Management Practices in Developing Countries: The Case of Wasta Networks in the Arab Middle East

Sa’ad Ali

A majority of current management theories, developed since the start of the 20th century, have been created by researchers in the ‘developed’ countries of the USA and Canada in North America, countries of Western Europe, and Japan in Asia. These theories have been constructed based on data and observations of management practices in these countries and viewed by their researchers and practitioners as the ‘right way to manage’. Companies from these countries which have expanded to developing economies have tried to transfer these practices to these countries, often neglecting the different cultural, institutional and socio-economic context. However, management researchers have recently started paying attention to these differences. This has resulted in a new stream of management research coming from developing countries that examines the business environment by taking into consideration the wider context of a specific country or countries.

In line with this stream of research, my research during the past 7 years has focused on wasta in the Jordanian banking industry as a specific social and organizational phenomenon in Jordan and the countries of the Arab Middle East. The literal translation of wasta is mediation, or also intermediary, and in daily usage wasta refers to the use of connections in order to get something done. Someone who ’has wasta’ either has a degree of influence, or has access to those who do, which can help to ‘get things done’. An individual person in Arab countries might seek out someone with influence, who is then also called ‘a wasta’ in spoken dialect Arabic, or ‘waseet’ in classic Arabic, and utilised in order to find a job, secure a place at a university, or navigate the bureaucratic red tape that is so common in these countries. Wasta refers thus both to the action and those facilitating it. It has been suggested that wasta impacts nearly every facet of organisational life, and it is also a common source of discussion, and complaints, among Jordanians. Yet, how wasta is practiced in this context, and how it is experienced, remains a largely unknown phenomenon.

The etymology of wasta as an action and a person, is generally associated with the notion of occupying a middle place in a network. When one looks further into the linguistic roots of the word, one can simply understand it as the ability ‘to get things done through the use of social connections’. As a cultural phenomenon, it is not remote from other practices and ideas of reciprocal social relations, such as guanxi in China, blat in Russia or pulling strings in the United Kingdom or the general idea of a relational give and take in the business world. The degree to which each of these phenomena prevail is a reflection of how networked the society is and how members of these societies prefer to socialise and do business.

In Jordan, similar to other Arab countries, wasta impacts upon different business issues ranging from applying for trade licenses and government services to securing governmental bids. In particular, it influences recruitment and selection: job seekers use wasta as a medium to secure employment, and organisations use it to secure qualified employees. From a Westocentric perspective, wasta tends to be perceived as favouritism or nepotism which contrasts with the idea of a ‘modern’ (implicitly ‘Western’) workplace. Also, within Jordan, there is a widespread debate on whether wasta should be abolished for the sake of Western-style ‘modernization’ and in order to ensure equal employment opportunities for all.

On the other hand, my research, as with some others who study wasta and similar network-based phenomena, highlights the benefits of using it, as it can have positive outcomes on the micro-level for individuals when mediating between parties helps a qualified individual secure a job though the mediation process. It is also beneficial to the organisation which can secure a qualified and loyal employee in a country where certain skills and qualifications are scarce, for example, due to the brain drain of Jordanian employees to the Arab Gulf countries. However, it can have some severe negative outcomes on the macro-level as it reduces organisational diversity and leads to reinforcing power pockets in particular groups. Another negative impact of this use of wasta is that it weakens formal institutions as it reduces trust in the political and legal processes.

While my research highlights some positive aspects of wasta on the micro level, such as enabling qualified individuals to attain a chance of employment and securing trustworthy and qualified employees for the organisation, it is also important to consider the negative impact of using this practice. There are, for instance, diversity and exclusion issues, and this suggests also that an emic approach to culture-specific concepts can never be free of power-implications. As such, wasta itself is not purely ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but it is a way of doing things that can have positive or negative outcomes depending on how it is practiced and on what level it is viewed (micro or macro). Organisations seeking to do business in Arab countries need to acknowledge the wide spread practice of this phenomenon and try to accommodate its practice without breaking their own ethical principles.

Management practitioners are invited to consider how diversity and merit are not culture-free concepts; in fact, their recent prominence owes much to the post-modern Western need to come to terms with a new understanding that the global world does not map securely onto the largely Western-dominated management literature. This research invites managers to understand that what is considered good practice in different cultures should be balanced by the different cultural perspectives on what is considered ‘good’ and ‘the right way to manage’.


Dr Sa’ad Ali is Lecturer in Human Resource Management, University of Worcester.

A World Increasingly United by Growing Divides – Time for New Partnership Responses?

Gareth Dart

Earlier this semester I attended a conference exploring issues of disability in southern Africa, held at the University of Botswana in the capital, Gaborone. Having spent nearly a decade working in the country but not having revisited for the last eight years I was intrigued to see what might have changed. An issue that was a reinforced through my visit is that it is becoming more and more difficult to talk about differences in wealth and development (and let’s leave aside for now exactly what we mean by that…) in general terms between countries, but rather we need to be far more aware of nuances both between and within.

The new conference centre (complete with soon-to-be-opened hotel) at the University of Botswana makes our conference facilities appear charmingly retro: beautiful main auditorium, lots of well-furnished break out rooms, excellent catering facilities etc. Friends and former colleagues all seemed to be driving cars twice the size and much newer than I could aspire to, sitting in air conditioned comfort in traffic jams twice as long as I recall them being, even though there appear to be twice as many roads as I remember. Presumably all that extra fuel burning up while people get nowhere slowly is doing wonders for the country’s GDP.

Visits to two large villages that I know well provided a counter-story. In one, a friend who is a tailor continues to live a day to day existence in competition with the flood of cheap Chinese imports, sold from small shops run by Chinese migrants. In the other, a College of Education, my former work place, already in decline by the time I left has further decayed in terms of its fabric and role, a stark contrast to the gleaming new buildings popping up all over the University some 50km away. I popped my head into my old office, still the base for the Special Education team, and found an old handout of mine lying on one of the desks. “We have new material too!” the current occupant was keen to point out.

The other evening there was an item on the news about Hartlepool and the impact of the introduction of Universal Credit. What struck me was the paucity of cars in the streets. It looked like photographs that one sees from the 1950s  and is presumably (though any geographer reading this might want to put me right) an indication of poverty rather than an urge to live a greener, more sustainable lifestyle. The richer elements of Botswana are looking very much like our richer elements and the poorer parts of Britain are starting to look more like the poorer parts of Botswana. Though given the respective climates I think I know where I might prefer to lead a life of poverty if I ever have to.

A question for us as academics and practitioners interested in working in partnership in such contexts is what this emerging, more finely nuanced reality might mean for us. I wonder if we need to think about more equal partnerships where we work on mutually compatible problems: let’s explore what poverty means and how we might ameliorate its impact in peri-urban Botswana and Hartlepool: what does a rural Botswanan school’s attitude to including children from the whole village have to say to us in rural Hereford? We are now used to the need to demonstrate ‘impact’ and work ethically. Perhaps both those notions are due for a shift or broadening of focus.


Gareth Dart is Senior Lecturer in Education, University of Worcester.

Research Agendas: Dr Gyozo Molnar

Gyozo Molnar

Whose knowledge counts in Adapted Physical Activity? Adapted physical activity (APA) is a cross-disciplinary body of practical and theoretical knowledge directed towards impairments, activity limitations, and limited participation in physical activity (see full definition at Despite its crossdisciplinary nature, APA still appears to lack diversity in terms of its approaches to research, and engaging with and representing voices of participants. Informed mainly by traditionalist paradigms, the field of APA has been critiqued for marginalising the experiences of its users and paying little attention to power imbalances inherent in traditionalist research approaches. Therefore, ‘Who is the expert and whose knowledge counts?’ is critical in APA. The purpose of my ongoing research project is to respond to these questions through a systematic content review of the prevailing research methodologies and discourses in APA and to propose alternate perspectives.

My research is ultimately inspired and guided by epistemic and ethical responsibility. In other words, it interrogates: to whom, with and for whom the field is intended to serve and support. Specifically, there is concern with the dominant epistemic authority – legitimate knowledge formation and the people with/of authority to speak about such – in APA. Preliminary investigation indicates that this authority is strongly associated with the medical model of disability and traditional, objective and researcher-centred approaches. Furthermore, an ongoing critique of the field is the lack of presence and voice of people experiencing disability in APA research and practice.

Consequently, my research will address a lack of scope in APA research in terms of the field’s engagement with specific research methods and to demonstrate the need for more diverse perspectives in order to address some of the overarching complex and key issues within the field (e.g., inclusion). While APA is considered a multidisciplinary and cross-disciplinary field guided by diverse epistemological and methodological approaches, preliminary inquiries suggest there is in fact limited breadth with emphasis on specific types of inquiry emanating from prevailing disciplines and the pervasiveness of the medical model of disability. Not only is this narrowing from a knowledge generation standpoint, but the opportunity to imagine and engage work that has the potential to be transformative in shifting both research and practice is also stifled. Complex problems are unlikely to be fully recognised and addressed within any one particular discipline or approach. Furthermore, there has been strong critique of the medical model as it does not account for the role of society in disabling people or other alternate understandings of disability.

As recently as 2015 a documentary analysis of research trends published in the Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly (APAQ) over a 10-year period. The identification of research methods was a category of analysis. However, differing significantly from this research, is the level of analysis with regard to research methods. It reported their findings primarily along qualitative and quantitative divides with accompanying descriptions of research design. My research seeks to exceed this type of review by critically attending at the level of epistemology. By revealing the assumptions underlying researchers’ methodological choices, the possibilities for research integration and active communication across disciplines becomes more plausible.

Beyond reporting current trends and possible future directions, my research will also explore alternate approaches and the possibility of methodological integration across disciplines. This offers a unique entry point for researchers to consider how they might collaboratively move across disciplines to address complex, key issues in the field. This is also timely, given recent calls for more interdisciplinary work. That is the focus is not simply to showcase and suggest the active application of alternative research approaches and development of cross disciplinary dialogues. My research will highlight and reinforce the epistemic responsibility of APA researchers, as builders and gatekeepers of the current APA scientific establishment, to actively engage with alternate approaches and participants by keeping the following questions under continuous examination: Who is the expert and whose knowledge counts?


Dr Gyozo Molnar is Principal Lecturer in Sports Studies, University of Worcester, and co-editor of Women, Sport and Exercise in the Asia-Pacific Region: Oppression, Resistance, Accommodation (Oxford: Routledge, 2018).

War Requiem

Howard Cox

The ending of the “Great War for Civilization” on 11 November 1918 has left an indelible mark on the national memory of the United Kingdom. Now that 100 years have passed since this momentous event took place, our recollections are no longer of the event itself but of its legacy in terms of the memorials, symbols, texts and artefacts that were created in its wake. I write these words whilst listening to Ralph Vaughan Williams’ poignant Third Symphony; an evocation of the battlefields of northern France in which the composer’s idea for the music first took shape. The symphony is one of many examples of the way in which it is possible to stimulate a recollection in the present day of an event for which no lived experience endures.

As an aspect of our social memory of the First World War, Vaughan Williams’ Third Symphony is now merely an historical testament. As the historian Jeffrey Olick has noted, ‘History is the remembered past to which we no longer have an “organic” relationship’. At the time of the symphony’s publication and first performance in 1921, however, the music would have fed into and formed part of a collective memory of the war which would have resonated widely with the direct, lived experience of those who experienced the conflict, facilitating the formation of a collective memory. For Olick, therefore, ‘collective memory is the active past that forms our identities’. Thus the same musical artefact which today provides us with an historical social memory of the war, at the time of its writing fed into a collective consciousness of the event that spurred its creation.

The collective memory of an event such as a world war can be generated at different levels of a society. As a piece of music listened to quite widely, Vaughan Williams’ symphony would have helped to form one element of a national collective memory of the war during the 1920s. Similar forms of collective memory can exist at a more disaggregated level of the social structure. Organizations such as businesses can generate symbols, texts and artefacts that stimulate sufficiently common forms of recollection such as to provide a collective corporate memory. In a recent paper, published as part of a Special Issue of the Journal of Management & Organizational History to commemorate the centenary of the end of the war, I have identified one case in point.

In 1915, shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, the British-American Tobacco Company (BAT) moved its London headquarters into a newly-built, prestigious building opposite the Houses of Parliament which it named Westminster House. Many of its employees had already volunteered to serve in the armed forces and space was set aside in the new building to exhibit various forms of memorabilia which the returning staff had garnered from the battlefields (including some live ammunition!). Staff in the company also began to publish a weekly newsletter, called the BAT Bulletin, in which correspondence from those serving abroad (suitably censored) was published and disseminated to work colleagues – including those at the front. In this way the company helped to generate a collective memory of the war that was specific to the firm’s own employees.

Interestingly, this process of creating a collective corporate memory of the First World War was not replicated during the conflict of 1939-1945. Although the impact on the company of the Second World War was every bit as profound as its earlier counterpart, the circumstances were such that no contemporaneous artefacts and texts were generated. Moreover, whereas the lived experience of many BAT staff during the conflict of 1914-18 took a similar form – due particularly to the static nature of much of the fighting – the Second World War saw the company’s staff experiencing the conflict from a far more diverse set of circumstances. Indeed, for many of the company’s employees, the war with Japan led to staff in China and the Far East being incarcerated for many years in prisoner of war camps, without ever being recruited to the armed forces.

In many ways this disparity in the corporate memory of BAT mirrors a more general pattern of the national collective memory of the First and Second World War. The most evocative symbol of our social remembrance – the poppy – was spawned directly by the battlefields over which Vaughan Williams fixed his gaze sometime around 1916. No corresponding symbol of remembrance serves the same purpose in relation to World War II. My own musical imagery of this later conflict finds its counterpart to Vaughan Williams’ Third in Dmitri Shostakovich’s Eighth Symphony which, the composer later wrote, ‘was an attempt to express the emotional experience of the people, to reflect the terrible tragedy of the war’.


Howard Cox is Emeritus Professor of International Business History, University of Worcester, and the co-author of Revolutions from Grub Street: A History of Magazine Publishing in Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

Research Agendas: Dr David Storey

David Storey

I am currently working on two books reflecting my long-standing research interests in issues of territory and identity.  In Transferring Allegiance: Football, Place and National Identity, I explore the intricate connections between football, place and politics. The focus is on the phenomena of footballers that switch national allegiance from where they were born to where they live or the country to which they have family connections. The declaration of a sporting nationality that may differ from an ‘official’ one, casts light on ideas of cultural hybridity and highlights the need to see identities as fluid and flexible. Responses to this phenomenon from supporters, media and those involved in sport range from an essentialist and exclusionary view of national identity through to more progressive, inclusionary, flexible and pragmatic perspectives. Drawing on a range of examples from a variety of geographic contexts the book casts light on the complexities of ethnic and national identity and the ways in which sport becomes a medium through which allegiances are (re)produced and expressed.

A second publication, A Research Agenda for Territory, is an edited volume which interrogates how ideas of territory and territorial practices are intimately bound up with issues of power and control. Drawing together a range of contributors from various countries, the aim is to provide a critical assessment of key areas of scholarship on territory with a view to mapping out a future research agenda. Territories are socially produced and reflect specific ways of thinking about geographic space while territorial strategies convey messages of political power which are communicated through various means including the creation and securing of borders. Territories, and the ways in which they are imagined, play an important role in the formation of peoples’ self-identity and contribute to feelings of belonging or exclusion. People identify with territories, most obviously through ideas of the nation, and they can be seen to exist (with various degrees of control, contestation and bordering practices) across a range of spatial scales and in a wide variety of contexts. The chapters in the volume draw together discussions on the conceptualization of territory and the ways in which territory and territorial practices are intimately bound up with issues of power and control.


Dr David Storey is Principal Lecturer in Geography, University of Worcester. A Research Agenda for Territory will be published by Edward Elgar. Transferring Allegiance: Football, Place and National Identity, is to be published by Rowman & Littlefield.

Image: Dr David Storey on the Dutch-Belgian border, 2018.

Political Extremes: Too Hot to Handle?

Neil Fleming

Politicians and commentators regularly talk about ‘political extremism’ and ‘extremist politics’, often in response to violent outrages, but also to justify new laws and policies of surveillance. Yet, despite their regularity, public accusations of political extremism tend to take the form of general statements and condemnations rather than precise definitions. Legal proscriptions on extremism are targeted at specific groups, language and behaviour. But extremist beliefs are considerably harder to define and police, and any attempt to do so risks undermining a state’s liberal democratic credentials. What’s more, there is a reluctance among Western politicians to acknowledge that definitions of extremism are contested, and that they have shifted considerably over time.

What has remained constant, however, is the idea that ‘extremes’ are bad and the ‘middle’ good. Plato and Aristotle are seldom cited in today’s media coverage of extremism, yet they established some of our most basic assumptions. Both equated the middle with virtue and the extremes with degeneration and barbarism. Plato believed that the ‘middle’ could only be achieved through a mixed constitution of monarchy and democracy. Aristotle advanced the idea that different types of constitution existed on a continuum, and that a powerful middling class was the best guardian of the political centre. These ideas were neglected until the thirteenth century, when Thomas Aquinas applied them to commend virtuous rulers and warn against tyrants.

When translations of these works first entered England in the 1590s, they were regarded as a direct threat to the Tudor state. Within half a century, however, royalists and parliamentarians competed with one another to associate their respective causes with mixed government. In the wake of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the virtues of constitutional monarchy became widely celebrated, and supplied a model for dissidents in Europe’s absolutist monarchies. The founding fathers of the United States developed this further to advocate a mixed constitution which ensured moderation through the division of power and the balance of opposing social forces.

This might have settled the matter but for the French Revolution. It established the now familiar left-right political division and cast both ends of the political spectrum as extremes. In France and elsewhere, liberals came to regard revolution and reaction as extremes, with some advancing the innovative idea that both extremes were alike. They applied the label ‘ultra’ to politicians who adopted an exaggerated political position, and the suffix ‘-icide’ to mark a destructive, murderous tendency. Reactionaries initially cast democracy as extreme, but over time they instead harnessed it for their own ends. For Marxists, the clash of extremes served as the motor of history and the means of achieving dictatorship of the proletariat. This led liberals to worry that extremist parties called forth one another in a never-ending struggle, and that the political middle could be shifted as a result. The danger seemed to be demonstrated by the US Civil War, which many held to be the result of extremism on both sides of the slavery debate. Not for the last time, liberals considered illiberal legislation to suppress extremism.

In the first half of the twentieth century, the extreme left and extreme right were readily identified with Communism and Fascism. The Italian politician and priest, Luigi Sturzo, argued that both systems were similar, in that they denied legitimacy to other parties and sought to determine public and private lives. Others took a more partisan approach, with conservatives viewing Fascism as a bulwark against Communism, and socialist governments adopting constructive relations with the Soviet Union.

Claims and counter-claims about extremism continued after the Second World War. Divided between East and West, the two German states denounced each other as extremist. The East’s criticisms of survivals from the Hitler era was later taken up by student radicals in West Germany. The Bonn authorities at first reacted harshly, but over time came to accept that many critics were not necessarily anti-constitutional or even extremist. This led some to express concern that the partial accommodation of erstwhile extremists might lead to relativism and weaken the basis of liberal democracy. This type of anxiety was not confined to Germany, and continues to exercise commentators today on a range of controversial issues.

The reaction to violent outrages such as the Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2015, the protests in 2017 about the Confederate imagery in the United States, and the alarm expressed about the recent rise of populist parties on the right and left in Europe and beyond, demonstrate that debate about the acceptable bounds of political behaviour is normal in healthy democracies. It can of course lead to illiberal responses, and knee-jerk reactions risk depicting people with reasonable grievances as extremists. But some kinds of extremism have been progressive forces in politics. As long as debate about extremism is encouraged, and set in a historical context, we might better avoid or move on from simply unreflective and unconstructive condemnation.

An earlier version of this post was published originally by History Matters, run by the Department of History, University of Sheffield.


Dr Neil Fleming is Principal Lecturer in Modern History, University of Worcester, and the author of Britannia’s Zealots, Volume I: Tradition, Empire and the Forging of the Conservative Right (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019).