Distance without direction: Restoring credibility to a much-loved construct

Srilata Zaheer, Margaret Spring Schomaker, Lilach Nachum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

363 Scopus citations


In this commentary we build on Shenkar's (2001) award-winning critique of cultural distance, arguing that most distance constructs, in fact, suffer the same flaws because they oversimplify the relationship between countries, overlook their subjective and context-specific nature, and pay insufficient attention to the mechanisms through which distance operates. The idea of distance, however, has intrinsic value. Moreover, its considerable appeal and undeniable effectiveness have made it a well-entrenched construct. Therefore we see merit in redressing its weaknesses, and offer several suggestions for doing so. These include allowing for the influence of firm-level characteristics that either moderate the effects of distance or render distance-at least in part-subjective with varying consequences for different MNEs; maintaining directionality by distinguishing between distance and the tendency toward a particular characteristic and acknowledging asymmetry; and conceptualizing the effects of distance and the mechanisms through which it operates more carefully by drawing on concepts and measures from a variety of disciplines. By offering ways to strengthen both its theoretical foundations and measurement, we hope to enhance the usefulness of one of international business theory's most central constructs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)18-27
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of International Business Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012


  • cultural distance
  • distance mechanisms
  • symmetry


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