“Today, Blockchain - the technology behind the digital currency bitcoin - might seem like a trinket for computer geeks. But once widely adopted, it will transform the world.”

Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM (Rometty, 2016)

“[Blockchain] is the most overhyped – and least useful – technology in human history.…[it] has not even improved upon the standard electronic spreadsheet, which was invented in 1979.”

Nouriel Roubini, Professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business (Roubini, 2018)

 “Using cryptocurrency to tokenise real-world assets will make the web look like a cute experiment, comparatively speaking”.

Jeremy Allaire, CEO of Circle (Allaire, 2018)

View our video call for papers here.

This call for papers on the implications of the blockchain technology for the theory and practice of international business coincides with the anniversary of one of the most significant scientific breakthroughs in recent times. Back in late 2008, Satoshi Nakamoto, a pseudonymous researcher, proposed bitcoin, an open source peer-to-peer e-cash system not requiring a trusted third party such as a bank for transaction verification. Nakamoto did not invent the blockchain or decentralised digital currencies: first work on digital cash and cryptographically secure chain of blocks started in the 1980s and 1990s. Nakamoto gave us something way more important – provable digital scarcity on a global scale, potentially without the use of institutions. For the first time in human history it became possible to transfer a unique piece of digital property – digital contracts, ownership of physical assets such as cars and real estate, stocks, bonds and money – over the internet (Andreesen, 2014). 

Academics, businesses and governments have been grappling with the consequences of this invention. Academic research has focussed on the economics of blockchains (e.g., Davidson et al., 2016; Evans, 2014) and blockchain use cases, especially in the financial sector, ICT and the public sector (Böhme et al., 2015; Friedlmaier et al., 2017; Tapscott & Tapscott, 2016). As blockchain has multiple barriers to widespread adoption (Iansiti & Lakhani, 2017), researchers have explored regulatory barriers to the adoption of cryptocurrencies and smart contracts (Caytas, 2017; Werbach & Cornell, 2017) as well as technical barriers such as scalability, interoperability, performance and data privacy (Hileman & Rauchs, 2017; for a review: Yli-Huumo et al., 2016). Tapscott and Tapscott (2016) argue that blockchain constitutes an institutional innovation, ‘cryptoeconomy’ - an economic system not defined by geographic location, political structure or legal system, but which uses cryptographic techniques to incentivise appropriate behaviour of participants in place of using trusted third parties (Pilkington, 2016). From this perspective, blockchains are platforms for building economic coordination using distributed ledgers augmented with computational features such as money (cryptocurrencies), programmable contracts (e.g., smart contracts) and organisations made of software (DAOs, or distributed autonomous organisations). Thus blockchain is not only an innovative technology, but also a building block of new forms of economic governance and a socio-political order (Davidson et al., 2016).

Established businesses are actively exploring blockchain potential, particularly in the financial sector, as this is the first sector to experience disruptive effects of the technology. Banking and finance now account for some 30% of blockchain use cases, and nearly 70% of central banks are experimenting with blockchain (Finextra, 2017).  Entrepreneurial start-ups and ICOs (initial coin offerings) – a form of crowdfunding made possible because of blockchain (see Kastelein, 2017) – have been the drivers behind an unprecedented surge of innovation, ranging from new, competing protocols  (e.g., Tezos and EOS) to smart contracts on Ethereum, decentralised applications (e.g., Telegram), and new currencies with unique features (e.g., monero and zcash). Given rising public concerns with the concentration of market power in the hands of a handful of technological platforms such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google (see Galloway, 2017), there is hope that they will become “undone” not through government regulation, but because decentralised, open-source platforms are superior vehicles for innovation (Dixon, 2018). 

Many governments around the globe have enthusiastically embraced the blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies. The UAE, for example, has positioned itself as the world leader in blockchain adoption: by 2021, it is envisaged that 50% of all government transactions will be on blockchain. Zug, in Switzerland, is now the Crypto Valley of the world welcoming start-ups and offering a favourable regulatory framework for ICOs. 

Several academic fields have been actively exploring different issues and potentialities of blockchain, but many questions remain unanswered. 

From the international business (IB) perspective, the blockchain technology seems to challenge some of the core assumptions underlying the existence and functioning of the multinational firm. For exporters, the most common form of internationalization (Cassiman & Golovko, 2011), one of the main problems that managers face relates to the asymmetries of information between buyers and suppliers (Williamson, 1975).  Even after the buyer finds the right supplier, there are several risks that each party needs to consider, namely concerning quality control, payments, logistics, accounting, reporting, among others (Buckley & Casson, 1976). The fact that frequently the buyer and supplier are in different legal regimes implies risks to resolve and enforce contracts. This is particularly important because suppliers are often from emerging economies since the modern global value chains (Gereffi et al., 2005) and under the global factory framework (Buckley, 2009, 2014), suppliers are becoming more and more specialized where costs, flexibility and quality are critical, characteristics that are fostered by emerging economies business systems (Torres Oliveira & Figueira, 2018; Torres Oliveira et al., 2017). Theoretically, blockchain can help to solve some of these issues by reducing the asymmetries of information and potentially question the necessity of the middleman (Torres Oliveira et al., 2018). This might impact large multinational firms, the orchestrators in the global factory framework, as well as small and medium firms – frequently the exporters. 

Start-ups working on the development of theoretically borderless blockchain technologies, from protocols to consumer-facing applications, have a global footprint right from the start.  These ventures provide fertile ground to study international new ventures (McDougall et al., 1994; Oviatt & McDougall, 1994; Zahra et al., 2000) and born globals (Knight & Cavusgil, 2004; Rennie, 1993; Rialp et al., 2005) in the context of the digital economy. Existing theoretical frameworks in IB and international entrepreneurship are grounded in economic research on tangible goods, so there is an opportunity to broaden theoretical foundations and empirical research to reflect the realities of the digital world (Zalan, 2018). 

Moreover, it is suggested that blockchains have governance efficiency over firms, markets, networks, relational contracting, and governments (Davidson et al., 2016). Start-ups are experimenting with developing technologies such as smart contracts and incentive mechanisms for coordinating human activity across borders through DAOs which do not rely on hierarchical governance. These unconventional organizational forms challenge the core assumptions for the very existence of the MNE (Zalan, 2018).

Suggested Topics for Submissions

This special issue aims to foster research at the intersection of IB and blockchain. We are particularly interested in research that advances the theoretical knowledge on how blockchain might challenge some of the IB theories and assumptions and how this is or will be translated to a firm level. However, firms are not isolated from their environment, and the adoption of blockchain might impact and be impacted by industry- and institutional -level constraints. Thus, we encourage research that can address the IB-blockchain nexus at multiple levels of analysis. Furthermore, as we live in an increasingly interconnected world with complex and long global value chains, this special issue welcomes research that looks at developed and/or emerging economies. Suggested topics include, but are not limited to:
•    Blockchain technology and its implications for the theory and practice of international business;
•    Blockchain as an enabler of new forms of organisation;
•    Use of blockchain and cryptocurrencies to create and capture value for MNEs and international new ventures or born global firms;
•    New globally scalable business models enabled by blockchain and cryptocurrencies; 
•    Building prosperity and overcoming institutional voids in emerging markets through the use of blockchain and cryptocurrencies;
•    Digital capabilities and the MNE;
•    Impact and application of blockchain in global supply chains;
•    Impact and application of blockchain in cross-border payments;
•    Smart contracts and international business;
•    Regulation of blockchain and cryptocurrencies around the world;
•    Blockchain start-ups in a borderless world: Is a death of distance near?
•    Blockchain, smart contracts, and DAOs (Decentralised Autonomous Organisations): Are multinational firms passé?

Instructions for Authors:

The submission must not be under consideration for publication elsewhere. The new contributions must be clearly stated in the cover letter when the paper is submitted. Manuscripts must be submitted between March 1st, 2019, and April 30th, 2019, at http://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/roibs. All submissions will go through the RIBS regular double-blind review process and follow the standard norms and processes.

Important Dates:

• Submission deadline: 30 April 2019
• Authors’ notification: 15 June 2019
• Final decision: October/November 2019
• Tentative publication date: November/December 2019

Guest Editors:

Dr. Rui Torres de Oliveira
Department of International Business
Queensland University of Technology, Australia
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Dr. Marta Indulska
Department of Information System
University of Queensland, Australia
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Dr. Tatiana Zalan
Department of Management
American University in Dubai, UAE
Co-Founder and Academic Advisor, Planet Blockchain, Dubai, UAE
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