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Paper info: The rapid creative destruction of HQ-subsidiary relationships - the power of the less-powerful


The rapid creative destruction of HQ-subsidiary relationships - the power of the less-powerful


James Fairhead and
Ray Griffin
Waterford Institute of Technology
Ray Griffin

Place of Publication

The paper was published at the 17th IMP-conference in Oslo, Norway in 2001.


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The historically prevailing view in the network literature has been that relationshipswithin networks develop gradually and cumulatively over time, with power playingwhat might be termed a ?concrete? role in such a process, based primarily onidentifiable resource dependencies. The concept of (Foucauldian) 'system power?,beginning to emerge in the management and organisation literature, is not explicitlyarticulated. In short, the less-powerful are seen as facing formidable obstacles inseeking to achieve enhanced network positions and control and it is not clear underwhat circumstances really rapid network change can be induced, let alone how theless-powerful might be able to induce it.Putting the power literature up against the network literature, helps raise a threefoldresearch question:
? what is the significance of ?invisible? and ?impersonal?discourse-based power within relationships and networks?
? can this perhaps be associated with rapid network change?
? how can less-powerful actors associate themselves with discourse-basedpower to increase their network status?
To help address these questions, the paper next introduces a case-study of a small Irishsubsidiary of a US-based multi-national corporation (MNC). Within only a few years,the Irish company had ?re-conceptualised? its role in the MNC network to such anextent that it became effectively the only European subsidiary still in operation, withseven other subsidiaries swallowed up into it and closed down.This arresting case-study is analysed using a four dimensional model of power derivedfrom Hardy (1994) building on Lukes (1974). Most significantly, this analysishighlights the power potential of the less-powerful within networks, as well as thepossibility of quasi-instantaneous relationship development and rapid change (pacethe network literature) ? that may be associated with discourse-based 'system?power.The paper concludes by proposing a ?Political Sensemaking Process? (PSP) view ofnetwork change that allows for the possibility both of rapid network growth on theone hand, and dissolution on the other.