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Dynamic Diversity of Cultures and Institutions Within Countries . Centre for Organizational Research, Roehampton University, June 15 th 2010 Professor dr. Brendan McSweeney, Professor of Management, Royal Holloway, University of London.

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Dynamic Diversity of Cultures and Institutions Within Countries

Centre for Organizational Research, Roehampton University, June 15th 2010

Professor dr. Brendan McSweeney, Professor of Management, Royal Holloway, University of London

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The object of commentary/critique today is a particular cultural partitioning of people.

That partitioning was once popular in disciplines such as anthropology.

But today it has a significant following only in management (academia and consultancy)(and a small wing of social psychology)

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A popular (and criticised) notion in all management disciplines

That social action is influenced/shaped/determined by:

  • Causal

  • Collective

  • Continuing

  • Coherent

  • Counted

    national culture(in the sense of subjective values)

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Theory in practice

  • Breidenbach and Nyíri (2009: 262) report that the Chairman of Daimler-Chrysler decided not to appoint a Japanese person as a manager of plant in India because he was convinced that “Shinto culture” and “Hindu culture” “do not go together”.

  • A Buddhist Japanese manager with a US MBA would it was assumed, be ‘programmed’ by Shinto culture, and Muslim workers in the factory would likewise be prisoners of Hindu culture.

  • An alternative view – but also a culturally deterministic one – is that both the Japanese manager and the Indian workers shared a common ‘Asian’ culture (Hofstede, 2001), and so it would have been appropriate to have appointed the Japanese manager to the post, but not to have appointed, say, a German.

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The use of culture (as values) confronts a number of impediments:

  • Values are unobservable,

  • There are difficult problems with measuring values,

  • Current theories give little guidance for understanding how values shape behavior,

  • Values are often conflated with other psychological phenomena, and

  • Values have historical and cultural variability in their content. (Hechter, et al., 1993)

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Challenging the partitioning in three ways

  • Question measurement/identification

  • Empirically refute claims made by Hofstede in a case study he has repeatedly used as illustrative ‘evidence’

  • Argue that the notion requires commitment to illogical arguments and to suppositions which are theoretically and empirically untenable.

    Each, it is argued, points to the existence of, and possibilities for national diversity and change.

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Not about identity (national or other)

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  • ‘Hofstede's Identification of National Cultural Differences and Their Consequences: A Triumph of Faith - A Failure of Analysis’, Human Relations, 55(1), 2002a

  • 'The Essentials of Scholarship: A Reply to Hofstede' Human Relations, 55(11), 2002b

  • With Donna Brown And Stravroula Iliopoulou ‘How Not To Do Cross Cultural Analysis: Predictive Failure And Construction Flaws in Geert Hofstede’s Case Study’, (2010) (available as working paper from RHUL webpages)(Working Paper No. 1004

    Post-Hofstede critique

  • ‘Incoherent Culture’, European Journal of Cross-Cultural Competence and Management, 1.1, 2009.

  • ‘Dynamic Diversity: Variety and Variation Within Countries’, Organization Studies, 30.9, 2009.

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The notion of unique, enduring, uniform and causal national culture/character/psyche has a long history

  • In 1797 the French counter-revolutionary Joseph de Maistre declared “I have seen Frenchmen, Italians, Russians. But for man, I declare I have never in my life met him.”

  • W. B. Yeats claim that there was a national "Collective Unconscious or Anima Mundi of the race" (1922)

  • W. W. M. Eiselen – the intellectual architect of apartheid - stated in 1929 that “culture not race was the true basis of difference, the sign of destiny”

  • A. J. P. Taylor pronounced that: “The problem with Hitler was that he was German” (in Davies, 1999)

  • “The data obtained from within a single MNC does have the power to uncover the secrets of entire national cultures” Geert Hofstede, 1980

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… so too has rejection

  • Samuel Beckett repudiated Yeats’ notion of "collective unconscious" as "sanctimonious clap-trap".

  • Slater says that the idea of an individual or a group as a “monolithic totality … is delusional and ridiculous” (1970)

  • Anderson has vividly described nations as ‘imagined communities’ (1991)

  • Anthropologists Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson (1992) have written: "we are now recognising that the territorially distinct cultures anthropologists claimed they were studying were never as autonomous as they imagined".

  • Anthropologist Philip Bock unhesitatingly states: “We must conclude that the uniformity assumption is false” (1999)

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Hofstede’s Claims

  • To have empirically identified “found” the national cultures (or differences between such cultures) of scores if “countries”

  • The cultures or differences between them are described on the basis of the five [bi-polar] “dimensions” of national culture viz.

  • Power-distance

  • Uncertainty Avoidance

  • Individualism

  • Masculinity

  • (Later) ‘Confucian Dynamism’

  • More recently (2010) another ‘dimension’ added

  • And that these dimensions strongly influence national actions, institutions etc. in “predictable ways”

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  • “This volume [2001] identifies five main dimensions along which the dominant value systems in more than 50 countries can be ordered and that affect human thinking, feeling, and acting, as well as organizations and institutions, in predictable ways” (Hofstede, 2001: xix)(emphasis added)(see also Hofstede and Hofstede, 2005: 31).

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The Dimensions

  • The dimensions can be useful in structuring analysis – they have a long history in the social sciences.

  • They are thus not ‘Hofstede’s dimensions’ but the dimensions he uses.

  • Discussed at length in the 1952 magisterial review of the anthropological conception of culture by Alfred Kroeber (Berkley) and Clyde Kluckhohn (Harvard)(unacknowledged by Hofstede).

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117,000 IBM questionnaires

Not as many used as is suggested

  • Combined figure for two surveys

  • 66 countries, but only 40 ‘yielded’ scores


  • In only 6 (out of the 66) countries were there more than 1,000 in both surveys

  • In 15 countries reported on - less than 200 respondents

  • First survey in Pakistan 37 employees and second 70

  • Only surveys in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore 88, 71 and 58 respectively

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IBM questionnaires

  • Not designed to identify national culture.

  • Not independently administered.

  • Respondents knew of possible consequences of their answers for them (Is your [bastard] supervisor fair? Yes, he’s lovely).

  • ‘Blue collar’ workers’ not surveyed – marketing and sales staff only.

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5 Crucial Assumptions(each necessary – each, it is agued, is fatally flawed)

  • Every micro-location is typical of the national

  • Every respondent had already been permanently programmed with three non-interactive cultural ‘programs’

  • National culture creates response differences

  • National culture can be identified through the response differences

  • It’s the same in every situation in a nation

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1. National Identifiablefrom the local

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1. National Identifiable in the local

  • Version 1 (the national is uniform) presupposes that every national individual carries the same national culture - what is to be found is presupposed (catastrophic circularity): Something is presupposed and imposed, and yet depicted as an empirical achievement.

  • Version 2 (an average tendency is the average tendency)

  • In principle there is always an average tendency e.g. in the world, continent, country, region, cycling club, brothel or whatever but why assume that an average tendency in one micro-location is the national tendency?

  • Atypicality of IBM

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Every respondent had already been permanently programmed with three non-interactive cultures

  • Only one organizational culture in any and every IBM subsidiary

  • So a cultural monopoly, no harmonious, dissenting, emergent, contradictory, organizational cultures in IBM

  • One global occupational culture for each occupation

  • No interaction between the three cultures

  • No other cultural (or other influences) on the responses)

  • (OrC + OcC + NC1) – (OrC + OcC + NC2) = NC1 - NC2

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  • (OrC + OcC + NC1) – (OrC + OcC + NC2) = NC1 - NC2

  • (OrC + OcC + NC1) – (OrC + OcC + NC2) = NC1 - NC2

  • Very convenient! But ridiculous.

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3. National Culture Creates Questionnaire Response Differences

  • Classification: Nationally classifieddata is not evidence of national causality. Almost every classification would produce difference - but what is that status of such differences?

  • ‘Where the unexplained variance is rather large … we can easily fool ourselves into believing that we know something simply because we have a name for it’ Jim March, 1966:69

  • Dopes: Individuals as mere relays of national culture

  • Completion of questionnaires often in groups and with foreknowledge that managers were expected to develop corrective actions. Strategic answering would have occurred. Would confidential research undertaken by independent researchers have obtained the same responses?

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4. National Culture Can Be Identified By Response Difference Analysis

  • Assumption 3 is a necessary but not sufficient condition of 4

  • The processes of producing national cultural depictions from thee question answers is often unclear and sometimes bizarre. Robinson (1983) describes the dimensions as “hodgepodge” of items “few of which relate to the intended construct” (See Dorfman & Howell, 1988; Bond, 2002, also)

  • Different questions have ‘revealed’ different dimensions e.g. Schwartz ‘identified’ seven dimensions “quite different than Hofstede’s” (1994).

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5. Situationally unspecific i.e. it’s the same everywhere within a nation

  • Claims to have identified national culture (or differences) that are nationally pervasive “in the family, at school, … at work, in politics” (1992) hence his claim that just about every human construct (institution, architecture, etc.) are “consequences of ‘national culture’

  • Survey (with all its other limitations) was only of employees, indeed only some categories of employees; undertaken within the workplace of a single company (of one industrial type) which was in a specific location within each country; the question were almost entirely work-related; they were administered within the formal-workplace

  • No parallel surveys were undertaken in non-workplaces

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  • Hofstede peppers his books and articles with descriptions of events which he employs to “validate” his measurements of ‘national cultures’ and to demonstrate that they “affect human thinking, feeling, and acting, as well as organizations and institutions, in predictable ways” (2001: xix).

  • ‘No part of our lives is exempt (1991:170)

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  • In the USA as well as in other masculine cultures like the UK and the Republic of Ireland there is a feeling that conflicts should be resolved by a good fight ... The industrial relations scene in these countries is marked by such fights. If possible management tries to avoid having to deal with labor unions at all, the labor union behaviour justifies this aversion ... In feminine cultures like the Netherlands, Sweden, and Denmark there is a preference for resolving conflicts by compromise and negotiations” Hofstede (1991:92) (Hofstede & Hofstede, 2005: 143).

  • Ranking in Hofstede’s Masculinity Index: Ireland (joint 7th)(2001)(joint 9th-10th (2005); GB (9th)(2001)(joint 11th-13th)(2005).

  • Only one section (‘labor unions’) are said to influenced by that which is supposed to be national.

  • Management is treated as immune to national culture and therefore (unlike workers) influenced by something non-cultural.

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  • In Hofstede's 'masculinity' index, Japan is the most masculine country and Germany has the same score as Great Britain, yet throughout the post-2nd World War period their industrial relations has been the exemplar of co-operation.

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Working Days lost in industrial disputes per 1000 employees (annual averages)

  • 1961-65 1966-70 1971-75

  • Masculine Ireland 337.5 625.6 292.7

  • Masculine GB 127.0 222.6 538.6

  • Feminine Spain 14.1 37.1 95.6

  • Source: ILO Labour Relations Yearbook

  • So Hofstede is correct!!!??

  • Ranking of Spain 30th (2001); joint 51st -53rd (2005).

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Working Days lost in industrial disputes per 1000 employees (annual averages)

  • 1961-65 1966-70 1971-75

  • Masculine Ireland 337.5 625.6 292.7

  • Masculine GB 127.0 222.6 538.6

  • Feminine Spain 14.1 37.1 95.6

  • 1976-80 1981-85 1986-90

  • Masculine Ireland 716.1 360.6 183.7

  • Masculine GB 521.7 387.4 117.5

  • Feminine Spain 1,089.8 400.9 433.6

  • Source: ILO Labour Relations Yearbook

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Additional tests

  • Also tested using homicide data – no correlations – therefore no causality.

  • Power Distance scores also examined in relation to both industrial disputes and homicide – no correlation.

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  • 3. Suppositions which are theoretically and empirically untenable

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How do national culturalists rely on the “fallacious assumption of cultural homogeneity within nations” (Tung, 2008: 41)?

I: By denying agency.

II. By neglecting the independent influence of other cultural and non-cultural influences

III: By unwarranted depictions.

And, IV: By ignoring prior and pertinent intellectual developments elsewhere.

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denying agency

Supposing that national cultures are:

  • (a) coherent;

  • (b) stable;

  • (c) pure;

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  • Nationally uniform and enduring “consequences” (Hofstede, 2001) can logically be deduced only if culture (and national culture in particular) is conceptualized not just as determinate but also as coherent, that is, as uniform, integrated, holistic, as having a systematic logic, a perfectly woven web with no internal contradictions, inconsistencies, ambivalences, variations, diversity, flexibility, loose ends, loopholes, or gaps.

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Criticism of coherent notion by Gertz

  • Clifford Geertz dismisses the coherence view which he ridicules as a: “seamless superorganic unit within whose collective embrace the individual simply disappears into a cloud of mystic harmony” (1965: 145) and argues that to treat culture as coherent is “to pretend a science that does not exist and imagine a reality that cannot be found” (1973: 20).

  • Perspectives sceptical of cultural coherence need not entail rejection of some patterns within cultures.

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Other criticisms

  • Combinations of cultures will not be coherent

  • Many studies have found incoherence (incompleteness, illogicality, gaps, cracks, hybridity, remixing, contradictions, ambiguity, slippages, conflicts, malleability)

  • Not only must value coherence be supposed (a contested view) it must also suppose that individuals’ entire mental states: preferences, desires, goals, needs, norms, traits, aversions, tastes, assumptions, and attractions are each coherent internally and in relation to each other. Implausible, to say the least and contradicted by extensive research findings

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National culture as stable

  • “National values”, Hofstede and Hofstede (2005: 13) state: are “as hard as a country’s geographic position” and “while change sweeps the surface, the deeper layers remain stable, and the [national] culture rises from its ashes like the phoenix” (p.36).

  • Kets de Vries states that there is a: “stability to [its] essential nature” that retains its “significance regardless of place, time or regime” (2001: 597).

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Enduring national culture?

  • This supposes, for instance, that Germans of today, have been unaffected by knowledge of the Holocaust in which the German state played the central, albeit not exclusive, role and that contemporary Germans who successfully campaigned against nuclear power stations share the same culture as those of a previous generation who were members of the Wafen SS.

  • Endogenous change is inconceivable. As Margaret Archer states: “The net effect of this insistence on cultural compactness [is to preclude] any theory of cultural development springing from internal dynamics ... internal dynamics are surrendered to external ones” (1988: 6).

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National Cultural Purity

  • The notions of national cultural continuity and country-wide presence imply purity. National culture conveys both images of countries as discrete cultural areas and as isolated from or unchanged by external influences. National culture is conceived of as a persistent heritage.

  • But like an Apache rock and roll band, cultures are fusions, remixes, recombinants. They are made and remade through exchange, imitation, intersection, incorporation, reshuffling, through travel, trade, subordination. National borders are not cultural borders.

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  • Winslow Homer’s majestic Eight Bells was described by many contemporaries as distinctly American, but cross-Atlantic influences can readily be discerned.

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By excluding any independent role of other cultural influences

  • If cultures additional to, or other than, national culture are acknowledged, then the treatment of national culture as the independent variable is possible only by illogically attributing causal power to one category of culture (the national) but effectively denying it to others.

  • Mere acknowledgement of other cultures without incorporating them in a theory of action is an empty gesture.

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Excluding any independent role of non-cultural influences

  • Even if we suppose that within each country is an influential national culture we do not also have to suppose that it alone – or culture in general – is the only cause of actions within that country.

  • Why should cultural causality be privileged over administrative, coercive, or other means of social integration/control?

  • Organizational actions rely on complex forms of interdependency which we do not always see, desire, or understand. It is because of diversity of influences and the possibility of agency that individual and collective actions can have unforeseen and unforeseeable consequences.

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Working-class soccer – separate teams

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Middle-class rugby – one team for entire island

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Confusing nation with state/country

  • Were all states nation-states - in the sense of each nation having a state - the distinction between 'nation' and 'state' (or country) would not be important, but many states include multiple nations (or a nation may extend beyond the borders of a single state - e.g. the Kurds).

  • The territories supposed to be each characterised by a uniform, enduring, causal culture are overwhelmingly not single nations but clusters of nations within a single state.

  • What its devotees call ‘national’ culture is, in effect, an assertion that there is uniform state-level culture.

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Also ...

  • Making unwarranted generalisations from singular instances and/or treating unrepresentative averages as nationally representative;

  • Confusing statistical averages with causal forces.

  • Conflating levels of analysis

  • Ignoring the abandonment of its bedrock suppositions in its parent discipline – not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on graves.

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  • The study of culture, its intertwining (conceivable in multiple ways) with the non-cultural, and its possible consequences has considerable potential for understanding continuity and change in organizational and wider social practices

  • But only if culture is treated not as wholly autonomous and coherent but as containing diverse and conflicting elements and as a result is contestable, elastic, and situated.

  • The politics of societies and organizations are not empty spaces dominated by national culture.

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