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Inter-Organisational Relationships and Strategy Development in an Evolving Industrial Network: Mapping Structure and Process

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The paper explores the complexity of organisational strategies and relationships within an industrial supply chain. Whilst a considerable body of literature exists on inter-organisational relationships (IORs), our assertion is that much of this takes an overly deterministic view of the complex and sometimes conflicting situations that profoundly affect an organisation's (and, indeed, a network's) ability to perform effectively. Thus we turn for insight to literature beyond the traditional marketing arena, sociology and organisational science.

We begin by relating aspects of the relationship marketing (RM) literature to a case context wherein the focal firm operates globally, supplying speciality chemicals to the chemical manufacturing market. Next, a brief comparison between the RM and the rather more inductive network (NW) literatures is undertaken. In a section representing the core theoretical underpinning of our study, Giddens' (1984) notion of structuration is then discussed; in particular how it relates to industrial NWs. Further literature from the management sphere is introduced to illustrate how a structurationist perspective might be taken forward in business marketing research.

Thereafter, following a discussion of methodological issues, we describe the case findings. These are presented in the form of "before" and "after" scenarios which illustrate both intra- and inter-firm issues. Our analysis highlights factors and behaviours which we believe can redirect (consciously or not) an organisation's activities away from any intended relationship building and towards a transactional orientation, despite the long term consequences for the NW. In the paper's conclusions, as well as making some pertinent case observations, we discuss the utility of a structurationist approach to research. Finally, we give some recommendations both for the focal case company and for further research into IORs.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2001-02-01

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