Doctoral thesis

Interaction and actors‘ identities in business relationships


226 p.

Thèse de doctorat: Università della Svizzera italiana, 2011 (jury note: Summa cum laude)

English The existence of continuous buyer-seller relationships in business-to- business markets has been evidenced in numerous empirical studies and more recently acknowledged in marketing in general. Research shows that the critical process in the development of business relationships is interaction (Håkansson et al., 2009). This study deals with the interactive behaviours of actors and focuses on how actors interpret each other’s identities. We review three fields of research that offer impulses for re-examining the role of actors from interaction perspective: relationship studies in business marketing - Industrial Marketing and Purchasing (IMP) in particular; the social interactionism in sociology (e.g. Goffman, 1959); and the sense-making stream in social psychology (e.g. Weick, 1995). We start examining how existence of relationships impacts the concept of markets and leads to the concept of business networks; proceed reviewing the literature on analysis of relationships and behaviour of actors in interaction, and finally formulate two propositions that drive the empirical study and regard relational specificity and emergent nature of actor identities in interaction. Data has been collected on 32 customer relationships of an industrial company through 128 interviews before and after a meeting with customer and supplier representatives regarding perceptions of the counterpart’s performance quality and organization personality. Our findings support for two broad hypotheses: 1) identity attributed to the counterpart changes from interaction to interaction and is continuously emergent; 2) identity of a business is relationship specific and, as a consequence, every business tends to have multiple identities. We conclude discussing the consequences of our findings for conceptualizing actors from interaction perspective and the implications for further research and practice.
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