Arguably, Hofstede’s work (1980, 1997) represents a pioneering approach of culture as a way of comparing international management frameworks. First of all, prior to offering any evaluations in regards to McSweeney’s criticism (2002a/b), it is crucial to identify the nature of Hostede’s work within the entire sphere of the culture approach itself.
In contrast to the guarantors of the emic approach , whose main concepts tend to discard the equalization and standardization of dimensions in national cultures’ comparisons, the pillars of Hofstede’s work, which belong to the etic approach , are based on 5 dimensions whereby national differences are then measured. In other words, from the emic standpoint it is also arguable that the etic research methodology, as aiming to identify equalities among national differences, would risk throwing out the baby with the bath water .
On the other hand, from the emic perspective, dividing the culture into a set of defined scopes stands as the only way to actually enable researchers to compare cultures . Having briefly introduced the shortcomings related to both approaches, McSweeney’s critiques can now be narrowed down to a specific scope, which is mainly encompassed with Hofstede’s research methodology.
Research Validity In light of the importance for any researches to provide clear definitions on the specific research concepts and key words, the first part of this essay will evolve on contextualizing the meaning of culture within Hofstede’s work, thus, giving ground to McSweeney’s relevant sources of criticism. Geert (1980) has defined culture as “the collective programming of the mind distinguishing the members of one group or category of people from another”. McSweeney essentially critiques Hofstede’s adoption of nations as means of cultural comparisons, scorning the territoriality uniqueness of culture in primis.
In regards to this issue, Hofstede in a second stage (2002: 1356) acknowledges that nations are not the ideal elements for studying cultures, yet this is the only way researchers could have access to comparable units. Predictably, thousands of other author’s contributions in regards to the definition of culture would make this argument even more complex. For the sake of this analysis, emphasis would be given to the arguments in regards to the research methodology. Research Reliability: Research Sample The first criticism which may arise is likely to involve the representativeness of Hofstede’s research sample.
In more details, he argues that 117,000 questionnaires for two surveys, covering 66 countries would be enough to ensure the research reliability. From my point of view, McSweeney’s critiques result founded when analysing the sampling framework in more details. CountryNumber of Respondents for Each Country Belgium, France, Great Britain, Germany, Japan and Sweden (6 countries)More than 1000 Chile, Columbia, Greece, Hong Kong, Iran, Ireland, Israel, New Zealand, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Turkey (15 countries)Less than 200 [Tab. 1] As it can be seen by the table (Tab. ), in 15 countries the sample size is composed by less than 200 respondents, which results to be extremely small compared to other countries with over 1000 respondents. To couple this argument, McSweeney discusses about the narrowness of the population surveyed as respondents were all IBM employees, mainly involved with the marketing and sales departments. Hofstede’s reply (2002), stating that this sample’s framework had only been used in order to isolate the national culture differences from both the organizational and occupational culture, seems however to give rise to other arguments.
As McSweeney’s (2002a: 95-99) argues, respondents’ cultural framework is made up by three non-interacting and durable levels of culture (Tab. 2). At the first level, the assumptions which would free this model from any shortcomings would be that there is only one IBM culture and that there is also a common worldwide occupational culture for each job (Hofstede 1980a: 181). What are these assumptions based on? According to McSweeney (2002a: 96), these assumptions are “too crude and implausible to underpin Hofstede’s emphatic empirical claims” .
Following the thread of his argument we come across a situation where assuming that an IBM employee, whether in a developed USA head office or a new opened branch office in Pakistan, will possess the same identical organizational and occupational culture does become hard to encompass. In response to this argument, Hofstede acknowledges that considerable differences exist at the “organizational level” (1991: 93), yet it redefines the entire organizational culture as a mere set of “shared perceptions of daily practices” (1991: 182-3), therefore distancing from the early-stage value-based definition.
According to McSweeney (2002b), this is only a failed attempt to deliver a straightforward concept and definition of organizational culture. Back to Culture Hofstede’s vision of culture is often linked to two different concepts, unique national tendency and central tendency, respectively. In the first case, as pointed out by McSweeney, the national uniformity which Hofstede claims to have found, results to have no valid grounds as it derives from a very specific micro-level (IBM).
Secondly, in regards to the claimed average tendency, the heterogeneity of questionnaires’ responses completely contradicts this conceptualization at the first place. As cited from Jacob (2005), “if exceptions to the rule are as numerous as the rule itself” to what extent could predictions based on that rule be reliable? In many countries, McSweeney argues, the typical IBM employee would at a high extent diverge from the general population.
That is to say that an IBM employee in Taiwan would not necessarily reflect Taiwan’s population average individual, especially when we are talking about someone who holds a managerial position in a multinational firm. This concept brings us to another aspect of McSweeney’s criticism (2002a:92), “culture treated as a mere epiphenomenon, completely casual”, as conceptualized by Hofstede, it would look like something which moves along the history “enduring”, yet it is not subject to radical changes due to fluctuating social, economic and institutional trends (Tab. 3). Questionnaire and Dimensions
Arguably, the questionnaire itself also presents some limitations. Firstly aimed to investigate the employees’ morale at IBM, it also resulted to reflect some values that, for Hofstede, could have been used to unveil the national cultural differences’ myth. Citing one of his research questions, “How long do you think you will continue working for this company? ”(1980 Appendix 1) , it is obviously clear there would be differences in whether this question is being asked in a country, say, the USA, with plentiful employment vacancies, or in a country, say Thailand where at the time of the research the unemployment rate was comparatively high.
Under these circumstances, it is extremely hard to assume that the respondents were not influenced by other social, political and institutional factors (See Tab. 3). Therefore, his research’s entire reliability could be easily questioned on this basis. Despite ensuring the confidentiality of respondents’ answers, employees’ foreknowledge of the end objective of the survey might have easily encouraged them to assume a more positive attitude in order to support their divisions’ reputation.
Arguably, the responses analysed by Hofstede were situationally restricted (McSweeney, 2002a: 107). In more details, the questions only reflected values related to the workplace, furthermore the surveys were exclusively directed within the workplace and were not tested in non-work place locations for both same respondents and others. In light of the first purpose of the questionnaire, it is spontaneous to raise a question in regards to the validity of the dimensions found by Hofstede.
Could it be possible that a specialized study in cultural differences would have delineated different dimensions? In his response, Hofstede acknowledged that, although there may be some other dimensions equally important for the structuring of a comparative cultural analysis, relative questions were simply not asked. McSweeney with reference to Triadis (1994) argues that bi-polar dimensions of national cultures should not be comprised of opposite poles (for example: Individualism – Collectivism), but depending on the situations they could coexist.
Under these principles, the work of Schwartz (1992) appears to give a comparatively dynamic dimensions’ disposition. History and Research Validations In the last section of his book, Hofstede (1980: 326- 331) includes some historical and contemporary events which he states would validate his research findings. However, McSweeney (2002b) argues that these stories reveal nothing but justifications, leaving out the basics for an accurate confirmation.
According to his analysis, Hosfstede’s assertion, “the more masculine a culture the more antagonistic are industrial relations, is flawed as the trends for working days lost in industrial disputes , in both Spain and the UK, result to vary enormously over time. In other words, we could argue that these fluctuations are highly influenced by political, economic and institutional changes. In the case of industrial relations’ disputes in Spain, after the death of Spanish dictator Franco in 1975, the level of working days was subject to a huge increase.
Hofstede’s findings have also been validated by other studies, reflecting the same national cultural differences . This is one of the reasons why Hofstede’s work has so far been used in many disciplines as pioneer of the cultural approach in the sphere of comparative international management. Under these circumstances, as Hofstede states (2002 p. 1358), it is just not all about faith in his research, but it is the willingness of the society to accept his work as something which could be taken to a step further.
In some cases, institutional factors, history, politics and economy do provide better explanations in this field, yet as Hofstede would argue, the cultural perspective does have his validity as it offers a complete different view on values embedded by people which do have an influence on their daily lives. Conclusion Arguably, some of Hofstede research framework’s features, especially the ones related to his research methodology, do present various shortcomings. However, the overall importance of cultural approach for national differences should be seen as undeniable (Koen, 2005).
Nevertheless, it is worth pointing out that after all, the main argument merely evolves on Hofstede’s claims to have “uncover[ed] the secrets of entire national cultures” (1980b: 44). Despite his book title narrowing the scope of its findings down to the work-place, “Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work-Place Values”, Hofstede, in many of his publications, seems to overestimate his findings. It is extremely important to acknowledge and appreciate the enormous contribution that Hofstede has made to the entire society’s understanding of international cultural differences.
On the other hand, it is also crucial to stay away from the “taken for granted” approach when coming across such a complex topic. As mentioned in the preface, etic and emic approach despite having a different vision on how to measure and analyse culture, they could still be seen as two complementarities which could be extensively used for a more thorough research. In addition, although admitting that limitations in research methodology do hamper the objectivity of findings, the etic approach still stands as the unique way to allow researchers to obtain comparable quantitative data.
I do also appreciate the contributions made by McSweeney, whose criticisms have enabled me to adopt a more critical line of thought in analysing this interesting topic. At some extent we could assume that Hofstede’s research is still a “work in progress”, eventually other advocates of the etic approach will take it to a more universal level, as some of other authors in this field have already done. I would like to conclude this essay with a quote from McSweeney (2002a: 90), when he states that Hofstede’s work could be dismissed as a misguided attempt to measure the unmeasurable .
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