Friday, November 25, 2005

Culture: Hofstede on culture embedded in management theories

From the same book by Hofstede as in the previous post (lots of onions today): people who think up theories are products of their countries, families, schools and employers as well and hence bring their own cultural dimensions to theory. For instance Fayol was a french engineer whose theory about authority distinguishes formal and personal authority. The importance he attaches to authority in organisations matches the higher power distance dimension of France. Apparently the matrix organisation has never become popular in France.

The communities of practice theory (he calls it rather a social learning theory) has been developed by Etienne Wenger (and others?) (by the way I just saw a new picture of him on his website so I'll have to readjust my mental image of him abruptly, I always knew the picture with the moustache :)). He is Swiss, but lives in the US. I don't feel in a position to point out the cultural dimension in the theory because it would also imply rating his individual cultural dimensions somehow. Switzerland scores low on the power distance scale (34 out of 100), higher on individualism (68 out of 100), very high on the masculinity scale (70 out of 100) and average on uncertainty avoidance (58 out of 100). So in how far is does the theory reflect the cultural dimensions of Switzerland and/or the US? And for which countries would that fit more/less easily?

What is very interesting is that in development work we often talked about Western cultures versus Southern cultures, but the research of Hofstede shows there are huge differences between countries like Germany and the UK for instance. Germany scores very high on uncertainty avoidance, and the UK rather low. Uncertainty avoidance is the level to which people feel threatened by uncertain situations, which translates in tensions and a need for formal or informal rules to increase predictability. Similarly, there are huge differences between for instance Brasil which score very high on uncertainty avoidance and Jamaica which scores very low on uncertainty avoidance. So if communities of practice work in eg. India, it does not mean it may also work in for instance, Mali, because the national cultural dimension may be very different. Or they may work in a very different manner.

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