2.2 GSAs as models of and models for globalization


2.2 GSAs as ˜models of and ˜models for globalization

Drawing upon Geertz s (1973) terminology, we conceptualize GSAs as serving as a metaphor for both ˜models of and ˜models for globalization, reflecting and acting as agents of globalization processes. Such a conceptualization helps to reflect the complexity of this mutual relationship that requires both the immediacy of face-to-face co-presence and action at a distance. There is an inherent and ongoing tension as global configurations oppose and also support various local and regional groupings. The interplay between proximity and distance is paradoxical, requiring open and trusting relations that are normally seen as a function of proximity and not distance.

Processes of globalization are interconnected to GSA processes at various levels. At the industry level, there is the integration of the communications and computing sectors or redefinitions in software development approaches created through the Internet and related technologies. At the more macro level, these global changes have immediate and intensified implications for the technology focus of the GSA, the organizational forms and the markets addressed. For example, one Indian firm doing well in the Electronic Design Automation (EDA) market decided to shut down that area of work to focus on telecommunications, which they saw to be the future area of growth. This decision, influenced by a number of global reasons, had immediate implications for the structure and thrust of their GSA arrangements. It affected the individual level in terms of the kind of people hired and the type of technological skills required; it also affected which geographical regions to focus on, further implying a need to develop new language and cultural understanding. Another example is the slowdown of the US market in 2001, forcing firms throughout the world to seek alternative markets in Europe and East Asia so as not to perish by putting ˜all their eggs in one US basket .

While the interconnection between the global and individual level may not be something unique to today, what is different is the speed and reversibility of effects . The changeover from EDA to telecommunications mentioned above was extremely swift and decisive . In between two phases of interviews in the same year, we found a firm to have made this transformation, including its name , Web sites, mission statement, organizational structure and espoused values and assumptions. The reversibility of effects comes from the knowledge-intensive nature of work and the significance of the individual developer. The Indian firm above could not have made this transition if it were not confident of recruiting, retraining and retaining professionals with telecommunications expertise. As compared to accounting and office management, it is much harder to build control systems in GSAs that transcend the individual, especially in highly knowledge- intensive and relatively new areas such as mobile telephony. Managing ˜key HR is an important task in GSAs, and the reversibility of effects on how global work is structured arises with individuals deciding to apply their knowledge capital in alternative settings.

Writers like Giddens (1990) and Castells (1996) describe a distinctive feature of contemporary life as the increasing interconnection between the two extremes of globalizing influences and personal dispositions . Identity, both individual and organizational, becomes a key element shaping and defining the nature of these interconnections. The dynamics of globalization imply new influences on identity that get hybridized in different ways. For example, a typical Indian software firm will undertake projects in North America, Europe, and East Asia, implying a need for developers to slip in and out of different technical, social and cultural experiences. These constant movements force individuals reflexively to monitor their preparedness and take corrective action. Radical and constant changes in cultural and work contexts are associated with transformations in self-identities, and are manifested in many forms, including the constant movement of software developers or the adoption of American life style in Bangalore and Hyderabad.

Intensification of the interconnections of processes over time and space, reflexivity of knowledge and transformations of individual and organizational identities are all characteristic of ongoing processes of globalization. GSAs reflect these characteristics and also shape them in particular ways. Indian software companies, based on the learning and experience gained through GSAs with North American companies, are now actively exploring Japanese and other East Asian markets, adopting their own distinctive form of hybridized ways of software management. These hybridized management styles will no doubt be further redefined, as the ˜Japanese flavour of working is incorporated and creates other situated meanings of globalization. We thus argue against the ˜globalization as homogenization thesis (for example, Hannerz 1991) and take the perspective of authors such as Robertson (1992) who use the term ˜ glocalization to describe globalization as the ˜interpenetration of the universalization of particularism and the particularization of universalism (1992: 100). Writing in the context of IT and the world of work, Walsham (2001) similarly argues for globalization and diversity:

However, the change processes are not seen as uniform in their effects, and organizations and societies are likely to remain distinct and differentiated, although increasingly interconnected through a process that has been labelled as glocalization. This arises through indigenization, meaning the selective appropriation of new ideas by different individuals, organizations and societies. (2001: 32)

Conceptualizing GSA relationships in the context of globalization sensitizes us to some of these meta-level dynamics and tensions that characterize such global phenomena. However, such theories of globalization, for example those of Giddens and Castells, while helping us to ˜view the landscape below from . . . a [remote] plane (Walsham 2001), are limited in explaining the micro-level dynamics of particular organizational processes. ˜High-level insights generated from social theories need to be integrated with in-depth , micro-level and processual analysis of particular work arrangements. To understand this integration process, we now outline the broad trends in some current sociological theories of globalization and subsequently relate them to the analysis of GSAs.