Exploring the Complexities of Governing Inter-Firm Links: A Conventionalist Account of Work, by Michael Steurer

PhD project supervised by Julia Brandl (main supervisor) and Ronald Maier (co-supervisor)

PhD exam will be 22 February 2019, University of Innsbruck


  • Julia Brandl, University of Innsbruck
  • Ronald Maier, University of Innsbruck (internal examiner)
  • Arjan Kozica, University of Reutlingen (external examiner)

Abstract. One of the various consequences of the ongoing bureaucratization of larger firms is the emphasis on the formalization of the firm structures in general and work more specifically. This bureaucratization, among other reasons, is facilitated by the fact that large firms are clearly visible to the public and can be easily denounced in front of a vast audience. Increasing formalization of work is expected to suppress the evasion to informal systems and keep the individuals in firms accountable. Firms tend to implement formalized structures to regulate complex and critical work practices to counteract adverse effects based on individuals’ misconduct. One such work practice is the governance of global value chains at the inter-firm links. When firms establish inter-firm links, governance is required to counteract or react to any deviations from the expected or agreed to terms. Mainstream economic literature, in this context especially transaction cost economics, rarely acknowledges the complexity of governance. By developing normative propositions for practice, the approach degrades the actual work practice to predictable formulas and simple decisions on the top management level. Formalization and regulation of coordination in a firm’s structure is rarely assumed to increase the complexity for individuals to coordinate their work practices. This thesis proposes a conceptualization of inter-firm governance as a situated work practice, which emphasizes the importance of the individuals’ efforts in doing work. I explore possible variations in coordination based on two distinct product-typologies of two subsidiaries underlying similar formal structures. Finally, this study provides an analytical framework that combines the individual governance efforts with the formalized structures and the production system’s characteristics. This combination provides a basis to better understand the actual complexities individuals experience when they coordinate governance efforts with other parties in global value chains. The findings show that the employee is a critical resource in successfully defining coping strategies to uphold production processes and avoid breakdowns.