Institutionalist approaches to the study of the firm which emerged in the last two decades have tended to be dominated by static models of both firms and institutions. As a form of ‘equilibrium’ analysis which holds factors constant in order to allow a deeper understanding of how they are interdependent and complementary, this approach has yielded rich dividends in contributing to our understanding of how firms within different national business systems are structured and the effect which this has on their ability to compete in international markets. More recently, however, debates have moved on to consider firms, not just as passive recipients of institutional resources but as actors involved both in the construction and reconstruction of such resources within national contexts and in the selective learning and adaptation of overseas experiences into their own structures. This reflects a deepening integration of economic activities, organisational structures and markets across borders reinforced by a restructuring of regulatory activities away from the monopolistic dominance of the nation-state and the public arena towards a more diffuse and diverse set of regulatory activities and actors operating across states and across the public-private divide. Attempts to conceptualize these processes at a macro-level have traditionally been dominated by the ‘convergencedivergence’ debate, more recently wrapped up in the discourse of ‘globalization’ as an ineluctable force undermining national differences and increasing shared and common models of firms and markets. Are these changes undermining national distinctiveness or do they reinforce national differences by accentuating processes of specialisation? Often lying behind this has been the associated but distinctive argument about whether ‘convergence’ is merely a value-neutral way of describing a process of ‘Americanization’ – in firm structures, models of management and of markets and in regulatory frameworks
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