“The ‘Indian way’ of doing business doesn’t exist” – Interview with Christina Lubinski

In this Interview we are talking to Christina Lubinski, former research fellow of GHI Washington, about the international and interdisciplinary workshop on “Informal and Everyday Markets: Modern Histories of Indian Business and Entrepreneurship since the Nineteenth Century”. Lubinski organized the workshop who took place on 18-20th of June 2014 in Göttingen, Germany, together with Ingo Köhler (Göttingen), Sebastian Schwecke (Göttingen) and Douglas Haynes (Dartmouth) .

Dr. Lubinski, you just hosted a workshop on “Informal and Everyday Markets: Modern Histories of Indian Business and Entrepreneurship since the Nineteenth Century”. What are the main differences between European business models and Indian business models?

We found no evidence for a “European” or “Indian business model”. The papers and discussions showed on the one hand many similarities between informal markets in India

and Western countries, e.g. in the history of futures trading. On the other hand, many of the papers showed significant differences within India, e.g. in the handloom industry or in the second-hand clothing market. Many of the papers highlighted similar personal networks and informal strategies of trust building in different economic systems, although embedded in cultures with sometimes different practices of social order (religion, caste, social class, regional embeddedness).

India is a newly industrialized country. Is the Indian way of doing business an advantage or a hindrance in its success? What can the global economy learn from India?

It would be wrong to assume that there is an “Indian way” of doing business given the diversity that the papers at the workshop showed. As a consequence many different approaches to informal and everyday markets can be successful or unsuccessful, depending on the historical context as well as the sectoral, regional, religious, and political challenges at hand. A thorough historical analysis, however, can help to understand the specific challenges and opportunities and embed them in a larger global context.

The title of the workshop already hints at an interdisciplinary topic. Which disciplinary backgrounds did the participants have?

The participants came from the fields of business and economic history, area studies (India), ethnology, management and organization studies, anthropology and development studies. All participants believed in the value of interdisciplinary approaches and had previously worked with scholars from other disciplines. However, the participants also discussed some of the challenges related to interdisciplinary work, the most important being different terminology, publication strategies and educational backgrounds.

What were the main topics you discussed?

The most discussed topics of the workshop were the characteristics of the informal sector and what we can learn about the concept of “market” from studying informal and everyday markets. Those informal market transaction have often been overlooked in scholarly research and demand re-thinking concepts, such as markets, entrepreneurs, rationality, formality, law and economic transactions.

Does the informality of the market interactions make it hard to find reliable sources?

Sources are hard to come by for many aspects of Indian business history. However the papers also give evidence for a variety of sources hitherto overlooked or under-utilized and discuss creative forms of reading the available source material. Participants worked with government sources, oral history, ethnographical observations, sources from non-governmental associations (which are ubiquitous in India) and foreign multinationals’ corporate archives to better understand informal markets in India. In particular corporate archives, for example of German multinational corporations, have so far seldom been used in Indian business history but can add an important outside perspective and allows for contextualization of Indian and British sources.

Where – academically spoken – do you think more work needs to be done?

Business and entrepreneurship studies focusing on India are still comparably scarce so most topic deserve more attention than they have received so far. In many ways we saw a need for a stronger localization and globalization at the same time. Diving deeper into regional and local markets, for example with ethnographic approaches and oral history projects, will help us understand the complexities of informal markets and will suggest new or improved theoretical concepts to describe them. At the same time, participants also pleaded for a stronger globalization of Indian business history beyond the fixation on the imperial relationship between India and Great Britain, which has dominated research so far.

The workshop was sponsored by Forum Transregionale Studien, Federal Ministry of Education, Georg-August Universität Göttingen, German Historical Institute Washington, Klaus Inhülsen-Zustiftung.


Max Weber Stiftung

The Max Weber Foundation promotes global research, focused on the areas of social sciences, cultural studies and the humanities. Our research is conducted at ten institutes in various countries across the globe with different and independent fields of focus. Through our globally operating institutes, we are able to contribute to the communication and networking between Germany and our host countries or regions. By promoting academic dialogue and merging academic and non-academic employees from several countries with different cultural backgrounds, the Max Weber Foundation is able to strengthen the internationalization of research.

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