Social interactions shaping strategy
: a case study at two small South African private higher education institutions

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This study was conducted to address a distinct lack of knowledge regarding strategizing as a function of social interaction. Social researchers like Critchley contend that an organisation should essentially be regarded as an evolving product of people’s continuous interaction resulting in shared meaning. In subscribing to Critchley’s premise, and assuming that strategy inquiry is an empirically informed social science, the current study consequently set out to gain an understanding of how social interaction between practitioners shapes organisational strategizing and subsequent strategic outcomes. The strategy-as-practice perspective served as an integrative lens for the current research. This perspective that subscribes to the practice turn in social research, focuses on the actual practices (praxis) of strategy actors (practitioners) within unique organisational settings with unique strategizing tools, techniques and artefacts (practices).
Informed by the philosophical underpinnings of a pragmatic worldview and a qualitatively driven mixed methods approach, a case study design allowed for in-depth analyses of multiple sources of empirical data to facilitate an understanding of the research phenomena. In addition to exploring social interaction during episodes of strategy practice, the current research investigated how practitioners’ motivations to interact shape and are shaped by ongoing interactions and meaning making. The current study also examined how external and internal organisational contexts, including organisational practices, influence and are influenced by ongoing social interactions. Two small private higher education institutions that reflect the typology of most private providers in the South African higher education landscape were selected for the case study. These private providers face numerous challenges in a tough current economic climate. Private providers further fulfil a pivotal role in the demand absorption of a growing need for higher education in South Africa.
The main findings of the current research confirmed that strategizing at the two case study organisations is indeed mainly a function of social interaction. Strategizing is mostly shaped by people as emotional beings. Strategizing is the product of sometimes-irrational interactions and subsequent constantly evolving shared meanings and relationships between people. It is the social interaction between strategy actors during episodes of strategy praxis that serves as a social mechanism in transforming strategizing intent into strategy outcomes. Different strategy actors employ a wide array of techniques to get their ideas or views accepted during strategyrelated interactions. Findings indicated that the selected strategies at the two case study organisations are mostly not based on objective reasoning linked to a clear plan or vision, but rather on strategy actors’ abilities in getting their ideas to be accepted by the group. Findings further suggested that the owners of the respective case study organisations strongly influence how things are done during episodes of strategy praxis.
Strategizing at both companies is informal and comprises mostly of reacting to challenges and dealing with crises. Both organisations follow a differentiation strategy. Safety and security; employment prospects, as well as certain academic issues like small classes for better learning can be regarded as areas of competitive advantage for both. The proliferation of private providers, significant investment in private higher education, as well as private provision’s important demand absorption role suggest that there is a definite future for private higher education in South Africa.
The intended main contribution of the current research is to facilitate an understanding of how social interaction as social mechanism shapes strategizing and resultant strategic outcomes. The understanding of the social world supposedly increases as the collection of the compatible causal mechanisms grows – where mechanisms reveal how the observed relationships between phenomena are created and are explained. The findings of the current research could thus serve as a building block in accumulating social science theory regarding this unexplored avenue of interaction driven strategy research. To this end, a conceptual framework is proffered to guide similar future studies. The current study provided a glimpse into the strategy-workings of two small private higher education providers and ultimately contributes towards the growing body of knowledge regarding private provision within the South African higher education landscape.
Date of Award1 Sept 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of South Africa


  • Social interaction; interactionism; strategy; strategizing; strategising; strategy-making, strategic management; competitive advantage; competitive strategy; emergent strategies; higher education; private higher education; strategy-as-practice; student choice.

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