Chapter 8: The Case of Gowing and Eron GSA - Power and Control


Chapter 8: The Case of Gowing and Eron GSA ”Power and Control

8.1 GSW: a power and control perspective

In this chapter, we examine the role of power and control in shaping the process of a GSA relationship over time. In society and also in an organization, issues of power and control are intrinsically inter-connected with culture . Power has an influence on how cultural norms are collectively defined. The exercise of this power must be based on existing cultural values and assumptions. The exercise of power also enables the production and reproduction of cultural values. The process of globalization that defines the working of a GSA introduces new dimensions of power. Power structures that have been historically shaped “ for example, through relationships between developed and developing countries “ come into play in different ways and levels when firms from these countries are drawn together in a GSA. MNCs typically situated in the developed world have the economic and political power to make investments in infrastructure required for running GSAs. This economic power is also translated into cultural values, such as the norms of communication and conventions of meetings, etc. However, the introduction and stabilization of power- and culture- related values are always contested, especially in GSAs where the linkage between the firms is through the aspect of ˜knowledge .

Power and knowledge are also deeply inter-connected, a point made emphatically by Foucault (1991). Three key strands in Foucault s analysis relate to power , knowledge and discourse . Power is exercised through the discipline of individuals by the control of time (for example, time and motion studies), and space (for example, production lines) combined with standardization and surveillance of the drilled individuals. The second strand is knowledge; a society or an institution can be analysed through its ˜ regime of truth or ˜general politics of truth that give rise to disciplines such as criminology. These disciplines create conventions, standards or norms. A deviation from these standards and norms is the basis on which one is categorized as a ˜criminal or ˜pervert . The third strand is discourse, where the first two categories are practically applied to the individual. Foucault s discussion of ˜regimes of truth is relevant to the analysis of ICTs that may be regarded as non-human political actors in the production and reproduction of knowledge, truth and power (Walsham 2001: 73). As with other expert systems (Giddens 1990), knowledge embedded into systems development methodologies contains regimes of truth; they metaphorically ˜speak on behalf of their designers “ for example, the functionalist, structured methodologies such as SSADM (CCTA 1990) and interpretivist Soft Systems methodology (Checkland 1981).

Foucault s analysis may be linked to Giddens conceptualization of ˜expert systems such as methodologies which potentially are instruments of power, surveillance and control, raising questions of which methodologies are used, who is imposing them and what possibilities exist to use alternative approaches. By opening the software development process up to surveillance of stages, steps and reporting in structured methods, software developers come under the all-seeing panopticon gaze of the managers monitoring the development process. In GSAs this is especially true, since structured methods are used widely as a strategy to deal with the complexities of separation by minutely controlling time, quality, project schedules, repetition in the form of the practice of programming, detailed hierarchies and continual analysis of deviation from ˜normal .

The power “knowledge relationship is never static , and varies with different stages of the GSA relationship. In the early stages of the relationship, the domain knowledge of what is to be developed rests primarily with the customer. As knowledge is transferred to the development team, the power differential is reconfigured and mutual dependency grows, the management of which is a key challenge in GSAs. The use of ICTs also enables other unintended consequences that can potentially reconfigure the power “knowledge relationship through a phenomenon described by Zuboff (1988) as ˜informating . The information generated through the use of ICTs provides greater visibility to the people and their actions, potentially making them more vulnerable to surveillance and control. Videoconferences help to monitor project progress, for example, but they also make visible various other aspects of the development process such as the messiness and chaos as developers try to manage the ˜frontstage in the meetings. This visibility can have unintended effects as the developers, feeling the pressure of being ˜micro-managed , try to subvert these meetings. The power “knowledge relationship is also subject to ongoing destabilization through external events such as rapid technological changes in the industry or the opening up of new geographical markets. These changes place tremendous pressure on acquiring new knowledge. The groups having this knowledge hold power and this power furthers change as other groups such as colleagues and competitors develop similar knowledge.

Had Foucault experienced present-day globalization processes, he would certainly have been interested in the analysis of knowledge “power, discipline, surveillance and control across time and space. Managing such separation requires ˜long-distance control which Law (1986) has insightfully described in the case of the Portuguese navigators who made use of documents and devices and drilled people as a means of long-distance control in order to secure the global mobility of their vessels at sea and secure trading linkages:

Texts of all sorts, machines or other physical objects, and people, sometimes separately but more frequently in combination, these seem to be the obvious raw materials for the actor who seeks to control others at a distance. (1986: 255)

Standardized tables and methods of navigation, ships of appropriate build and the drilled ˜model worker described by Foucault as a ˜reliable automaton , when taken together, offer a powerful way to exercise power and control across time and space. The use of ICTs such as software configuration management, contracts, service-level agreements, reporting mechanisms, penalty clauses and methodologies (for both software development and project management) similarly provide the potential for control in GSW. Giddens (1990) defines trust as a property of individuals and abstract systems or ˜confidence in the reality of a person or system regarding a given set of outcomes or event[s] (1990: 34). Other authors have discussed risk, trust and control and the implications for planning strategic alliances, IT outsourcing and virtual organizing (Faulkner 1999; Handy 1999; Sabherwal 1999). These authors in different ways describe how organizations strike a balance between the need for ˜structural controls in the form of written contracts and ˜psychological contracts that help to sustain trusting harmonious relationships.

The dialectical relationship between power, control and knowledge cannot be separated from issues of culture, a topic that is popular in both the academic and non- academic literature. The power “culture relation is reflected in the functionalist notion of ˜managing culture (Peters and Waterman 1982) shaped by the political intentions of corporate managers with the intention of exercising control (Child 1984). Culture is a ˜ slippery notion treated both as something that can be ˜managed in a rationalistic sense and also as a ˜spiritual phenomenon. Smircich (1983) conceptualizes culture as something that an organization both ˜has and ˜is . Most often, the emphasis is on conceptualizing culture as something an organization has . This view may treat culture as a resource, like a ˜creative workforce or ˜high-tech knowledge . Culture is thus perceived as an objective entity which actors are able instrumentally to manage to the advantage for themselves or the organization. Such a functionalist perspective makes explicit the culture “power “knowledge linkage.

For our analysis, we were interested in examining how concepts of power and control were linked with culture, and all three together intertwined with different temporal phases of the GSA process. For this, we draw upon Giddens (1984) structuration theory in which issues of power, culture and meaning are integrated in a subtle manner with an emphasis on the process of production and reproduction of social structures. Giddens analyses social life through three interconnected dimensions of signification (meaning), legitimation (morality) and domination (power). Social systems are constituted by the activities of human agents , enabled and constrained by the social “structural properties of these systems. These structures define both the rules guiding action and the resources empowering action, and exist only as remembered codes of conduct or memory traces. Giddens stresses that individual agents retain the ability to act according to will and responsibility (Whittington 1992). A key aspect of analysing institutions through structuration involves a focus on how structures come into being and not as artefacts or ˜givens of the organization culture. Culture is not analysed as something an organization has but as part of what an organization is , and the processes through which this is produced and reproduced. This draws attention to the personality of individual actors, the importance of managerial style in articulating structures of domination and the process by which culture is sustained in a continuing reproduction of relationships between individuals and groups of actors. Giddens recognizes a ˜dialectic of control whereby all agents will have some resources that they can use in a bi-directional process and thus even the seemingly powerless have some control.

It is only for analytical purposes that Giddens discusses the three structures independently. Conceptually he sees the domination structure to be linked with structures of legitimation and signification. Control restrictions are enforced in daily interaction, creating and confirming through a process of legitimation. In legitimation, the management of meaning (for example, values, mission statements) and the interplay between value standards of the culture and sectional interests of sub-groups reproduce and challenge the reproduction of structures. Norms and moral codes sanction particular behaviour and legitimize what is important and what is trivialized, thereby institutionalizing the reciprocal rights and responsibilities of social actors. Analysing who sets and reproduces legitimation structures and how they are articulated is important in an analysis of power. The signification structure is concerned with the cognitive means by which actors make sense of what others say and do. Thus language (signification structure) is drawn upon through cognitive schemes of syntax and semantics to create understanding; language itself is the outcome of these speech acts. Riley (1983) points to the institutional forms through which signification is organized as related to symbolic orders such as rites, rituals and customs which may be analysed in forms such as logos and architecture. Stories and legends (e.g. of hard work or humble beginnings) are also relevant to signification, as are slogans and acronyms. Analysis of everyday discourse displays metaphors and jokes that indicate the image members have of the institution and give clues to the inclusion and exclusion of social groups.

With respect to power, Giddens adopts a relational perspective viewing resources (allocative and authoritative ) as facilities that agents are both guided by and draw upon in the exercise of power. Allocative resources arise from command over objects, goods and other material phenomena: for example, reward and motivation, budget and funds allocation and control of access to knowledge, information and technology. Authoritative resources are concerned with the coordination of the activities of social actors: organizational rules and regulations, policy making processes and methods and formal goals, objectives, and strategies, for example. Authoritative resources represent control processes involved in the structuration that restrict and maintain the reproduction of social systems. In GSAs, varying kinds of authoritative and allocative resources are manifest in the infrastructure that is established, the different methodologies and technologies in use and the various management control systems that are established to make the infrastructure, technologies and methodologies work in practice.

Control over these allocative and authoritative resources is linked to knowledge and geographical domains , a point that Castells (1996) has emphasized . Castells argues that in the network society, the ˜power of flows supersedes the ˜flows of power . This implies that power is no longer situated in traditionally significant institutions like the state and the church , but power is shaped by the networks an organization is situated in, the centrality of its position, its access to information and knowledge and the flexibility in its structure to apply this knowledge to innovate its internal processes. This conceptualization has important implications for GSAs in that there is the assumption that even smaller firms, powered by intellectual capital and their ability to leverage new ICTs, can potentially challenge the giant MNCs. However, as the Sierra case in chapter 7 pointed out, this is not always possible, as power and knowledge are still situated in structures that are historically and socially specific , and as such difficult to penetrate even in the network society. The relational perspective on power and culture in GSAs has to take into account cross-cultural issues because of the different groups, firms and countries that are involved. Robertson (1992) critiques Giddens (1990), pointing out that Giddens calls for an ˜institutional analysis as opposed to a cultural approach. According to Robertson, Giddens focus on the institutional issues means that he largely neglects analysis of inter-state and transnational relations as well as international law and intercultural relations. Giddens attempt to diminish cultural considerations is, according to Robertson, ˜a great weakness :

While he may claim that globalization does not involve the crushing of non-western cultures he does not seem to realize that such a statement requires him to theorize the issue of ˜other cultures . (1992: 142)

Thus, for the purpose of this inquiry, additional writings dealing with cultural dimensions of globalization have been consulted and we have attempted to integrate cultural and cross-cultural issues into the theoretical framework. There is a large body of literature in international business that has attempted to theorize about these issues. These studies, many of which are based on statistical analysis of survey data, posit that distinctive differences exist between the occupants of a country because of a multiplicity of choices and priorities along cultural dimensions. Hofstede s (1980) popular study differentiated between various national cultural characteristics and represented them as dimensions. Analysis of culture and power can be seen to provide a blend in considering aspects of equality, status and individualism , for instance. This aspect is especially evident in Hofstede s study that categorizes national cultures along the dimensions of Power “Distance and Masculinity “Femininity. Hampden-Turner and Trompenaars (1993) studied twelve countries through the lens of seven oppositional pairs. They posit that culture and orientation to capitalism may be made up of a multiplicity of choices and priorities along these seven pairs. The analytical dimensions of achieved status versus ascribed status and equality versus hierarchy explicitly deal with attitudes to power across different countries .

We have not drawn on these studies directly because they have been subjected to extensive criticism on the basis of a standardized questionnaire, the assumption of a rationalistic perception of stereotypical cultural differences and that ˜true national characteristics can be derived from a stable, static milieu. Instead, to address cross- cultural issues within a structurational perspective, we draw upon Whittington s (1992) conceptual framework to link structure and agency. In this framework, managers are seen as being members of multiple and often overlapping and conflicting social systems from which they draw various rules and resources in the process of articulating agency. Such an approach to understand agency attempts to avoid stereotypes apparent in re- search that tries to define and reify ˜national character (Mead 1951) or the inherent cultural determinism implied in models such as Hofstede (1980). Even though structural conditions influence agency, all human beings are obviously neither the same nor ˜cultural dopes (Garfinkel 1967) unable to act outside of the caging effect of structures. Humans, through their reflexive and knowledgeable actions, are capable of changing these structures. Sahay and Walsham (1997) have applied Whittington s framework to the study of Geographical Information Systems managers in India, by conceptualizing managers as simultaneously being members of multiple systems including a community, a bureaucracy and a scientific community. In GSAs, this framework needs to be further extended to take into account the interaction between people from different firms and countries reflecting different political, educational, religious, community and class, familial and judicial structures. These structures shape managerial attitudes that are themselves influenced through the role of human agency. In GSAs, as actors work with others in multiple locations, they themselves are influenced and affected by contact with these global structures and over time the structures themselves may be reciprocally affected.

These are some of the issues we explore in the case study of Gowing and Eron. We use the related concepts of power and culture, drawing on a theoretical frame derived from structuration theory (Giddens 1984). We analyse how these power and culture issues allow us to interrogate the processes by which GSAs evolve .