Sub-theme 01: (SWG): Multiple and contradictory logics in business systems: Analyzing complexity and variety across sectors, spaces and institutions

Rachel Parker
School of Management, Queensland University of Technology, Australia
Richard Whitley
Manchester Business School, University of Manchester, UK
Ruth V. Aguilera
University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, USA

Call for Papers

Many approaches to the analysis of business systems and varieties of capitalism have been concerned with the identification of distinctive patterns of economic organization and firm behaviour that became established in particular territorial jurisdictions, such as nation states and regions. Often national institutional frameworks have been portrayed as constraining opportunities, limiting the repertoire of legitimate ideas and creating incentives for actors to align their interests with the dominant structure, which they in turn reproduce over time. Such systemic structuring of economic activities is especially likely when dominant institutions, such as welfare state regimes, labour market institutions, and financial and corporate governance systems, are complementary in their implications for economic actors.


However, recent changes in many national financial systems, changing state policies and increased international product market competition, particularly in the European Union, have emphasized both the contingent nature of many of these complementarities and the diversity of interests involved in constructing and altering dominant socio-political coalitions. The increasing codification of norms governing transnational economic activities is an additional factor impinging upon the cohesion and distinctiveness of established business systems, which can have a 'trickle down effect' on national norms and rules.


Accordingly, it is timely to organize a sub-theme that focuses on institutional contradictions and change, and how different groups and organizations develop, manage and exploit conflicting logics. The sub-theme is intended to encourage research on the frictions and contradictions within business systems arising from contrasting logics in dominant institutional regimes and changing relationships between major interest groups. These contradictions might exist across different spatial dimensions (international, national, regional), across sectors (high-tech, manufacturing, services), or within sectors and across institutions.


Building on last year's theme in SWG 1 dealing with the role of actors in reconfiguring institutions through capture and conversion, we encourage contributions which further explore agents’ initiation of institutional change particularly if associated with multiple logics and tensions within the institutional system. Of particular interest is the way in which actors effect change through the manipulation of contradictions and inconsistencies in institutional systems. Actors may exploit multiple and ambiguous institutional logics in order to switch between alternative paths. Further, actors such as multinational firms, may themselves introduce contradictions to the system as they manoeuvre for the adoption of foreign or transnational rules and logics that potentially conflict with national and local arrangements. Tensions may thereby emerge between those firms whose activities are aligned with international practices and those firms who remain 'locked in' to paths constructed by domestic rules and standards.


Contributions to the sub-theme might include:

  • An analysis of the multiple and contradictory institutional influences on firms embedded in local economies in which the logic of local business systems departs from prevalent national business systems frameworks and involves translocal institutional linkages and influences, potentially constituting a basis for conflicting and contradictory logics for firms whose economic activities are local, national and international.

  • An exposition of previously undertheorized institutional influences on service sector organizations, which are less well discussed in existing business systems analysis and which are subject to greater diversity and complexity in forms of economic organization and behaviour including sectors such as tourism, call-centres, IT-outsourcing and childcare.

  • Emerging institutional influences on industries such as ICT and creative industries including design, film and advertising in which patterns of employment are unstable, forms of economic organization are relatively fluid and institutional contexts are comprised of multiple logics associated with creativity and profitability.

  • Contradictions across institutions, which might set up different logics for economic actors, for example, in which international institutions create incentives or opportunities that contradict those embedded in domestic/local institutions.

  • The strategies used by actors such as MNCs to exploit the contradictions inherent in institutional systems for the purpose of effecting change including lobbying, networking and the formation of coalitions.

  • The methodological implications of analysing contradiction rather than order for example through the adoption of historical and dialectical analysis of tensions between opposing orders or through an analysis of the theory building implications of multi-spatial and longitudinal studies that are context specific.
Rachel Parker 
Richard Whitley 
Ruth V. Aguilera