Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Culture: Hofstede

I had never read a book by Geert Hofstede, but had come across his 'onion' on layers of culture a lot of times. As well as his indexes on national cultures. I always wondered if it's useful to look at national cultures if there are so many sub-cultures in one country, and how to avoid stereotyping. You can compare your country with a host country on this site.

I finally read a book he wrote with his son Gert Jan Hofstede (you can find out how to pronounce his name here) and Paul Pedersen who has a site with practical exercises. The book I read is called 'werken met cultuurverschillen' (in English 'Exploring culture: Exercises, Stories and Synthetic Cultures' and is a practical book with lots of exercises. What I learned is that the core of working across culture is learning to separate observations on what people do or say from interpretations (which is easier said than done). The book includes a description of the five basic dimensions which can be used to describe a culture. Interestingly, they link the collectivism dimension (as opposed to individualism) to poverty, as a cultural adaptation to scarse resources and individualism as an adaptation to wealth and abundance. The same for hierarchy, they link a high power distance to poverty (but the link is less strong than for collectivism).

And they do state that regional, ethnic, class or other differences lead to the forming of separate groups with quite different subcultures. Another important distinction is between culture and personality, it is quite easy to misinterpret behaviour as bad intentions or difficult personality, whereas the underlying reasons may be cultural differences.

So if countries in the south are -generally speaking- more collectivist oriented, how does that affect communities of practice? Will it be easier because people are used to live and feel part of groups? How will the preference for harmony affect the innovation in the knowledge domain of the community? and will the expert/reputation building in a CoP be different? Hope to get more practical cases!

2 comments:

ivy anan said...

Joitske, this is an interesting one for me.. my view similar to your ideas is to situate culture within the system of the society. cultures are the base on which other forms of behaviour manifest. Yet, when looked at this way, it can lead to misinterpretation...

In class we talked about the notion of cultural sensitivity...

The key question i still have is how can different cultural meanings and ideas harmonise, is it something we should aim for?

Joitske Hulsebosch said...

Thanks Ivy, great that you left a comment, I'm sure you will get your own blog one day...

I just discovered that I can reply to comments by commenting. I liked your question about the harmonisation of cultural meanings and ideas. It is a question which runs in my mind in the sense of getting almost a global culture, which would loose the diversity. (similar to the loss of bio-diversity). I think that would be a pity. But on the other hand, subcultures and organisational cultures still look very different, though private sector, civil society and government sector are also becoming closer in thinking and acting. What do you think?