implications. It is contended that the origins of such failings lie in the discipline's commonly accepted methodologies, and in turn that they have epistemological roots. As a route out of the dilemmas faced, a proposal is made to adopt more complete ways of handling determinacy, including the influences of history, culture, and the societal emergence of institutions. Business systems theory is drawn upon and a model proposed, developed from the work of Whitley. In this, culture is seen as underpinning formal institutions, which in turn underpin societal business systems. The use of the model relies on the ideas of Geertz on ‘thick description’ and of Ragin on holistic analysis. It is illustrated with a comparison of the American and French socio-economic systems, seen historically. Findings in strategy research about the geographically defined nature of firm supremacy in many industries are brought into the account, using the business systems literature. Consistent patterns of determinacy, as well as distinct and contrasting trajectories of business system evolution, are noted. A more complete and multidisciplinary form of explanation, grounded in socio-economics, is advocated as a means of meeting the challenges both of understanding and of policymaking at several levels. Journal of International Business Studies (2005) 36, 123–155. doi:10.1057/palgrave.jibs.8400129

Suggested Citation

  • Gordon Redding, 2005. "The thick description and comparison of societal systems of capitalism," Journal of International Business Studies, Palgrave Macmillan;Academy of International Business, vol. 36(2), pages 123-155, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:pal:jintbs:v:36:y:2005:i:2:p:123-155

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