Seminar Paper, 2009
16 Pages, Grade: 1,3
2. Geert Hofstede – a short biography
3. Hofstede’s concept of culture
4. Hofstede’s Five Dimensions of National Cultures Model
4.1. Power distance
4.2. Individualism vs. collectivism
4.3 Masculinity vs. femininity
4.4 Uncertainty avoidance
4.5 Long-term vs. short-term orientation
Be it in the business world, as a traveller, trying to master a foreign language, or to teach it, nowadays we meet people of foreign cultures more frequently than this was the case just 50 or even 100 years ago. Even though linguistic difficulties are often surmountable through English as lingua franca, meeting people from cultures we are unfamiliar with bears the potential for many misunderstandings. These in turn quite often lead to lack of understanding, conflict, even political disaster, like in 2005 with the Danish caricature scandal involving the newspaper Jyllands Posten, when a fundamentalist Muslim cleric from Egypt living in Denmark felt offended and ridiculed in his religious beliefs by caricatures featuring Mohammed. The Islamic world thereby rallied to the case, and did not only react with outrage and boycott, but with violent attacks, in the course of which 140 people lost their lives and several hundred were injured.1
Milder reactions, like rejection and hidden resentment are, however, the more common outcomes due to intercultural misunderstandings. How otherwise would there be stereotypes mostly carrying negative connotations, like the obedient Chinese, the superficial American, or the super-punctual German lacking humor?
The Dutch anthropologist and cultural scientist Geert Hofstede suggests that the reason for such misunderstandings is a culturally divergent, often concealed moral concept with a direct impact on human actions and thinking. Hofstede has devoted himself to this issue and has developed a model based on a long-time study, elucidating peculiarities of and differences between national cultures in comparison. Thereby Hofstede classified national cultures according to five pillars, also called dimensions, which dependent on the nation vary markedly and in his study are set in relation to each other.2
The subject and the goal of this assignment is to present the main features of Hofstede’s Model of the Five Dimensions of National Cultures. Following, the practical applicability of this model is briefly discussed.
Geert Hofstede was born in Haarlem, Netherlands, on October 2, 1928. He studied mechanical engineering at the Delft Technical University graduating with a Masters in engineering. After that he worked as an engineer as well as in management of the Dutch industry for several years. During this time, he took up his studies again graduating from the University of Groeningen with a doctorate in social psychology. He was the founder of the personnel research department with IBM Europe, which he managed. Later he accepted several professorships in various countries and among other appointments, was the co-founder and first chairman of the IRIC (Institute for Research on Intercultural Cooperation) in the Netherlands. His scientific publications are among the most influential in the domain of social sciences, in particular the inter-cultural communication of recent decades.3
In order to better understand and classify Geert Hofstede’s Five-Dimensions-Model, which will be presented in the following chapter, first his understanding of culture will be explained.
Human beings think, feel, and act in different ways, however, this broad spectrum of variation is based on a structure, which Hofstede compares with the “software of the mind”4 respectively the “mental program”5 of an individual. This mental programming is being imprinted by his social environment and begins with the early childhood education within the family, proceeds with friendships, workplace and in general the social milieu a person is maneuvering. An individual shares this imprinting of the mind with the members of his peer-group. In this context, the group is to be understood as his culture.6 Culture is “the collective programming of the mind, which sets members of a group or category apart from other human beings of another group or category.”7 [„die kollektive Programmierung des Geistes, welche die Mitglieder einer Gruppe oder Kategorie von anderen Menschen einer anderen Gruppe oder Kategorie unterscheidet.“]
In contrast to a very narrow definition of the term culture, where culture is seen as the refinement of the intellect and the fruits thereof, the arts, literature, and education, Hofstede now operates, like most contemporary social and cultural scientists, with a much wider-fetched understanding of culture. Hereby he also stresses that although this collective programming is learned from early childhood on, it would never be determining, but every individual would in principle be able to deviate from his culture, though this is not easy.8
Now it is rather about societies and not national entities, to share a common culture. It seems obvious why Geert Hofstede after all decided to compare national cultures, if one factors in that a great number of statistical surveys are collected at a national level and rarely at a societal level. Hence it is for an entirely practical reason, which is justified by a mostly homogenous leading culture (Leitkultur) of long-existing nations, according to Hofstede. Moreover, statistical data that make a comparison between national states possible, support the scientist’s cause of fostering cooperation between nations.9
Accordingly, the present work will use the terms “nation”, “land”, “state”, “society”, and “culture” synonymously, even though differences in their definitions are evident.
Between 1967 and 1973 Geert Hofstede analyzed an immense amount of data from empirical studies about the moral concepts of people from 74 countries worldwide. These study participants were employees of the multinational corporation IBM. After repeating the study and analyzing studies by other multinational organizations and institutions obvious differences in the answers along the lines of nationality were noticed. According to this, people of different nationality are coping in different ways when confronted with the same problems. The four main problem areas that Hofstede identified with the analysis of the survey affect all cultures equally. It is about fundamental issues that all cultures are asked about and every culture is obliged to give an answer to and successfully does so.10 These four main problem areas made up the four dimensions of his first four-dimensional-model and are as follows
- Power distance
- Individualism vs. collectivism
- Masculinity vs. femininity
- Uncertainty avoidance
In the light of a study by the Canadian psychologist Michael Harris Bond a fifth dimension was added to the model later, which is - Short-term orientation vs. long-term orientation.11 Each of these four dimensions represents “an aspect of a culture, which can be measured in relation to another culture”.12
Following, selected phenomena representing the four dimensions and the later added fifth will be discussed. Due to the narrow scope of this scientific work, the author does not intend to give a comprehensive list.
Inequalities are omnipresent in this world. Some people are more intelligent than others, some are stronger, others in turn are weaker, but instead wealthier, or if fate will have it, they are less affluent than others. The power distance dimension refers to the different ways of coping with inequalities within cultures. It is “the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions [like family or school] respectively organizations of a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally.”13 [„das Ausmaß, bis zu welchem die weniger mächtigen Mitglieder von Institutionen [wie Familie oder Schule] bzw. Organisationen eines Landes erwarten und akzeptieren, dass Macht ungleich verteilt ist.“] (Explanation by the author) The value system of the less powerful members is thus decisive for this dimension.
Cultures with low power distance are striving to keep inequalities between people as low as possible. The use of power should be justifiable and is subject to the law. In countries with very low levels of power distance parents treat their children as equals, seniors are neither feared nor particularly respected, and the education system puts students at the center of attention. In these countries hierarchy is seen as a construct, not as something God-given or determined by fate. Employees expect to be included in the decision-making process. Governments are pluralistic, based on a majority electoral system, and hand over power peacefully. There is relatively little corruption and scandals end political careers. In countries with low power distance the total income is more likely equally distributed.14
In contrast, in cultures with a high power distance, inequality between people is expected and even desired. Power gets the pass over right and the use of power does not require legitimacy or justification in any other way. Parents raise their kids to be submissive, the elderly are being respected and feared, the education system is focused on the teacher. In those countries hierarchy is perceived as a natural inequality between social classes. Employees expect to receive instructions. Governments are autocratic or oligarchic, are based on appointments, and are toppled by means of revolutions. Corruption is relatively widespread and scandals are usually covered up. In countries with a high power distance index (PDI) the total income is very unevenly distributed.15
These, as well as following statements have to be interpreted as extreme observations on a broad spectrum of data. In Europe, countries with low PDI include for example countries in which Germanic languages are spoken, like Denmark, Germany, or the United Kingdom. The PDI is considerably higher in countries with Romanic language roots, like France, Spain, Italy, or Romania.16
Does a person perceive himself rather as an individual, then independence and privacy are of utmost importance to him, or does he define himself through the affiliation with a group, so loyalty to and harmony within the group are most important? The dimension of individualism vs. collectivism refers to “the degree to which individuals of a society are integrated into groups”17 [„den Grad zu welchem Menschen einer Gesellschaft in Gruppen integriert sind“].
In countries with a low individuality index (IDV) individuals are integrated into strong, closed groups from birth. Most of the time, this is the extended family, which in exchange for lifelong protection demands unwavering loyalty from its members. These countries are characterized through a strong we-awareness, private life is dominated by the group, and preserving harmony is top priority. Other individuals are classified as belonging to the own or to a foreign group. In these cultures, opinions are predetermined through the affiliation with a group, the use of the word “I” is avoided, and transgressions against the norms result in shame. The purpose of education is to teach how something is done. In countries with low IDV, interpersonal relationships take priority over activities and work tasks.18
On the opposite spectrum of collectivist cultures are countries with high IDV. Here the bonds between individuals are rather loose and it is expected that everyone can provide for himself and his immediate family, the so-called family nucleus. In these countries, the I-awareness dominates over the we-awareness, and the protection of privacy is of great importance. Speaking one’s mind is healthy and considered a characteristic trait of an honest individual. Other people are perceived as individuals. In countries with high IDV it is expected for everyone to have a personal opinion. The use oft he word “I” is essential, an offense against the norm results in feeling guilt, and the goal of education is to learn how to learn. In individualistic societies, activities and work tasks take priority over interpersonal relationships.19
Asian, Slavic, and Arabic countries have a relatively low IDV. In Great Britain, the USA and Australia, which are English-speaking countries, the IDV is very high.20
1 See http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Das_Gesicht_Mohammeds
2 See http://feweb.uvt.nl/center/hofstede/page4.htm, http://www.itimfocus.org/index.php/frontpage/page/concepts/5d/more
3 See Hofstede, Geert: Lokales Denken, Globales Handeln. Interkulturelle Zusammenarbeit und globales Management. 3., vollständig überarbeitete Auflage. München 2006. S. 525f. (Local thinking, global acting. Intercultural collaboration and global management. 3rd, completely revised edition. Munich 2006. p. 525f.)
4 Hofstede, Gert Jan and Geert Hofstede: Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. 2nd, revised edition. New York. McGraw-Hill Professional, 2005. p.2
6 See Hofstede, New York 2005. p.3f
7 Ibid. p.4
8 See ibid. p.3
9 See Hofstede, New York 2005. p.18f
10 See “EMPIRICAL APPROACHES AND THE HOFSTEDE DIMENSIONS” http://www.ac.wwu.edu/%7Eculture/hofstede.htm, http://www.itimfocus.org/index.php/frontpage/page/concepts/5d/more, http://www.geert-hofstede.com/geert_hofstede_resources.shtml
11 See “EMPIRICAL APPROACHES AND THE HOFSTEDE DIMENSIONS” http://www.ac.wwu.edu/%7Eculture/hofstede.htm
12 Ibid. “A dimension is an aspect of a culture that can be measured relative to other cultures.”
13 Hofstede, Munich 2006. p.59
14 See Hofstede, Munich 2006. p.66ff, http://www.ac.wwu.edu/%7Eculture/hofstede.htm
15 See ibid.
16 See ibid. p.88, http://www.ac.wwu.edu/%7Eculture/hofstede.htm
17 http://www.ac.wwu.edu/%7Eculture/hofstede.htm “…the degree to which people in a society are integrated into groups”
18 See Hofstede, Munich 2006. p.102ff, http://www.ac.wwu.edu/%7Eculture/hofstede.htm
19 See ibid.
20 See Hofstede, Munich 2006. p.105
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