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What Makes Cultures Different: Concepts and Descriptors of Culture. ”Das Problem des Fundalismus im Islam kann nur aus dem Islam selbst heraus gelöst werden. Der Westen besitzt kulturell dazu keinen Schlüssel.”.
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”Das Problem des Fundalismus im Islam kann nur aus dem Islam selbst heraus gelöst werden. Der Westen besitzt kulturelldazu keinen Schlüssel.”
”[…] dem Verlust alter Ordnungsmuster, der Armut, Destabilisierung oder Demütigung ganzer Kulturen und Regionen.”
“Unter dem Slogan, dass wir keinen Krieg der Kulturen wollen, führen wir faktisch genau diesen.”
There exist various definitions of culture. We’d like to introduce into the most common in modern intercultural studies.
The word ‚Culture‘ comes from the Latin colere, which stands for cultivation of soil and plants.
It first appeared in the 17th century, in opposition to nature. Culture stood for things created by mans own will and skill.
The German elites often defined culture as Hochkultur.
Heinrich Rickert:[Kultur ist die...]„Gesamtheit der realen Objekte, an denen allgemein anerkannte Werte oder durch sie konstruierte Sinngebilde haften und die mit Rücksicht auf die Werte gepflegt werden.“ 5
Keesing R.:„Culture, conceived as a system of competence shared in its broad design and deeper principles [...] is then not all of what an individual knows and thinks and feels about his (or her) world. It is his (or her) theory of what his (or her) fellows know, believe, and mean, his (or her) theory of the code being followed, the game being played, in the society into which he (or she) was born...“7
7 Keesing, R. Theories of culture. Annual Review of Anthropology, 3. 1974. p.73-97 in:
Gudykunst, William B., Kim, Young Yun. Communicating with strangers. Mc Graw-Hill, New York. 1992 p.12
Edward T. Hall:„Cultures are unified wholes in which everything interrelates.“1
„Any culture is primarily a system for creating, sending, storing and processing information. Communication underlies everything.“2
According to Hall, 80 to 90% of communication are not language, but words, material things and behaviour.
Edward T. Hall:Culture defines CommunicationCommunication defines Culture.Hall introduces the term “informatics” for the behaviour outside conscious awareness. It includes evolutionary, emergent ideas, practices and solutions and even shared experiences that we all hold.
Edward T. Hall:„Culture can be likened to an enormous, subtle extraordinarily complex computer. It programs the actions and responses of every person, and these programs must be mastered by anyone wishing to make the system work“3
3 Hall, Edward T. Hidden Differences Doing Business with the Japanese. Anchor Books 1987. p.4
Fons Trompenaars, Geert Hofstede:
„Culture is the way in which a group of people solves problems and reconciles dilemmas.“6
6 Trompenaars, Fons. Riding the waves of culture. McGraw-Hill, New York. 1998. p.6
In order to work with cultures, to describe them, we need a common ground or definition.
Hofstede’s definition, culture as set of problem solutions and basic understanding of the world, is a good basis.
It is more fundamental than the ‘Hochkultur’ or even culture as tacit civilization and includes Hall’s point of view, culture as communication system, and other definitions that see culture as tool for differentiating groups.
Examining cultures and gathering data on them can be done in two ways.
Trying to understand a particular culture from the inside point of view …
.. Or looking from the outside trying to find variables that occur in many cultures and thus enable comparison.
The linguist Pike named these approaches first:
Understanding from the inside point of view, is called Emic,
While the outside examination and comparison of one culture with another is called Etic.
Both approaches are useful and have strengths and weaknesses.
Cf. Pike, K.L. Etic and emic standpoints for the description of behaviour. In L. Wheeler (Ed.), Review of personality and social psychologie (Vol 3), Sage Publications, Beverly Hills.
In our opinion, it is possible to examine certain phenomena without knowing why they occur, for example proxemics.
Such phenomena can usually be measured and thus compared with other cultures.
The etic approach gives us comparable data, it helps us to familiarize ourselves with visible habits of other cultures.
Alas it cannot give us explanations of the underlying motivation for these phenomena.
The emic approach can’t help us comparing one culture with another.
But it may help us understanding the underlying rules and values that shape the visible rim of a culture, for a culture is described as the subjects of this culture perceive it.
According to Florence Kluckhorn and Fred Strodtbeck mankind faces 5 general dilemmas coming forth from interaction with fellow humans, time, nature and activities.
These dilemmas need to be solved, for every dilemma, there exist but a limited number of solutions.
Every culture can choose from these solutions. By the particular selection, cultures can be compared.
Graphic according to: Maletzke, Gerhard. Interkulturelle Kommunikation. Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen. 1996 p.82
Parsons and Shils introduced the concept of pattern variables in 1951.
“Pattern variables are mutually exclusive choices individuals make prior to engaging in action.
The choices are made both consciously and unconsciously; however, they are generally made unconsciously since they are learned during the socialization process at an early age.”8
8 Gudykunst, William B., Kim, Young Yun. Communicating with strangers. Mc Graw-Hill, New York. 1992 p.51
High and Low Context
TimeSpeed of messages (Fast / Slow)
Context is the information surrounding an object or event.
Together with the object / event these additional information produce a meaning.
The proportion event / context differs from culture to culture.
The two poles are: High Context Low Context
Space is organized and perceived differently in cultures.
Space has the function of giving order, organization and even clues about the social position of an individual.
There exist several boundaries around us.
Innermost the physical boundary of our body,
outermost our “territorial border”.
Any border beside the physical border is individually perceived and chosen and shaped by culture. Violating or accepting the borders is communication.
“Feeling about personal space”Often communicates status, e.g. size and position of office, neighbourhood…
The size of an invisible bubble around us. Sort of a mobile territory.The size depends on the situation, emotional states, culture a.o.
Natural: Circles: Day / night, seasons, life circle
Time as Structure Time as Communication
Time is the primary system of organization, the informal rules can be used to communicate.E.g.: Advance time, proper timing, appointments
Rhythm and speed, time needed for making decisions, for talking, for getting used to another.
This phenomenon is closely related to Hall’s speed of messages as described later.
Hall defines culture as communication system.
Therefore every action transmits information that can be decoded in different speeds.
Cultures, persons, messages all might have a particular speed necessary to decode them. People used to a different speed find it difficult to decode them.
Culture 1:"Refinement of the mind" and in particular the results of such refinement like education, art and literature
Culture 2: The set of mental rules, the software of the mind.(cf. Hall, Trompenaars) Culture, as mental software, is at least partly shared with other people who live or lived within the same social environment.
This shared software distinguishes members of one group from others.
Even for adults it is possible, though it might be hard, to adopt to or learn a different set of mental rules.
The mental softwareis learned throughout the whole live.
Cf. Hofstede, Geert. Lokales Denken, Globales Handeln. C.H. Beck, Munich. 1997 p.3f
experienced + learned
specific to group or category
Human nature2.2 Dimensions of Culture – Hofstede’s Definition of Culture
Cf. Hofstede, Geert. Lokales Denken, Globales Handeln. C.H. Beck, Munich. 1997 p.5
4+1 Dimensions2.2 Dimensions of Culture – Hofstede’s Onion
Values determine the definition of good and bad, logical vs. paradoxical …
Rituals: Collective activities which are considered socially essential.
Heroes: Represent characteristics which are highly prized in a culture.
Symbols: Words, gestures, objects which carry a specific meaning which is only recognised within the culture
"Practices" are visible to outsiders and therefore can be learned.
The dimensions are situated between the core and the practices. Individual expressions and feelings based on values, but not unquestioned collective rituals.
“Power distance, as a characteristic of a culture, defines the extent to which the less powerful person in a society accepts inequality in power and considers it as normal. Inequality exists within any culture, but the degree of it that is tolerated varies between one culture and another.”
“All societies are unequal, but some are more unequal than others.”
Defines the predetermination of gender roles in a society.
Masculine cultures use the biological existence of two sexes to define the different social roles of men and women.Men are expected to be assertive, ambitious and competitive and to strive for material success.Women are expected to serve and to care for the non-material quality of life, for children and the weak.
Feminine cultures define relatively overlapping social roles for the sexes, in which neither men nor women need to be ambitious or competitive.Both sexes may go for a different quality of life than material success and may respect whatever is small, weak and slow.
Defines the extend to which people within a culture are made nervous by situations that consider to be unstructured, unclear, or unpredictable, and the extend to which they try to avoid such situations by adopting strict codes of behaviour and a believe in absolute truth.
Cultures with weak UA
Cultures with strong UA
Individuals are assumed to belong to one or more close “in-groups” from which they can not detach themselves.
In-group offers protection but demands loyalty.
Individuals are assumed to look primarily after their own interest and those of their immediate family.
Norms and Values: Hofstedes Core
Core: Basic assumptions about dealing with nature and people2.3 Dimensions of Culture – Trompenaars’ Onion
Trompenaars adds to Hofstedes’ onion a new core which contains the basic assumptions about nature and mankind. These are derived from Kluckhorn’s and Strodbeck’s value orientation.
Arjun Appadurai:„Culture is not usefully regarded as a substance but is better regarded as a dimension of phenomena, a dimension that attends to situated and embodied difference. Stressing the dimensionality of culture rather than its substantiality permits our thinking of culture less as a property of individuals and groups and more as a heuristic device that we can use to talk about difference. “4
„The idea of culture as involving the naturalized organization of certain differences in the interests of group identity, through and in the historical process [...]“4(p.14)
4 Appadurai, Arjun. Modernity at Large. Cultural Dimensions of Globalization University of Minnesota Press, London. 1998. p.13
According to Hall and Trager, a cultural system had to be:
“Rooted in a biological activity widely shared with other advanced living forms.” 9
“Capable of analysis in its own terms without reference to the other systems and so organized that it contained isolated components that could be built up into more complex units […]” 9
“[…]constituted [in a way] that it reflected all the rest of culture and was reflected in the rest of culture.”9
9 Hall, Edward T. The Silent Language. Anchor Books 1990. p.37f
This leads to 10 Message systems, 9 of which are non-linguistic.
Hall and Trager developed a theory that culture has three levels:
This paradigm applies to the individual’s behaviour. Again, all three modes are always present, but one dominates.
Graphic from Hall, Edward T. The silent Language. Anchor Books 1990. p.190f
Graphic from Hall, Edward T. The silent Language. Anchor Books 1990. p.92