International Organizational Behavior


February 1, 2002 International Organization Behavior Post-September 11, 2001

The American tragedy of September 11, 2001 raises a number of questions-- some obvious and widely understood, others controversial, yet others relatively slow to emerge because time is required for reflection-- that could have profound implications for international organization behavior. The terrorist attacks-- as an attack on democracy, capitalism, and the relationships among different cultures-- raise issues about the values that underpin international organization behavior and influence the management practices derived from organization behavior.

Accelerated by the events of September 11, 2001-- at least in our consciousness-- many forces have been at work for several decades changing international organization behavior. These include globalization of the economy, digitization of communication, and the virtualization of organizations. To consider what, if anything, has occurred as a result of September 11, 2001 to alter the course of these processes the following sections briefly discuss: (1) center and periphery; (2) convergence vs. divergence; (3) democratic values, and (4) the values of capitalism.

I. Center and Periphery

The values of the United States dominate world business and influence cultures in a variety of ways. Herve Varenne, a cultural anthropologist and renowned analyst of American culture, emphasizes the role of the United States in the world:

Above all, anthropology [or organizational behavior or management] of America must be anthropology of the center because, whether we like it or not, America is, if not "the" center of cultural life on the globe in this second half of the twentieth century, at least one of the two or three most powerful centers. To study the center of America is, by implication, to study the whole world, since in a very direct sense the whole world is constrained by what happens there. Indeed, one cannot understand the fringe, as fringe, unless one also understands what makes it a fringe (1986:37).
Because America is the center-- or at least representative of the center as a postindustrial society-- the fringe simultaneously emulates, envies, hates, and ultimately, in some cases it appears, targets its values and behaviors.

II. Convergence vs. Divergence

In opposition to the distinction of center and periphery, there has been considerable discussion of the extent to which nations have either converged or diverged. This argument assumes that there is movement among countries with some becoming more like the center and some moving toward the periphery. The questions are: To what extent have countries and organizations within them become more similar as a result of globalization, virtualization, and digitization? Has there been fundamental, enduring change in the cultures of the countries and organizations? In other words, has convergence of various types occurred among advanced industrial countries? What are the prospects for convergence in developing nations?

Saskia Sassen's The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo argues that there is a great deal of convergence in organizational behavior and management, because the flow of investment capital around the world has reshaped the economy and dominant organizations. One result of convergence, however, is a solidification of the center in relation to the periphery.

Or, have countries and organizations largely remained unaffected by technological progress and social processes? That is, they have not changed significantly but merely incorporated new technologies and new management principles into their culturally distinctive way of doing things? Put differently, are there limits to convergence and, in some cases-- Afghanistan and the Taliban are an example, a reaction against these processes and re-establishment of specific culturally determined ways of doing things? Mauro Guillen's The Limits of Convergence: Globalization and Organizational Change in Argentina, South Korea, and Spain presents data to support the thesis that economic, cultural, and organizational convergence is limited and unlikely to increase convergence.

III. Democratic Values

Another issue concerns the underlying values of organizational behavior. The dominance of American corporations throughout the world as well as the accumulation of American social science findings in psychology, social psychology, sociology, anthropology, and political science and their application to management and organizational behavior theories, is pervasive throughout the world. Is this centrality also a problem because it blinds American researchers and teachers to other possibilities? Did the events of September 11, 2002 change this situation? Should they?

How democratic are the values of American business organizations? Should the values and governance structures of business organizations become more democratic? If not the values of democracy, what values do American corporations export? What does the world understand as American values?

IV. The Values of Capitalism

What are the values of late capitalism? Are they consistent with democratic values? Are they consistent with the values of organizations? Are they consistent with the values of organizational behavior?

Some problematic issues are the organization behavior and social science view of human progress, the role of the individual as agent, the nature of authority relations, the nature of organization change, and the structure of social inequality. A more concrete and less global example is the concept of creative destruction (Schumpeter 1942), the continuous reinventing of products and processes-- for instance, continually reinventing organizations-- as engines of economic growth. How does creative destruction translate into other cultures?

Another issue is the ethical and moral underpinnings of capitalism. The Enron debacle-- and many less explosive implosions-- raise the issue of the abuses of capitalism qua capitalism rather than, for example, whether it exploits certain social groups or is inherently anti-environmental.

The question then is, what are the values of capitalism that are taken-for-granted or overtly influence the assumptions that underlie organization behavior? How do these values influence the international perspective of organization behavior? How do these values influence those who teach organization behavior? Western capitalist society with its praise for individualism, future orientation and devotion to progress may neglect other viewpoints.

Web Exercise

The World Wide Web can assist in answering these questions. For example, a site with a variety of definitive articles that illuminates the events of September 11, 2001 is http://www.annual The articles, whose relevance for international organization behavior varies, range from "Ending Revolutions and Building New Governments" to "Deterrence and International Conflict" to "Anthrax."

A new search engine is more effective for organizing web sites than previous engines like altavista and yahoo. Using vivisimo see what the results are for topics such as:

-national and organizational culture
-virtual organizations
-digital communications
-capitalist economic systems

From this list you can try to generate other terms that lead to other web sites (the law of the WWW is that: "Web sites beget web sites"). The objective is to see what information is available and how interesting and useful it is. No one knows what exists on the Web but exploring it can be its own reward.


Guillen, M. (2001). The Limits of Convergence: Globalization and Organizational Change in Argentina, South Korea, and Spain. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Sassen, S. (1991 ) The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Schumpeter, J. (1942). Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. (Third edition). New York: Harper & Row.

Varenne, H. (1986). Doing Anthropology in American. In H. Varenne, Symbolizing America. Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press.

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