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Summary + Critical Response: Hofstede Inspection:are cultural dimensions still relevant - Essay Example

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The majority of interactions, of course, pass by without incident. However, cross-cultural misunderstandings have been blamed for a…
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Summary + Critical Response: Hofstede Inspection:are cultural dimensions still relevant
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Hofstede Inspection: are cultural dimensions still relevant? In an increasingly globalised and interconnected world, travelling to work or study has resulted in much more frequent cross-cultural interaction. The majority of interactions, of course, pass by without incident. However, cross-cultural misunderstandings have been blamed for a number of issues from the failure of business projects (Hofstede, 2001) to problems with disaster relief (Guss and Pangam, 2004). As a result, cultural psychologists since the 1960s and 70s have argued for a better understanding of intercultural communication. One particular way of understanding cross-cultural interaction that (Hofstede’s model) has grown out of research on cultural psychology is Hofstede’s model of cultural dimensions (The Hofstede Centre, 2015). Hofstede’s research is by some distance the most cited on cross-cultural study, and his model is used extensively as a way of interpreting cross cultural interactions in international business and education. However, Hofstede’s work has not been without criticism (Jones, 2007; McSweeney, 2002), and many researchers question its continued relevance. This article examines the use of Hofstede’s model as a tool for understanding intercultural communication and offers suggestions on its (Hofstede’s model) future applications.
Hofstede’s model of cross-cultural dimensions is a theory of intercultural communication which (Hofstede’s model) aims to quantify observable differences between cultures. This (theory) framework proposes a model of a number of dimensions which (dimensions) form the basis of cross-cultural comparisons. Hofstede’s research originally came from large scale surveys of 117,000 IBM employees conducted in nearly fifty countries between 1967 and 1973 – at the time the largest body of cross-cultural research ever done. The results of this research are supported by another large scale study made up of six surveys in 28 countries of non-IBM employees between 1990 and 2002 (The Hofstede Centre, 2015). Currently, the model extends to 93 countries (Minkov, 2007) and it (model) has been well-established within the fields of international business and education as a model of cross-cultural communication.
Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions
Hofstede’s model categorises cultures across a series of dimensions in order to provide a way of comparing national cultures. These dimensions include power-distance, individualist-collectivist, masculine-feminine, uncertainty avoidance long-short term orientation and indulgence-restraint (The Hofstede Centre, 2015).
Power Distance Index
This (Power Distance Index) dimension expresses the degree to which (extent) the less powerful members of a society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally.
Individualism v Collectivism
Individualism can be defined as a preference for a loosely-knit social framework in which (Individualism) individuals are expected to take care of only themselves and their immediate families. Its opposite, collectivism, represents a preference for a tightly-knit framework, particularly extended family ties.
Masculinity v Femininity
The masculinity side of this dimension represents a preference in society for material rewards for success and competition. Its opposite, femininity, stands for a preference for cooperation and consensus.
Uncertainty Avoidance Index
The uncertainty avoidance dimension expresses the degree to which (extent) the members of a society feel uncomfortable with uncertainty.
Long Term v Short Term Orientation
Societies which score low on this dimension, for example, prefer to maintain traditions and norms while viewing societal change with suspicion. Those (Societies) with a culture which scores high, on the other hand, take a more pragmatic approach
Indulgence v Restraint
Indulgence stands for a society that allows relatively free gratification of basic and natural human drives related to enjoying life and having fun.  Restraint stands for a society that suppresses gratification of needs and regulates it (Restraint)by means of strict social norms.
Critical Issues
Since the outset, there have been frequent criticisms of Hofstede’s model. In particular, there (accusation) is the accusation that Hofstede’s view of culture emphasises a particular fixed view of national culture. As Gargano (2012) notes, nationality is a poor categorising agent for culture. Hofstede’s model uses nationality as the primary means of categorisation. For instance, as an example of his dimension of Indulgence v Restraint, Hofstede compares the importance of time keeping between German engineers (strict time keepers) on a project with Saudi Arabian workers (relaxed time keepers), noting the difference between the two attitudes on the potential success of the project (Hofstede, 2001). This (example) example works relatively well when comparing Germany and Saudi Arabia, since they are each culturally homogenous countries (by and large). However, Hofstede applies his model equally to culturally diverse countries such as the USA, India or China where national identity is used as an indicator of an individual’s social action.
Meanwhile, Hofstede’s model has been developed for some individual countries (particularly Western European countries such as the Netherlands or Belgium) but not for others (for example, countries in Eastern Europe), where (location) the cultural norms typical of the region are applied unmodified to an individual country, leading to the situation where (situation) a nation such as Belarus is treated as culturally similar to Tajikistan (both being former Soviet countries). It (Hofstede’s theory) is not only that Hofstede’s theory does not distinguish between different cultures within a country; it is also poor at discriminating between gender or class differences within a society. By relying on nationalistic determinants of culture to define individual action, Hofstede’s approach cannot provide a nuanced understanding of cross-cultural interaction.
Secondly, Hofstede’s model has been criticised as being Western-centric, and his scores are essentially a measure of how European a culture is. This (western-centric) can be seen by comparing the cultural dimension scores of two very different non-Western countries – El Salvador and South Korea – which according to Hofstede’s model have almost identical cultural dimension scores (The Hofstede Centre, 2015). Hofstede’s model may be a useful way of exploring cross-cultural communication between France and South Korea (for example), or France and El Salvador, but it (model) has limited value in comparing the two non-Western countries. Hofstede (a Belgian) conducted his research from his own particular cultural viewpoint. His research was primarily conducted within the corporate world of IBM (based in its European headquarters in the Netherlands). It (condition) is from this perspective that his ideas developed and his model reflects the corporate values in which (location) he was operating. These (corporate values) are reflected in his dimensions – the values that are considered more typical of Western countries (that is, North America and Western Europe) were the values most privileged within the corporate culture of IBM (for example, low power-distance, high individualism). As a basis of understanding cross-cultural interaction, therefore, Hofstede’s model values Western behaviours over others.
Third, Hofstede’s model has been criticised as being too deterministic, in that (condition) it (Hofstede’s model) assumes that (condition) human action is caused by social structure (in his example, national culture), with the implication that individuals are not responsible for their own actions. Hofstede’s dimensions requires a view of humanity where (situation) individuals are bound and defined by their own national culture, which (national culture) leaves out entirely an individual’s capacity to respond and adapt to their (individuals) environment. As such, Hofstede’s model does not account for cause and effect or social change. This (lack of account) goes against the prevailing current of research on cross-cultural interaction.
Archer (2003) notes that culture is mediated through agency (individual action). While an individual’s actions may reinforce the existing social structures, individuals also react, reflect and respond to cultural differences, creating new social structures. Hofstede is not wrong with his claim that (claim) culture affects behaviours, but it is a question of emphasis. Individual behaviour is flexible, and as such, Hofstede’s model, which (Hofstede’s model) has proved to be a relatively robust measure of cross-cultural interaction in the corporate environment, is actually very poor as a model for informing how people adapt to cross-cultural interaction.
In Summary
Individuals in business and study participate in cross-cultural interactions grounded in their own socialised norms, behaviours and values. This (condition) is essentially the basis of Hofstede’s approach – that (approach) we interact with other cultures with our own values and ways of behaving in mind. However, culture is not fixed (as Hofstede’s model demands) and individual actions are much more flexible as humans reflect and respond to their environment. Therefore, Hofstede’s model must be viewed with caution and not used as the only model for understanding intercultural interaction.
Due to many intercultural associations between individuals from different cultures, cultural norms that were once associated with certain societies are now being eroded, and replaced with more universal trends. This means that as the world becomes a global village, thanks to technological advances, stereotyping culture will no longer be applicable to specific regions or groups. As argued by McSweeney (2000), cultural values and attributes can no longer be defined by political boundaries. It is now a common phenomenon, to find societies within the confines of a political boundary having very diverse cultural attributes. This strongly disagrees with Hofstede’s classification and stereotype. This may have been the case by the time of his studies, but believing in such stereotypes now, would be a fallacy. In as much as it is true that culture does not change overnight, the current trends in changing global environments, and convergence, is automatically something worth considering. With time, cross cultural interactions have changed, and it may no longer be practical to use this line of research. A good example is when he compares Malaysia and Israel in terms of power distance (tolerance to unequal distribution of power and wealth), he ranks Malaysia as poor, and Israel as the best, where any employee will comfortably approach the boss. This stereotype may no longer be feasible, owing to the constantly dynamic cultural trends. Today, even Malaysians will comfortably air their dissatisfactions to their bosses. This clearly shows that while Hofstede’s theory may be used as a point of reference, it is not absolute, and should not be taken as the rigid position and yardstick, on which to measure cross cultural differences.
Gargano, T. (2012). Grounded Identities, Transient Lives: The Emergence of International Student Voices in an Era of Cosmopolitan Learning. Journal of International Students, 2(2), pp. 144-156
Guss, C. D. and Pangam, O. L. (2004). Cultural Influences on Disaster Management: A Case Study of the Mt. Pinatubo Eruption. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, 22(2), pp. 31–58
The Hofstede Centre. (2015). Dimensions. Retrieved from:
Hofstede, G. (2001). Cultures consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations. Sage: London
Jones, M. L. (2007). Hofstede: Culturally Questionable. Oxford Business and Economics Conference. Oxford, UK 24-26 June, 2007.
McSweeney, B. (2002). Hofstede’s model of national cultural differences and their consequences: a triumph of faith – a failure of analysis. Human Relations. 55, pp. 89-118
Minkov, M. (2007). What makes us different and similar: A new interpretation of the World Values Survey and other cross-cultural data. Sofia: Klasika i Stil. Read More
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