Publication Details

Ellis, N., Lowe, S. & Purchase, S. 2006, 'Towards a re-interpretation of industrial networks: A discursive view of culture', The IMP Journal, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 20-40.

Link to publisher version (URL)

The IMP Journal


This conceptual paper begins by providing a critique of the modelling of industrial networks in terms of culture. It then goes on to suggest a methodological way out of the theoretical impasse that has been created by the limited ways in which culture has been addressed in network studies. We argue that networks are a promising metaphor to explore marketing practice, especially in international trading contexts. Building on the work of Capra, this promise is due to the consonance of networks as 'pattern' (involving the qualitative configuration of relationships of ideas) with conceptions of culture that emphasise process rather than structure. Our proposition, however, is that until now the context-specific, ideational elements of culture have been overlooked in industrial network analysis. We exemplify our arguments chiefly with reference to one school of network theory: the IMP Group. Despite the considerable contribution of IMP scholars to the literature, we show that a degree of analytical reductionism has resulted from the dominant modernist, logocentric view of networks found in the management science literature. As such, we propose that integrating the study of networks with 'culture as process' (rather than merely as a structural variable) has considerable potential. The paper concludes by outlining the research implications of our interpretivist research agenda. This contains a plea for greater linguistic sensitivity and the adoption of a social constructionist conceptualisation of culture in the study of industrial networks. In order to address this agenda, discourse analysis is put forward as a methodological approach that might be considered by IMP researchers.