An Anthropology of Marketplace Behavior. Aspects of embeddedness in Norwegian entrepreneurship in the Baltics
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Based on fieldwork undertaken between 2005 and 2008, this thesis provides an anthropological analysis of cross border Norwegian entrepreneurship in the Baltics in a timeframe that spans from the middle of the 1990s to 2008.
The Baltic states had barely reinstated their independence from the Soviet Union when the Nordic countries, including Norway, began to devise strategies to enter these emerging markets. In the 1990s, the growing Baltic markets, as they were in such close proximity to Norway, were already being referred to in Norwegian public culture as an extended Nordic market. Norwegian entrepreneurship in the Baltics reached its apex in the early 2000s, when manufacturing businesses on the verge of bankruptcy were moved, one by one, from Norwegian villages to the Baltics. The process of relocating manufacturing facilities induced a series of responses and challenges both in the Norwegian villages left behind and in the new locations in the Baltics. This thesis examines the process of relocating the production facilities and small and medium- sized companies from Norway to the Baltics; it analyses the causes, course and implications of the process.
This work also depicts the Baltics as a strategically significant asset for Norwegian businesses. Through its reflection on the political and economic backgrounds of Norway and the Baltics around the end of 1990s and the beginning of twenty-first century, the present work examines the motives and strategies of Norwegian entrepreneurs entering the emerging Baltic market, as well as the readiness of Baltic actors and institutions to welcome them into their fledgling market economy. A special focus is placed on Norwegian business practices and experiences in building contacts within the local business environment and in cooperating with local bureaucrats and company employees in the Baltic states.
The concept of embeddedness serves as a conceptual umbrella in this analysis of entrepreneurial activities. The focus is placed on the relations between the actor and the environment in which s/he operates. An examination is made of both the material and the nonmaterial costs of doing business and the work explores the values, relations, contexts, perceptions and ideologies in which particular Norwegian and Baltic economic activities are embedded. Without discrediting the significance of economic calculations and social networks (usually posed as the core of embeddedness of economic activity in market societies) in the strategy formation and decision-making process, the present thesis highlights the significance of culturally constructed convictions and the cultural content of social relations in terms of meanings and representations. By viewing the embeddedness of entrepreneurial activities from below, this work provides an explanatory framework from which to explore why each entrepreneurial strategy is adopted and in what circumstances, and analyzes the processes through which an economic system becomes embedded. In embracing an analysis of embeddedness in relation to Norwegian entrepreneurship in the Baltics, the results are based not only on the empirical findings of the present research but also on the research of other anthropologists who have made in-depth studies of Norwegian entrepreneurial activities.
The thesis concludes that it is unproductive and groundless to cultivate a notion of disembedded economies. Each step observed in the cross-border activities of Norwegian entrepreneurs in the Baltics can be traced and linked to multilayered relations and values, political and geographical constellations, imprints of the past and constructions of the future. And precisely because economic and socio-cultural relations are inseparable, anthropological research methods are ideally suited for researching the corporate environment.
Central to this thesis is not only an argument about embedded market behavior; it also presents empirically and theoretically informed reflections on how to conduct anthropological research in a transnational business environment. The research here contains an outline of the development and character of business anthropology. In taking a stand on the significance of participant observation in researching transnational companies and their business environments, the thesis demonstrates how to carry out traditional anthropological fieldwork in international business settings, how and where to grasp this environment and make it tangible, and how to turn the data into something empirical. The methodological approach outlined here suggests that the traditional anthropological toolkit, representing a particularly “deep, extended and interactive research encounter”(Clifford 1997:187), is vital in the research of transnational business operations in global markets, and that it is possible to grasp globally ongoing dynamics even when staying in a ‘bounded’ field site.
This thesis is a contribution to the field of corporate ethnography and business anthropology and takes its place in a line of anthropological research on the encounters between Western Europe and Eastern Europe business communities.