Document Type

Working Paper


Scandinavian countries, firms, organisations, and expatriates have a widespread presence in Hong Kong across corporate and non-corporate sectors. Expatriates tend to be an organisation’s most expensive employee, hence crucial to achieve successful outcomes of their international assignments. In the disciplines of International Business, International Human Resource Management, and Cross-Cultural Management, research on culture and expatriates tend to be conducted within a positivist rooted quantitative research paradigm. This study investigates Scandinavian expatriatism as a holistic phenomenon by employing a social constructionist, interpretivist, ethnographic approach. This paper is part of a larger MPhil research project and presents elements of the total universe of data in particular relating to how Scandinavians experience adjusting to Hong Kong society and culture, and how they perceive their intercultural encounters. The purpose of this article is to present a preliminary analysis and findings from a five-month ethnographic field study utilising in-depth interviews, participant observations, informal conversations, collection of written material, and cross-tabulating of descriptive statistics as the research techniques. 51 in-depth interviews were conducted with Scandinavian expatriates, and 11 interviews with local Hong Kong Chinese. The study draws upon social theory and social anthropology, and incorporates in particular how people construct social reality, meaning, perceptions, practices, and institutions. The ‘cyclic’ research process commences the research endeavour with the research (i.e. field study) and proceeds with an ongoing inductive, iterative-hermeneutical analysis process where data is juxtaposed with existing theories. Preliminary analysis and findings show how space, meaning, identity, culture, and adjustment should be derived from actual interaction between Scandinavians and local Hong Kong Chinese people. Further social analysis suggests the importance of understanding such interaction and adjustment experiences within its context-specific environment and pre-existing cultural structures in society. It is argued that an ideographic, meaning-based approach is the most relevant way of studying culture, and that an ethnographic research strategy has the potential to challenge the dominant positivist research paradigm in business-schools. The research justifies a broad approach to what constitutes an ‘expatriate’. Further, the study contributes to the ‘western’ biased research agenda by relying on Scandinavian expatriates and organisations, in addition to predominantly small and medium-sized enterprises. This article argues strongly that we should make more use of ideographic and ethnographic research, which use real lives the starting point for academic inquiry and for building theory in a bottom-up fashion.


David C. Lam Institute for East-West Studies

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