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International intermediaries: A systematic literature review and research agenda

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Yan JiangORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Intermediaries such as trading companies, agents and merchants have played a key role in international business for centuries. Despite the growing importance of understanding the phenomenon of intermediaries, there are misperceptions and confusions regarding the concept and value of intermediaries, which result in disconnected and fragmented research findings. This study – based on an analysis of 101 articles published between 1985 and 2021 – aims to synthesise the conceptual developments and provide a more integrated understanding of both sourcing and trading intermediaries whose activities extend across national borders. The findings help to pave the way for further academic research by highlighting what we currently know and do not know about intermediaries, outlining the theoretically grounded research agenda for each of the three identified themes: (1) What are intermediaries? (2) When should intermediaries be used? and (3) How do intermediaries work and develop? The study shows that despite decades of research on this topic, the literature to date has been limited and scattered. Researchers are encouraged to consider the role of intermediaries in a bigger picture where intermediated exchanges exist not only in dyadic relationships, but also in triads or even in broader webs of networks.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Virtanen Y, Jiang Y, You W, Cai H

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: European Management Journal

Year: 2022

Volume: 41

Issue: 6

Pages: 932-949

Print publication date: 22/12/2023

Online publication date: 23/11/2022

Acceptance date: 22/11/2022

Date deposited: 01/12/2022

ISSN (print): 0263-2373

ISSN (electronic): 1873-5681

Publisher: Elsevier Ltd


DOI: 10.1016/j.emj.2022.11.005


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