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Paper info: Actors' Identity in Business Relationships


Actors' Identity in Business Relationships


Antonella La Rocca
Antonella La Rocca and
Ivan Snehota
University of Lugano
Ivan Snehota

Place of Publication

The paper was published at the 27th IMP-conference in Glasgow, Scotland in 2011.


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Actors have a prominent role in business relationships between supplier and customer
organizations. They are important for how resources become combined and interfaced and
activities configured in a relationship. How actors interact, act and react, and how the
interaction unfolds, determines how the relationship will develop. It is generally assumed that
actors’ behaviors in interaction reflect the mutual representations of the interacting actors.
We focus therefore in this paper on the mutual representations of identity and argue that this
is a process that is central in explaining how business relationships develop.
Empirically, the paper is based on data on 32 customer relationships of a large
international industrial business. In all we have 128 observations on 32 relationships: 64
pictures of counterpart identity prior to interaction event and 64 pictures of counterpart
identity after the interaction event.
Our findings suggest that the mutual representations of actors’ identities in business
relationships have two properties: they are relationship specific and continuously emergent. .
As a consequence every business tends to have multiple continuously changing identities. In
the final part of the paper we examine the consequences of our findings for the concept of
actor, discuss how it affects the task of management, and consider briefly the implications of
our findings for further research.
Key-words: actors, identity, interaction, business relationship,