Strategy practice in the informal economy : a case from strategic networking of informal printing businesses in Ghana.
Thesis DisciplineBusiness Administration
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
In response to calls for more strategy-as-practice studies that foreground structural and relational linkages in strategy practice, this thesis investigated strategic networking practices of informal printing businesses in Ghana. Despite the increasing interest in strategy as situated practice, studies that examine strategy work in the informal economy are lacking. The informal economy has been pervasive despite earlier predictions of its demise; it contributes significantly to social and economic lives through the provision of essential low cost products and services, and generation of employment. Informal businesses are integral to the competitiveness of formal firms in some economies, through their involvement in supply chains and strategic networks. Their contribution to global commerce has also been acknowledged, however we know little about how they organise, manage, and strategise to achieve these. The informal economy thus presents opportunities for unveiling new insights, given the peculiar characteristics of the setting and participants, and the consequence these may have for shaping their strategising practices. Previous calls for strategy-as-practice research that bridge micro-macro treatments, in order to connect strategy work to agents embedded in states, fields, sectors, institutions, societies, cultures, and organisations remain to be fully realised. Invariably, an investigation of the informality phenomenon and its implicit complicity with strategic networking practices at the level of individual actors, businesses, field, institutions, the state, and the larger society in which they are embedded is expected to fill some of these gaps. The research employed Pierre Bourdieu’s practice theory incorporating the concepts of field, capital and habitus as a theoretical framework for the analysis. A case study employing organisational ethnographic data collection techniques was adopted. An embedded case design option was employed to select participant informal printing businesses which were sampled purposefully and accessed via snowballing strategies. Network partners were also contacted by these means in a multi-sited data collection approach. Ghana, a developing country, was selected because of its history of a large informal economy and ease of access. Data collection methods included semi-structured interviews, shadowing, observations, and documents that provided secondary sources of data. A two-phase data analysis process with thematic analysis phase preceding a Bourdieusian analysis phase was adopted. The findings categorised strategic networking practices of the informal printing businesses and their network partners into five main themes: ‘Drivers’, ‘Nature of relationships’, ‘Partners and exchanges’, ‘Building and managing relationships’, and ‘Outcomes’. Bourdieusian analysis that interpreted these findings articulated the strategic networking practices as an enactment of field logic of practice. The informal businesses engaged in strategic networking for the sake of practical coping in consonance with capital deficiencies that necessitated the creation of exchange-value. Exchange-value was created through capital exchanges amongst agents from fields with different logics, in order to transition to market opportunities controlled by dominant formal organisation field players. Interdependence behaviours (cooperative and/or co-opetitive) that sat comfortably with the focal field’s social structures (including material artefacts), and therefore agents’ dispositions and implicit codes of conduct, structured the conditions for these capital exchange and utilisation practices. To this end, the strategic networking practices were influenced by micro, meso and macro-level factors such as agents’ trajectories, the creative industry, the market, dominant players in the field of the informal printing economy, the regulatory framework, society, and trends in global trade. Again these ‘drivers’ delivered ‘outcomes’ at multiple levels that reached far beyond the local level of strategic networking practice. The study further suggests that the ‘drivers’ and ‘outcomes’ constructed, and were constructed by each other in a continuous cycle, much the same way that the strategic networking practice shaped, and was shaped by the social structures of the field in which the practices happened. This is depicted in a conceptual framework developed to summarise the findings. The findings make a number of contributions that relate to the structural and relational approach to the study of strategy work. They capture the contextual complexities that are often treated lightly in traditional strategy scholarship generally, and network studies specifically. Also the research has given impetus to macro-level influences, as well as generative mechanisms that underlie strategy practice. The ways these were internalised by agents are illustrated. The findings further demonstrate the role of materiality in strategy work, especially how work spaces could produce strategy, and at the same time, be products of strategy work. Secondly the findings demonstrate the institutionalisation of materiality in a field of practice. Finally, the findings highlight the fine-grained ‘on-goings’ in the relationships between formal and informal businesses which is yet to be significantly captured in the strategic management literature. Keywords: Bourdieu, informal business, informal economy, informal sector, Ghana, printing industry, informal printing economy, strategy as practice, strategic networks.