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I’m very pleased to announce the publication of a new English-language textbook on the management of inter-organizational relations written and edited by Jörg Sydow, Gordon Müller-Seitz and myself and published by Palgrave. While several textbooks on specific topics such as strategic alliancesoutsourcing and offshoring or social networks are already out there, there was to date no comprehensive textbook dealing with different forms of inter-organizational relations from a management perspective that could be used in English-language courses on managing alliances and networks.Palgrave Bild

Several academically-oriented books such as the Oxford Handbook of Inter-Organizational Relations or the book Managing Dynamic Networks are useful to complement teaching, but are – in our experience – too theoretical to structure an entire course. Conversely, practitioner-oriented texts like the Manager’s Guide to Choosing and Using Collaborative Networks can only complement, but not fill an entire university course. A case collection on alliance management has been edited by the Ivey School of Business, but this collection does not include textbook chapters.

Our new book aims to include both an introduction to several forms of inter-organizational relations and the underlying academic debates as well as a collection of case studies highlighting particular managerial issues. In an effort to promote research-led teaching, all cases were developed on the basis of research projects conducted by members of the Research Group Inter-firm Networks and the Group’s international network. The book is structured in six parts, four of which comprise the main forms of inter-organizational relations that are distinguished: strategic alliances and networks, regional networks and clusters, global production and supply networks, and innovation and project networks. Especially the chapter on global production and supply networks includes a debate about transnational governance issues and discusses, for instance, the challenges associated with transnationalizing professional services or issues of accountability and liability in global production networks.

Five case studies are available for each of these network types, each focusing on particular management challenges. For strategic alliances and networks, for instance, Jörg Sydow together with Horst Findeisen, Vice President at the Star Alliance Services GmbH, wrote a case on the institutionalization of new management structures in the Star Alliance. For regional networks and clusters, Chacko Kannothra and Stephan Manning from the University of Massachusetts in Boston developed a case on the new impact sourcing trend and its implications for regional development in India. For global production and supply networks, Miriam Wilhelm from the University of Groningen presents details from her in-depth research on Toyota’s practices for managing cooperation and competition. In the chapter on innovation and project networks, Leonhard Dobusch wrote about the development of the international network organization behind Wikimedia.

Overall, this book tackles not only a border-crossing issue – management practices and challenges arising outside of hierarchical organizational boundaries – but also aims to bridge the gap between theory and practice in a new textbook format geared towards advanced bachelor, master and MBA students. The book is complemented by a companion website where teaching notes, a glossary and further informative links for each case are provided.

While the recent Google Books ruling by the US Second Circuit has once again proven how the US copyright system is – thanks to its fair use provision – more flexible and adaptable to digital challenges than its European counterpart, in other fields the legal situation is very similar on both sides of the Atlantic. One such field is digital sampling in music, which is the topic of the book “Creative License: The Law and Culture of Digital Sampling” by McLeod and DiCola (2011, Duke University Press).

Cover of the Book

Cover of the Book “Creative License” by Kembrey McLeod and Peter DiCola (2011, Duke University Press)

Sampling is a comparably recent practice where parts of sound recordings are reused in creating new works. According to McLeod and DiCola, “a good appropriated sample has […] a good quality of its own, and it has a strong reference that evokes cultural resonance as well” (p. 99, emphasis added). The latter of the two, cultural resonance, not only adds an additional meta-layer of cultural reference to a song but is also the main reason for legal calamities associated with sampling. As with remix practices more generally, a core characteristic of sampling is that the old remains visible within the new and is not hidden behind a (more or less transparent) veil of originality.

However, this visibility of creative raw materials – that is, samples of previous works – is considered as some form of creative “short-cut” by the courts, which require samplers to clear each and every sample they use, as small and tiny the portion of sound may be. McLeod and DiCola:

Bridgeport Music v. Dimension Films held that no de minimis exception applied to sound recordings. […] [T]he bottom line was, as the ruling stated, ‘Get a license or do not sample.’” (pp. 139, 141)

In Germany, the decision “Metall auf Metall” by Germany’s highest court had identical consequences. The detrimental effects of such a restrictive application of current copyright to the artistic practice of sampling are the reason why sampling-based creativity suffers from permission culture.

Read the rest of this entry »

This post is provided by guest blogger André Förster who studies the Masters program “Sociology and empirical social Research” at the University of Cologne. Alongside his studies, he works as a student assistant at gesis – Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences in Cologne.

book cover

Mark R. Beissinger, 2002: Nationalist Mobilization and the Collapse of the Soviet State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

In this important book Mark R. Beissinger, director of the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies (PIIRS) and former professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison sets out to explain how the collapse of the Soviet State  became viewed from the impossible to the inevitable within only a few years. While many studies refer to the inherent logic of the communist system as the main reason for its disintegration, Beissinger highlights the importance of nationalist events that took place during the years 1987 to 1991. Based on rich quantitative and qualitative data, the author argues that the tidal impact of these demonstration and protest events and their cross-country influence shaped a phase of history, in which institutions were changed not as the result of an inherent logic, but rather through the whole process itself.

Beissinger’s book offers a very productive combination of transnational and comparative sociological analysis. In the following review, I will focus on the second and fifth chapter of the book, in which Beissinger explains how the transnational glasnost tide of nationalism evolved and why some movements of nationalism succeded while others failed. On the basis of Beissinger’s analysis I will show that the development and the success of nationalist movements can be explained from a transnational perspective, whereas the failure of movements can rather be explained from a comparative view. Read the rest of this entry »

Last semester I taught a class on “Comparative and transnational analysis of contemporary societies” for master’s and doctoral students at the University of Cologne. The aim of the course was to familiarize students with key approaches in comparative-historical social and political analysis, major critiques, and alternative approaches of world society and transnational analysis. We started with the now well-known critique that comparative-historical analysis often falls victim to “methodological nationalism” because it all too frequently assumes society to be bounded by the nation-state. In consequence, comparative-historical analysis often ignores cross-border social relations and horizons of actions, emerging from increasing cross-border flows of people, goods and cultures, transnational and global organizations, networks and communities, as well as transnational institution building.

We started with the sociological classics of whom many considered the comparative method as a key heuristic of social and political analysis. From that we moved on to post-World War II sociological analysis, world systems theory and the world society approach. Empirical illustrations covered issues such as state building, social classes and inequality, migration and diaspora communities, transnational movements, cross-border policy networks and the Europeanisation of welfare institutions.

Interestingly enough, we discovered that even within transnational analysis focusing on networks, diffusion or multi-level interactions, the comparative method does still have an important role to play. Going back to the classics, we found intriguing combinations of comparison and diffusion analysis in Tocqueville’s and Weber’s work. More contemporary critical approaches, such as world systems theory and world society theory, continue to use country comparison as a reference point. This led us to the conclusion that the comparative method is still very valuable but needs to be adapted and combined with other methodological approaches such as network analysis, process tracing or sequence analysis to encompass the transnational and global realities of contemporary societies. Read the rest of this entry »

Finance: The Discreet RegulatorIsabelle Huault and Christelle Richard (eds.), 2012: Finance: The Discreet Regulator: How Financial Activities Shape and Transform the World. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

The power of financial markets and financial actors over economies and societies is as hard to deny as it is to conclusively prove. From subprime mortgages to Greek debts to microloans, different people and different sectors all feel it in their own ways. “Financialisation” (Epstein, Krippner), “finance-led growth regime” (Boyer), “financial market capitalism” (Windolf) represent only some of the attempts to come to grips with this sea change; but none have provided decisive answers as to the “why” and “how”.

A new book proposes seeing finance (in the tradition of the French “Régulation School”) as a type of regulator – a subtle, insidious one. “Finance: The Discreet Regulator: How Financial Activities Shape and Transform the World” collects perspectives on how “financial markets are the seat of regulatory processes initiated and developed by core-capitalist financial institutions such as banks and audit firms”. Read the rest of this entry »

The question whether and how NGOs or transnational social movements can be considered as productive parts of something like a global democratic governance or even an evolving cosmopolitical order has bothered many scholars sofar. In absence of a fixed nation state framework, including clear-cut geographical representation chains, some scholars even deny the attempt to understand transnational activism as a form of promoting democracy across borders.
“Deliberative Politik von unten” is not genuinely dealing with transnationalism in specific. However, I suggest the innovative research method is worth taking a serious look at for all researchers which are interested in measuring deliberation in transnational small groups settings; this book helps one to go transnational with Habermas. Read the rest of this entry »

This is a book review I wrote for the microfinance news site microDINERO about Hugh Sinclair’s controversial new insider/whistleblower account of the microfinance industry.

Hugh Sinclair, 2012: Confessions of a Microfinance Heretic: How Microlending Lost Its Way and Betrayed the Poor. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Outside of the mainstream and microfinance’s promotional campaigns, many academics, NGOs, critical journalists and also former microfinanciers have quietly criticised microfinance for years – only to be ignored or dismissed as lunatics or ideologues. The problems in microfinance, however, are very real, and Hugh Sinclair’s controversial new book “Confessions of a Microfinance Heretic” makes them impossible to ignore.

For the few independent researchers, fortunately able to study microfinance without reporting to microfinance-supporting bodies or the major research groups (which happen to be mostly funded by the same organisations which fund microfinance), the problems of microfinance are not news. They include that microfinance, by its very nature, supports only the simplest, least-productive and lowest growth-potential activities, as Milford Bateman argues. They also include the fact that most loans are simply used for consumption, which even CGAP recognises in its attempts to redefine microfinance in terms of “financial inclusion”, ignoring the problem of these loans’ unsustainability. This is linked to the risk of overindebtedness and debt traps researched bravely by Jessica Schicks, and evidenced most gruesomely in the Indian microfinance crisis. There is also the problem of microfinance building on and employing immense power asymmetries, particularly between men and women, as Lamia Karim has shown, rather than removing these asymmetries through actual processes of empowerment. These are just a few issues.

With Hugh Sinclair along comes someone who has extensive real-life experience, a fascinating story to tell – from his original belief in microfinance to his disillusionment and ultimate heresy against it – and a knack for writing. His book, as devastating as it is entertaining to read, presents a serious challenge to large elements of the microfinance industry. Sinclair adds a new problem to the list of reasons why microfinance cannot keep its promise of poverty reduction, showing that the incentives within the microfinance industry are structured in such a way that positive developmental outcomes can – at best – occur as an accidental by-product; and mostly won’t occur at all. Read the rest of this entry »

Ramesh S. Arunachalam, 2011: The Journey of Indian Micro-Finance: Lessons for the Future. Chennai: Aapti Publications.

The microfinance crisis in India which broke out in fall 2010, first imperiling numerous borrowers and then an entire industry, is the most fundamental event in the world of microfinance since the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. In hindsight, it may even turn out to be the defining moment of microfinance history – never before has the dark side of microfinance, and the vulnerability of the industry, been so brutally exposed to a global audience.

Naturally, these events have attracted a host of opinions and analyses ranging from simply blaming the Andhra government for bringing down a healthy microfinance industry, to accusing microfinance of having become worse than loan sharks. And yet, so far, we understand very little of why India’s vast microfinance sector went so far astray. Thankfully, people like Ramesh S. Arunachalam are out to change this.

Arunachalam has earned the respect of many a reader (me too) with his candid and incredibly well-researched blogging on the Indian microfinance sector. He posts prolifically, but despite (or perhaps because of) his over 20 years of work experience in development and rural finance, he has otherwise kept a low profile. He is not an outspoken critic.

Now Ramesh Arunachalam has applied his sharp analytical approach and evident knack for writing to publishing the first book about the Indian microfinance crisis. The result is a meticulous, evidence-based piece of research which brings clarity into what so far has mostly been an interest-driven and polemical battle of explanations.

In some ways what Arunachalam has produced is, in fact, more than a book; it is a dossier of evidence and analysis of how the Indian microfinance sector functions at the deepest levels, and where its errors lie. It is a biography of an industry in identity crisis, and also a handbook on how Indian microfinance might (perhaps) still be saved. Above all, as the book’s (wonderfully illustrative) cover implies, it is a search for the Faustian, troubled soul of Indian microfinance. Read the rest of this entry »

Lamia Karim, 2011: Microfinance and Its Discontents: Women in Debt in Bangladesh. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Microfinance has built a significant part of its reputation on the assertion that small loans empower women. The assumption that every human being has entrepreneurship potential, but only lacks access to credit, underlies this “social business” intervention. The joint appeal of entrepreneurship and empowerment has cajoled many funders and donors to invest in microfinance. But critical research has been shedding doubt on the assumptions of empowerment through microfinance entrepreneurship for quite some time. Can or cannot a direct transfer of credit rouse the dormant and innate entrepreneur which lies within every woman?

Lamia Karim’s brave new book, “Microfinance and its Discontents- Women in Debt is Bangladesh”, delves deep into the social realities within which microfinance operates, in order to answer that question. As an Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology at the University of Oregon, she performed research among the clientele of the four major microfinance NGOs in Bangladesh (Grameen Bank, Proshika, BRAC and ASA) first between 1998 and 1999, and following up in 2007.

Norms and obligations in a rural society are tilted against women, as is demonstrated by a proliferation of ethnographic accounts in Karim’s book. Take, for example, the incident of an elderly widow in Bangladesh, who was caught by her nephew on her way back home after taking a fresh loan from Grameen Bank. He pressured her into handing over the money to him because, he said, as his aunt it was her duty to help him start his business. Read the rest of this entry »

Cover "The Master Switch"Tim Wu, 2010: The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

The main theme of “The Master Switch” is the “oscillation of information industries between open and closed”, a phenomenon  Tim Wu finds and tracks in “any of the past century’s transformative technologies, whether telephony, radio, television, or film”, referring to it simply as “the Cycle” (p. 6). The historical description unsurprisingly culminates in an analysis of current battles around net neutrality and the openess of the internet.

Wu sees “a chasm opened between Google and its allies like Amazon, eBay, and nonprofits like Wikipedia on the one side and Apple, AT&T, and the entertainment conglomerates on the other” (p. 289).  Those two coalitions, however, are not to be considered “one pack of wolves chasing another” but rather as “polar bears battling lions for domination of the world”:

“Each animal, insuperably dominant in its natural element – the polar bear on ice and snow, the lion on the open plains – will undertake a land grab where it has no natural business being. The only practicable strategy will be a campaign of climate change, the polar bears seeking to cover as much of the world with snow as they can, while the lion tries to coax a savannah from the edges of a tundra.” (p. 289-290)  Read the rest of this entry »

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
February 2017
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