"It’s the Context All the Way Down!": An Institutional Theory Perspective on Chinese HRM Research

Greg Wang, David Lamond, Verner Worm

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


    Purpose: Using an institutional theory perspective, we aim to emphasize the importance of Chinese institutional contexts beyond “culture” by analyzing a few non-cultural institution-dependent contexts in Chinese HRM research.
    Design/methodology/approach: We review existing Chinese indigenous management research from an institutional theoretical perspective, and provide a critique of the research from that perspective.
    Findings: Chinese contexts are more than Confucianism. Focusing on this aspect of culture without integrating other institutional contexts, while informative, is unlikely to identify and explain the uniqueness of Chinese individual and organizational behaviors. Informed by institutional theory, we examine how institutional language context influence Chinese institutional behavior. We also argue that the guanxi phenomenon is more strongly dependent on institutional forces than on culture in the recent Chinese history. Incorporating these “non-cultural” institutional contexts in research enables us to describe the “what” and explore “why” and “how” in theory development, rather than placing value judgments on the institutional arrangements.
    Research limitations/implications: While societal culture provides an important institutional context, China’s broad culture is not unique among countries with similar Confucian traditions. Chinese management scholars are encouraged to be mindful of pervasive institutional contexts in exploring and theorizing local organizational phenomena. Research without considering non-cultural institutional contexts may prevent a finer-grained understanding of Chinese organizational phenomena for developing Chinese management theory, and is unlikely to identify the uniqueness of Chinese organizational phenomena among countries influenced by similar Confucian cultural traditions.
    Originality/value: Built on previous literatures, this article is among the first to specify and examine explicitly non-Confucian Chinese institutional contexts, as a basis for the exploration of Chinese organizational phenomena.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalJournal of Chinese Human Resources Management
    Issue number1
    Pages (from-to)2-13
    Number of pages12
    Publication statusPublished - 2015

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