Article | Journal of International Business Studies | July 2006

Bringing History (Back) into International Business

by G. Jones and Tarun Khanna

Abstract

We argue that the field of international business should evolve its rhetoric from the relatively uncontroversial idea that 'history matters' to exploring how it matters. We discuss four conceptual channels through which history matters, illustrating each with a major example. First, historical variation is at least a worthy complement to contemporary cross-sectional variation in illuminating conceptual issues. As an example, we show that conclusions reached by the literature on contemporary emerging market business groups are remarkably similar to independently reached conclusions about a very similar organizational form that was ubiquitous in the age of empire. Second, historical evidence avoids spurious labeling of some phenomena as 'new', and by so doing may challenge current explanations of their determinants. Whereas some firm types today were also present earlier, some types have disappeared, some have appeared, and some have disappeared and reappeared later. Third, history can allow us to move beyond the oft-recognized importance of issues of path dependence to explore the roots of Penrosian resources. We argue that the choices made by Jardine's and Swire's in Asia today, for example, are an outgrowth of strategic choices first in evidence more than a century ago. These would remain obscured absent an historical analysis. Fourth, there are certain issues that are unaddressable, except in the really long (that is, historical) run. Exploring the causal relationship (if any) between foreign direct investment, a staple of the international business literature, and long-run economic development provides one important example. Throughout, we advocate embracing rigorous methods for analyzing small-sample and qualitative data when conventional regression techniques do not apply. That is, we suggest that re-embracing history in the mainstream is not tantamount to sacrificing methodological rigor.

Citation:

Jones, G., and Tarun Khanna. "Bringing History (Back) into International Business." Journal of International Business Studies 37, no. 4 (July 2006): 453–468.