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Paper info: The role of Sikh actor identity in business relationship development


The role of Sikh actor identity in business relationship development


Sharon Purchase
University of Western Australia
Sharon Purchase and Theingi

Place of Publication

The paper was published at the 25th IMP-conference in Marseille, France in 2009.


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 Identity impacts how actors are perceived in business networks and is used to differentiate practices within different business relationships (Huemer et al., 2004). Identity and identification have been considered from an organizational behavioural perspective (Ashforth and Mael, 1989; Hogg and Terry, 2000; Lindgreen and Wåhlin, 2001) and a strategy change perspective (Dutton and Dukerich 1991; Backer, 2008; Czarniawska and Wolff, 1998), yet the inclusion of the role of identity construction from a business network perspective is currently lacking (see Huemer et al., 2004 and Mandelli et al., 2006). This paper explores how Sikh identity is important in establishing their business relationships in Thailand.This paper considers identity construction within Asian business networks, in particular Sikh business networks operating in Thailand. There is currently limited research on network identity within an Asian perspective (see Plüss, 2005; Lock and Detaramani, 2006 as examples). Sikh business networks in Thailand are particularly interesting as there was a large global migration within the Sikh community in 1947 with the annexing of Pakistan from India. This migration resulted in a large globalized diaspora settling across a number of countries, including Thailand.Identity is expressed through symbolic objects and cultural self-expression (Hatch and Schultz, 2002). Therefore, exploring an actor's belief and value systems is critical for developing an understanding of how actors express their identity. Such belief and value systems are often displayed visually. If these visual symbols are based on religious teachings then they are particularly important to the individual and network involved (Rentein, 2004). Sikh religious identity is linked to the five K's, which Sikh's are required to follow. The five K's produce a number of visual symbols of identity. These symbols also communicate visually expected behaviours, thus affecting their business reputation, trust and credibility.The study shows how identities are constructed through the narratives told by Sikh business members in Thailand. Czarniawska (2004, p. 13) highlights that 'narrative is the main form of social life because it is the main device for making sense of social action'. Narratives allow the researcher to explore conceputalisations of business relationships and network identities perceived by Sikh business people. The data was collected through tape-recorded interviews that lasted from 1.5 to 3 hours. Interviewees were asked how about their current business practices, the evolution of their business networks and network identity.The findings relate to how Sikh business people see their businesses or working life and develop their business relationships within the Thai community. Three major themes emerged from the data: religious repertoires; family repertories and entrepreneurial repertories. the initial thinking on how the aspects from each theme might emerge. Core to the Sikh business identity is the idea of family and religion, though the family aspects are in a fairly dynamic state due to the changes in the attitudes of the next generation towards the family business. Their commitment to maintain their religious identity and to visually show this through the full physical form of the 5K's is an important aspect of how they consider themselves. Those interviewees who kept their full physical form have a higher probability of showing stronger commitment within their business relationships to ensure they maintain their religious values. This paper contributes to our understanding of business network identity in developing business relationships in Asia.