Is ‘ National Culture ’ A Myth? A critique of the claims of Geert Hofstede. Research Seminar 12 November 2003 at Royal Holloway Professor Brendan McSweeney School of Management Royal Holloway University of London
Research Seminar 12 November 2003 at Royal Holloway
Professor Brendan McSweeney
School of Management
University of London
“The data obtained from within a single MNC does have the power to uncover the secrets of entire national cultures”
Geert Hofstede, 1980:44
“Tread softly for you tread on my dreams” W. B. Yeats
Not as many used as is suggested
Some Austrian Writers were/are suspicious of authority – but some are very supportive
“The [Austrian] low power distance means that there is no powerful superior who will take away our uncertainties for us” (Hofstede, 2001:385)
90% of Austrians voted for unification with fascist Germany in the 1938 Anschluss and so to be under the control of a powerful leader
Seeking to explain the ‘sources’ of someone's scholarly ideas is challenging – mechanically attributing them to some alleged characteristics in a ‘national culture’ is startlingly stupid.
A genuinely open exploration of the conditions of possibility and the possible influences on Freud's theories would surely consider - amongst many other possible factors - his birth and early years in Moravia (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but now in the Czech Republic); his family and school backgrounds; his later education; his class; his Jewishness; the extensive anti-Semitism in Vienna, his relationship with his wife and children; those he analysed; his network of friends - Austrian and non-Austrian; the significant age gap between his parents; his non-religious upbringing in a turbulent turn of the century imperial city (Vienna); the decline of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; what he read; his mentors, and so on, and so on.
Linking a national cultural dimension with the views of a writer is an easy but facile 'game' to play. It is as intellectually spurious and equally invalid as the statement that Freud developed his theories because he was born on 6th May and therefore a ‘Taurus’.
Even a preliminary analysis of industrial relations 'masculine' Ireland would need to consider: the common educational background of many of the employees and managers; the dominant position of one trade union; the series of national pay agreements and partnership deals between government, employers and trade unions; employee appointment of one third of the main board of state companies; the effects of changes in fiscal policy on take-home pay; the rivalries between craft unions wholly based in Ireland and those with continuing affiliations to largely UK based trade unions; and so forth.
Extreme, singular, theories, such as Hofstede's model of national culture are profoundly problematic. His conflation and uni-level analysis precludes consideration of interplay between macroscopic and microscopic cultural levels and between the cultural and the non-cultural (whatever we chose to call it).
Scholarship, requires of its practitioners a vital minimum of intellectual independence - the capacity to achieve some distance from ones prejudices; to discard previously held interpretations that do not pass tests of evidence; the unwillingness to ignore available counter-evidence; and the readiness to enter into and openly engage with rival views. Hofstede's writings and his antagonistic, partisan promotion of his work repeatedly fail these tests.
In this presentation I have sought to show that Hofstede’s claims to have identified and measured distinctive, enduring, and systematically causal ‘national cultures’ rely on fundamentally flawed assumptions and the evidence of the predictive capacity of those depictions is contrived (confirming not validating).
McSweeney, B., 'Hofstede's Identification of National Cultural Differences and Their Consequences: A Triumph of Faith - A Failure of Analysis,Human Relations,55(1), 2002, 89-118.
Hofstede, G. ‘Dimensions Do Not Exist: A Reply to McSweeney, Human Relations, 55(11), 2002
McSweeney, B., 'The Essentials of Scholarship: A Reply to Hofstede' Human Relations, 55(11), 2002, 1363-1372.