On the meanings of structure in the international business discourse

Ray Griffin, Thomas O'Toole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: This paper seeks to examine the meaning and nature of the structure metaphor in the social sciences, and the consequent implications for the academic activity of describing and substantiating new structural forms of multinational corporations (MNCs) in the international business discourse. Design/methodology/approach: The paper's approach is primarily conceptual, but also introduces some fieldwork. The paper contrasts generalist work in the social sciences on structure with a close reading of the foundational texts on structure in MNCs along with a broader reading on the considerable attempts to describe new structures for MNCs. By interrelating these literatures with fieldwork that deconstructs stories from actors within MNCs, it opens a broader criticism on the discourse on structuring the MNC. Findings: The paper suggests that the phalanx of new MNC structures could, perhaps, be better understood as a criticism of using the structure metaphor to describe the MNC. On safer ground, it suggests the point of difference between older forms of MNC and the variously described new forms arise from the contrasting definitions of structure used by Giddens. Originality/value: The paper's originality and value arise from its unique consideration of the structure metaphor in social sciences and the discourse on structure in the international business discourse. It responds to calls for new research methods, and more critical approaches by those hoping to assist managers, in this functionally-oriented discourse.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237-255
Number of pages19
JournalCritical Perspectives on International Business
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2010


  • International business
  • Metaphors
  • Multinational companies
  • Organizational structures


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