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 “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
The notion of the enduring uniqueness of each nation people 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 claimed that there was a national "Collective Unconscious or Anima Mundi of the race" (1922) • “Immigrants seem to be flooding into Germany nowadays; I don’t know why, because history suggests that if they wait around long enough, Germany will come to them” Jay Leno, Tonight Show • “The problem with Hitler was that he was German” A.J. P. Taylor (in Davies, 1999)
… 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) • Benedict 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". • Philip Bock unhesitatingly states “We must conclude that the uniformity assumption is false” (1999)
Wider Significance • In most arenas attributing unity and continuity to ‘race’ is no longer acceptable – it has been replaced with the notion of ‘national culture’. • 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” • The policy and analytical significance of ‘national culture’ largely depends on what degree of causal power is attributed to it - from a mere epiphenomenon, a powerless superstructure to, at the other extreme, a supremely independent variable, the superordinate power in society. • The homogenizing effects – or not – of ‘globalization • Potential for transnational developments e.g. EU • Basis for acceptance as a citizen • Education policy • ‘Universal’ human rights • Conceptions of national identity • National ‘guilt’ • Etc. • Multiple organizational management, locational, and marketing implications
Significance of Hofstede • A National Cultural Determinist–little or no causal role for other cultural or non-cultural factors. “It shapes everything” Hickson and Pugh (1995: 90). • Claims to have: • Demonstrated the existence of, and measured, and compared enduring and systematically causal ‘national cultures’ in scores of ‘nations’ i.e. countries • Shown how multiple characteristics of those countries (educational systems, ways of doing business, architecture, cuisine, etc.) reflectand can be understood through the relevant national culture • To have done so scientifically (117,000 questionnaires, etc.) • Huge Following • Significant following in all management disciplines • Widely used by management training companies • The most cited non-US author in the entire Social Science Citation Index • By 1998 Hofstede was able to claim that ‘a true paradigm shift has occurred’
OVERVIEW • Briefly describe Hofstede's claims about national cultures including the sense in which he uses the notion of ‘culture’ and ‘national culture’ specifically • Describe and critique his ‘identification’ • Describe and critique his attempts to illustrate the explanatory value/usefulness/predictive ability of his national cultural descriptions
Hofstede’s Conception of National Culture • Territorially Unique • Nationally Shared(common component or statistical average (“central tendency”) – inconsistently applied) • Subjective: software of the mind; mental programs • Determinate(not merely an influence, but the influence • Identifiable Characteristics and Predictable Consequences • Enduring(for many centuries past and to come)
The dimensions used by Hofstede • 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)(a legacy unacknowledged by Hofstede) • More extensive and subtle (not bi-polar) dimensions in the literature (e.g. Schwartz’s work)
117,000 IBM questionnaires Not as many used as is suggested • Combined figure for two surveys • 66 countries, but only 40 ‘yielded’ scores • As a result, the number of IBM employees whose responses were used: less than one-third of 117,000 Unrepresentative • 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 (pop. 23m) and Singapore 88, 71 and 58 respectively
IBM questionnaires • Not designed to identify ‘national culture’ but by IBM for corporate purposes in response to its concern with declining morale • Not independently administered • Often completed in groups without confidentiality safeguards • Respondents knew of possible consequences of their answers for them – therefore ‘gaming’ • Blue collar workers’ responses excluded – marketing and sales staff only
5 Crucial Assumptions (each necessary – each problematic) • 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
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? Would anyone seriously suggest that the central tendency in one of Australia’s 573 Aboriginal societies the same as the Australian ‘national culture’ (as measured in IBM Australia by Hofstede)? • Atypicality of IBM
Assumption 2Every 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
(OrC + OcC + NC1) – (OrC + OcC + NC2) = NC1 - NC2 • (OrC + OcC + NC1) – (OrC + OcC + NC2) = NC1 - NC2 • Very convenient! But reductive, mechanical, impoverished, and absurd
2. Cont. Three distinctive Components • Organizational: There is only one inter and intra subsidiary organizational culture (not cultures) in IBM (Hofstede):Plausible? Dogmatic! Pronounced to exist. Hofstede fails to engage with extensive multiple organizational cultures literature • Occupational: Throughout the world members of the same ‘occupation’ share an identical world-wide occupational culture (Hofstede).Matching desirable (mundane), but criticism of implications drawn; occupational culture of Turkish laboratory clerk same as Texan laboratory clerk; British accountant = German accountant etc. Nil effect of different accounting: courses; professions (ICAEW; CIMA, ACCA; CIPFA; ICAS, etc.); different types and significance of capital markets; post qualifying courses and work;etc.; • Individuals as cultural ‘blotting paper’ who have been immersed in homogeneous occupational fluid (Fraber, 1950)
2. Three distinctive Components Cont. • “Values are acquired in one’s early youth, mainly in the family and in the neighbourhood, and later at school. By the time a child is 10 years old, most of its basic values have been programmed into its mind … For occupational values the place of socialisation is the school or university, and the time is in between childhood and adulthood” (Hofstede, 1991:182) • My criticism is not of the possible enduring impact early influences but of the claims that (a) these experience alone are significant, and (b) that the content and impact of ‘occupational’ experiences are globally uniform and unchanging
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 • Q. To which one of the above types [described] would you say your superior most closely corresponds? • Completion often in groups and with foreknowledge that managers were expected to develop corrective actions. Would confidential research undertaken by independent researchers have obtained the same responses?
4. National Culture Can Be Identified By Response Difference Analysis • Assumption 3 is a necessary but not sufficient condition of 4 • The links between the questions analysed and the dimension they are supposed to indicate are often unclear, 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). • Bi-polarity of dimensions e.g. either individualism or collectivism but “the two can coexist and are simply emphasised more or less depending on the situation” Harry Triandis, 1996:42
5. Situationally Specific 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 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 • Ironically Hofstede is committed to one situational specificity: the nation, but blind about all others
SECOND TYPE OF JUSTIFICATION • 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) • Again methodological critique
If descriptions of historical/contemporary events are to serve as validity tests of determining influence they should meet the following criteria: • (a) no counter events in the same country; • (b) the occurrence of similar events - and no counter-events - in other countries with comparable Hofstedeian cultural configurations; and • (c) no similar events in countries with very dissimilar cultural configurations. • Hofstede did not apply these tests in conducting his ‘research’and his stories fail these tests
Example • “Freud was an Austrian; and there are good reasons in the culture profile of Austria in the IBM data why his theory would be conceived in Austrian rather than elsewhere … Feelings of guilt and anxiety develop [according to Freud] when the ego is felt to be giving in to the id. … The Austrian culture is characterized by the combination of a very low power distance with a fairly high uncertainty avoidance. The low power distance means that there is no powerful superior who will take away our uncertainties for us; One has to carry these oneself. Freud’s superego is an inner uncertainty-absorbing device, an interiorized boss … • [Austria's] very high MAS [masculinity] score sheds some light on Freud’s concern with sex” (Hofstede, 2001:385)(emphasis added).
No uniform attitude to authority in Austrian writing Some Austrian Writers were/are suspicious of authority – but some are very supportive • The Austrian Hitler* urged complete submission to a “powerful superior” in Mein Kampf; • As did the Viennese born prolific and influential writer Guido von List whom in Der Unbesiegbare (The Invincible) and other books prohesised and unquestioningly supported the arrival of the 'strong man from above'. • In 1905 Freud published Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. Around the same time Austrian writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's novel Venus im Pelz (Venus in Furs) which focused on voluntary submission to humiliations administered by fur-clad women and the ultimate fantasy of submission to the all powerful man - was re-published. • * Hitler lived in Austria until he was 24 years old long after Hofstede claims that an individual has indelibly acquired a national culture
“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
Sex • Fellow Austrian, Felix Salten, wrote the pornographic best-seller Josefine Mutzenbacher: Die Lebensgeschichte einer weinerischen Dirne, von ihr selbst erzählt (Josefine Mutzenbacher: A Viennese Whore's Life Story, Told By Herself). This is further ‘validation’ in Hofstede's terms, but like the rest of his stories it's just an isolated untested anecdote. • Many Austrian writers - contrary to the implication in Hofstede's story - are not 'concern[ed] with sex' (Hofstede, 2001:385). There is, for instance, little mention of sex in Austrian Adolph Hitler's Mein Kampf or in the writings of the Austrian Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Felix Salten also wrote the extremely successful asexual animal novel Bambi - later adopted by Walt Disney. • Countries with radically different Hofstedian MAS scores from Austria (2nd most masculine) - such as Sweden (the least masculine) produce just as much literature about sex as does Austria.
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’.
Another Example • In 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” Hofstede (1991:92) • Ranking in Hofstede’s Masculinity Index: Ireland (joint 7th); GB (9th) • Only one section (‘labor unions’) are said to influenced by that which is supposed to be national • Management is treated as immune to n.c. and influenced by something non-cultural • 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. • Roche and Geary (2000) found 'team-working in 57% of Irish workplaces; direct employee participation in one-third of them; and that … Ireland is in the top league for employee participation'.
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: Ireland 7th • GB 8th • Spain 30th
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
Steps towards a real analysis 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.
Hofstede’s chronic a proiriismVindicating not Validating • He fails to look for counter-evidence. Consciously or not he fits a very partial account of events to a particular national culture depiction. His stories are mere dogmatic fitting to what he already ‘knows’ • Karl Popper states that ‘so long as a theory withstands detailed and severe tests … we may say that it has proved its mettle or that it is corroborated.’Hofstede’s stories cannot withstand even the mildest testing • The only serious question left re Hofstede’s work is why has his nonsense been treated seriously in the management disciplines?
3 Further Criticisms • The influence of other cultures • Non-cultural influences • Change
1. The influence of other cultures • If ‘culture’ is theorized as influential why should such influence be restricted to national culture? • If other cultures are accepted as potentially influential how can uniform national actions/practices (across time and space) be their consequence?
2. Non-cultural influences • Why should cultural-causation (national or non-national) be privileged over administrative, coercive means of social action? Hitler’s New Order was an order (Gellner, 1987). • Would it [have been] meaningful, for example, to talk of the religiosity of the Spaniards without a description of the monopolistic position of the [Catholic] church in Spain [under Franco], or of the irreligiosity of the Russians without considering the attitude of the Soviet government towards religion” Maurice Farmer (1950:301)
3. Temporal variability • Hofstede claims that the national cultural configurations he found will last for ‘a long time, at least for some centuries” (1991:47) • His ‘Evidence’ to pronounce upon centuries past and future?: Comparison of two IBM surveys – not for all of the countries and maximum gap of 4 years i.e. BA • Yet again, Hofstede just knows but that’s not good enough! And there are counter-indications, e.g. • Is the ‘national culture’ of Germany the same now as it was during the Nazi period despite defeat, destruction, division and awareness of the horrors of the Holocaust. • The national culture of Ireland is the same as it was prior to the ‘Great Famine’ (pop. 9 m.) as it is now among the 3m. ‘Celtic Tigers’. In the ‘dark’ 1950s Louis McNiece said that the Irish lacked ‘commercial culture’; by the late 1990s it had the highest growth rate in Europe
Conclusion 1 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).
Conclusion 2 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.
Conclusion 3 • We may think about ‘national; culture’; we may believe in ‘national culture’; we may act in the name of ‘national culture’; but it has not been plausibly demonstrated that ‘national culture’ is how we think. • Instead of seeking an explanation for assumed national uniformity from the conceptual lacuna that is the essentialist notion of national culture, we need to engage with and use theories of action which can cope with change, power, variety, multiple influences - including the non-national - and the complexity and situational variability of the individual subject.
Is ‘national culture’ a myth? • Functionalist, symbolist and structural uses • Yes in the performative sense that as an “invented tradition” it has been central in the construction and maintenance of national identity • Yes in the sense that it is unreal or its existence has not been validly demonstrated 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).
Further reading 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.