A critique on Hofsted Cultural Distance

Essay, 2010
12 Pages
Ytt Quaesitum Research (Author)












A perspective of culture —let alone—a theory on national culture necessitates openness to the richness and diversity in the many ways of living. Culture is an accumulation of beliefs, conventions, institutions, traditions and artefacts that articulate human populations collective thought (Brooks 2008). UNESCO (2003) strongly emphasised culture as an intangible heritage comprising many elements from multiple domains, thus imperfectly articulated in a single manifestation. Socialisation is construed as behavioural modifications and adaptations to an immediate culture, and recognises the influences of parenting, personal relations, education, and the individual’s responses to the environment (Brooks 2008).

This paper posits critique on the Hofstede theory of cultural difference to establish concurrence to international business. Hofstede (1984) situates national culture and cultural differences which draws upon a survey instrument to define and distinguish groups of people, through the appraisal of work attitudes and values collated from 116000 IBM employee respondents, between 1967 and 1973, and across 72 countries. The theory impressed upon a collective mindset established in confines of country borders, and has interestingly occupied a fraction of multicultural studies. As a matter of fact, the Hofstede theory is the most cited work in the social sciences discipline and is extensively used outside the academe (Cardon 2008, Piller 2011), with high regard particularly received from coursework on strategy (Furrer 2000, Ross 1999, Søndergaard 1994). Nonetheless, even as the Hofstede theory motivates to understand cultural differences, its relevance to international business diminished and is no longer the spotlight of attention.


The theory of cultural distance is disputed in terms of analytics in the form of bi-polar metrics, the use of country border as the delineation of culture, the confidence level and sample, and severely in the qualitative analysis and theoretical construct using ethnocentric Western impressions. Analysts question the derivatives on conclusive national cultures and cultural differences depicted and defined, thus dismiss the Hofstede theory as an overstatement lacking in depth and breadth. Given so, the research methodology does not constitute an adequate illustration of culture, but is a distortion of cultural precepts (McSweeney 2002).

Relevance would mean “having direct bearing on the matter in hand or pertinent” (Merriam-Webster, Incorporated 2013), or “the degree to which something is related or useful to what is happening or being talked about” (Cambridge University Press 2013).

International business is a mechanism for deepened regional integration therefore opposes the qualitative analysis and theoretical construct using organisation as a criterion for culture.

Hamilton and Weber (2012) explain that Globalisation has deepened regional integration through increased interdependency and heightened economic activities in trade and inflows of FDI, enhanced mobility for about 214 million travellers, and rapid advancements in technology. Economic confrontation is core in the era of Globalisation, which redirects organisations on the path of International business (Brewer & Venaik 2010), and inevitably compels tacit of cultural perspectives and dynamics (Mooij & Hofstede 2010). Culture defines distinct patterns observed in the dysfunction and function of individuals and groups, beginning with ego identity and concept of self, relations with authority, and in the given context which conflicts and dilemmas endure (Kluckhohn & Strodtbeck 1996, Inkeles 1997). Several models have been developed to examine the nuances of human behaviour in order to depict what different people struggle with in a lifetime.

Looking at the Hofstede theory, it fails to capture fully the theoretical developments of culture, thus renders an easy path lacking in contemplation with these crucial empirics aside. In the omission of these insightful dimensions, it does not illustrate scientific rigor. Disappointingly, these theoretical constructs are loosely explained (Harrison & McKinnon 1999). It is important to note that organisations operate within a cultural context characterised by shared history, political and economic orientation, and social background that can impede or enhance on human behaviour and organisation dynamics (Berry 2005). The Hofstede theory takes the alternate approach by studying the organisation in order to derive neo-institutional theories (Ahrens & Mollona 2007).

Hofstede brings the organisation into the foreground; which at best can elicit new insightful questions for future research. But by itself does not suffice significance to aptly define or qualify culture (Allen 2009, Argento & Helden 2009, Andersson & Tengblad 2009, Bevan 2009, Courtney et al 2009, Johansson & Siloverbo 2009).

Ethical morals that come into conflict as a result of differing cultural practices is a dilemma increasingly infecting organisations engaged in international business activity. A variety of important issues do not have the same easy answers in a manner perceived in legal jurisdiction or in the arena of nation—thus discerns incongruence of a qualitative analysis and theoretical construct using country borders as the delineation of culture in the Hofstede theory.

A deep contention rests in the assumptions stated through the Hofstede theory, which places equal weight on culture and nation states or country border confines. Cultures are not identified as to country borders. As cited in the Cultural Encyclopedia there are 35 different cultures in 14 Arab nations, and in Africa there are 98 different cultures determined in 48 countries (O’Leary & Levinson 1991). Cultural difference as presented in the Hofstede theory is indicative of research design inconsistencies and obscure philosophical underpinnings because the literature inappropriately reduces culture to quite narrow precepts of country borders (Baskerville). Bhimani (1999) points out that to explore on the basis of country border and to adopt organisational phenomena presents methodological and conceptual weakness.

To cite a good example is the qualitative analysis in the Invention of Cultural Geography (1993), which explores beyond country borders in a literature that digests from the notion of organisation dynamics depictive of culture. Countries such as US, Germany, Switzerland, can be characterised in a linear-active organisation dynamics. This group does one thing at a time, entails extensive step-by-step planning and organisation and pursue action chains. The culture is described to be confrontational yet assumes logic and sticks to facts, is very results oriented and agenda centred. Body language is restrained and written word important. Arab countries, countries in the Latin America or Italy for instance, are characterised to have multi active organisation dynamics and are described as talkative cultures and lively, and have the tacit to do many things at once. Planning is done in a single grand outline and spoken word is important. This group is quite people oriented, emotional and give feelings more importance than facts, thus decisive is extremely relational oriented. A reactive culture is depicted by countries such China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam, where courtesy and respect is foremost importance. This culture group is characterised to listen quietly to interlocutors, and calm in careful reaction to another. Listens mostly, has a strong orientation for harmony and never confronts. While body language is subtle, face to face contact is crucial. Statements are taken as promises and people orientation is extreme (Price & Lewis 1993).

Moreover, the international business environment is influenced profoundly by the cross border diffusion of market mechanisms that are further prompted by the freedom of expression and technological advancement, therefore renders irrelevant a qualitative analysis and theoretical construct utilising country borders as the delineation of culture —and obsolete.

Concomitant to Globalisation, one can observe that the international business environment is influenced profoundly by the international diffusion of democracy and markets that are further prompted by the freedom of expression (McFaul 2007). These trends across regions are illustrated in certain cultural modifications and pace long after the Hofstede instrument 1967-1973. In which case, the theory is critiqued in international cultural studies, studies of management and organisation, human relations, cross cultural management, international business reviews, organisation studies, and international communication studies: as irrelevant and obsolete.

The international Science Index (Hardi & Mulloth 2013) states that international business encourages a “hybrid middle ground” equilibrium defined as the fusion of economic as well as social sustainability, depicted in the advocacy of CSR. Therefore reduces the relevance of a qualitative analysis and theoretical construct which applies bi-polar analytics which denies the rudimental reality that both criterions coexist for sheer societal balance.

Hofstede theory employs the bi-polar approach that denies the rudimental reality that both criterions coexist for sheer societal balance. Subsequently, without the context of coexistence, numerous essential cultural qualities are excluded from the analysis, and therefore diminish its relevance and a poorly qualitative construct (Muthra 1998, Søndergaard1994). It can be said that Hofstede has simplified the cultural dimensions in a set of stereotypes, from which one can gain basic grasp on a particular culture. Although the Hofstede theory must be considered as a lead point to gain deeper insight of culture, it cannot be a complete conclusive interpretation of culture (Osland & Bird 2000).

“Polarity is defined as the state of having two opposite or contradictory tendencies, opinions, or aspects” ( Oxford University Press 2013). Neutral polarity suggests coexistence which is an underlying principle of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism, which influence a number of cultures in the manner to which one can anticipate from the nature of relations or discern dispositional properties of perceived situations.

A good example is in the work of Schwartz (1994) which explains seven culture-level dimensions far reaching than the Hofstede theory. The dimensions taken up are different such as mastery by contrast of harmony, hierarchy by contrast of egalitarianism, and conservatism by contrast of autonomy.

All the more, International business compels perspective of a Global mindset which combines openness and awareness of cultures, and therefore renders obsolete the worldview in a qualitative analysis and theoretical construct of ethnocentric Western impressions.

International business compels a perspective of global mindset. Financial Times (2013) defines global mindset “as one that combines an openness and awareness of diversity across cultures and markets with a propensity and ability to see common patterns across countries and markets.” What constitutes a Global mindset is the leeway for subtle differences between several viewpoints, and is impressed upon others in the execution of tasks (Rhinesmith 24). Organisations and people that demonstrate cognitive balance of competing functional, business and country priorities have achieved a global mindset (Murtha et al 1998). Consequently, a global mindset enables recognition and insight of interdependence on the global economy even when primary income sources are within the domestic market (Kedia & Mukherji 1999). A global mindset is thought as the ability to interpret, develop and advance the business performance in a broader context, independent of singular country views (Rhinesmith 1995).

The Hofstede theory construes a predetermined value on other cultures, or what is the worth specifically in the perspective of Western culture. The danger in ethnocentrism is that it can only scratch on the surface of genuine diversity. Effectually the Hofstede theory contributions to knowledge and international business, is poor (Bhimani 1999). Baskerville (2003) and Magala (2004) argue ethnocentric analysis leaning on Western traditions of individuality and equality is illusive and at the same time, overlooks finer qualities that achieve human harmony and societal balance.


In terms of statistical integrity, the Hofstede theory is critiqued for notable cross-loadings, which increases the likelihood of sample error. That is, 32 questions with only 40 cases or subjects equated as 40 data points corresponding to 40 countries is in fact extremely weighted for a matter as deep and complex as culture (Dorfman & Howell 1988, Furrer 2000). The sample is flawed, as it is sparse and unevenly distributed across regions (McSweeney 2000). Nicholson (1991) asserts that the 1988 study by Dorfman and Howell illustrate reliable scaling compared to the work of Hofstede. Respondents confined to international work spaces of IBM, by itself exclude the perspective and views of those unemployed, self-employed, retired, or those who work from home and the working students. Therefore the very limited breadth of the research is an insufficient construct of even the general worker, becoming highly inappropriate as a representation of national culture (McSweeney 2002).

One critique states that the generalisation applied on the analytics of equally weighted values, beliefs and norms across diverse groups of people, conflates by sheer omission the Hofstede research construct confuses the core of culture and its peripherals. Thus the better grasp of culture is lost without appropriate distinctions and by boxing these into five scoring dimensions. Other critiques emphasise more strongly that the restrictive perspective neglects the greater depth, insight, complexity and richness of culture; thus ultimately seeds distortion of culture (Harrison & McKinnon 1999).


The Hofstede theory determines four dimensions of culture in the standpoint of national culture: power distance, individualism by contrast of collectivism, masculinity by contrast of femininity, and uncertainty avoidance (Søndergaard 1994).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


The concept of power distance in the literature of Hofstede characterises the relations hierarchy particularly between superior and subordinate, that is expected and therefore given and received in a natural manner as supported by the organisation structure, thus to a large extent can determine the behaviour (Hofstede). The power metrics of Hofstede construes a distance described in a conceptual degree of inequality, as defined in the literature of a Dutch social psychologist Mulder (1977). The idea put forward is that an organisation with high power distance ratings can be described as a formal hierarchy wherein a single tier wields more power than the rank below. Decisions are centralised and are not conferred with subordinates. In the power index, a high rating would mean both the superior and the subordinate are accepting of a hierarchical system or existentially unequal relationship and a less value would mean that the subordinates and superiors are accepting of an existentially equal relation (Hofstede & Minkov 2010).

Kirkman (2006) argues that the power distance dimension is under researched and is in fact culturally biased in sense that the work is a conceptual construct by Western approach which would impress upon others a sense of hierarchy in different cultures in a way that makes sense to the Western forms of order, and definitely not in a Globalisation context. The argument is supported by the work of Monger (2012) which states that the Asian mindset is understood from its cultural roots across a number of nations that are influenced by the Confucian doctrine. Fundamental to the Confucianism is human harmony or societal stability rests upon five basic and unequal relationships, known as “wu-lun.” These relationships are between ruler and subject, father and son, husband and wife, older brother and younger brother, and older friend and younger friend.

It is to note that the power inequality between superiors and subordinates in organisational hierarchy is obvious. Without which, an organisation can turn dysfunctional. At the same time, power distance by application of the Hofstede model present in flat organisations or lateral structures (Mulder 1977, McSweeney 2002).


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A critique on Hofsted Cultural Distance
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hofsted, cultural, distance
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Ytt Quaesitum Research (Author), 2010, A critique on Hofsted Cultural Distance, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/498886


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