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Models of cultural differences Essay

There are several different theories and models of cultural differences. Let us detect key dimensions that characterise different cultures. The work of Hall, Hofstede, Trompenaars and many others who study national cross-cultural differences has been invaluable in the area of cross-cultural studies. Edward Hall is a prominent cultural anthropologist. His theoretical framework includes a concept known as the context of culture or communication. Basically Hall argued that there is a continuum extending from a low to high degree of intense socialization within cultural groups.

Hall introduces five dimensions as follows: 1. Space: Different cultures have different attitudes towards space. Social distance varies by culture. He revealed that there are different spatial zones that cultures will use for communication. For example among those of Anglo-Saxon heritage, in the United States, there is an intimate zone that extends from 0 to 18 inches from a person. Only close relations will communicate this closely. However, some cultures prefer much closer contact. For example, in many Arab cultures contact is so close that individuals frequently can smell the breaths and odours. 2.

Material Goods: Such goods are used for power and status. 3. Friendship: Interpersonal relationships vary considerably across cultures. 4. Time: Linear time cultures take time and deadlines very seriously, in a very rationalist sense. Time is structured, sequential and linear. Hall distinguished between monochronic and polychronic time. Monochronic people and cultures prefer focusing on a single task at a time, and completing one task before beginning another. Polychronic cultures have the ability to focus on multiple priorities simultaneously. 5. Agreement: Expressing agreement and disagreement varies by culture.

In some cultures the detailed written contract is essential to agreement, while in others a handshake is sufficient. An interesting study highlighting cultural orientations toward time was completed by Trompenaars. The point of that study was to determine time orientation of different cultures. This national study on time orientation revealed that countries such as Germany and the United States were primarily present and future oriented. Conversely, France was found to be much more focused on the past. Trompenaars develops his parameters of national cultures in such pair oppositions:

1. Universalism – Particularism: The universalist approach means that what is good and right applies everywhere, while the particularist emphasises the obligations of relationships. 2. Collectivism – Individualism: that indicates the relative closeness of the relationship between social group members. 3. Neutral – Emotional: Some cultures are affective in that they show emotions while others are neutral, control and subdue their emotions. 4. Specific – Diffuse: In specific oriented cultures the manager separates the work relationships with subordinates from other dealings with them.

5. Status: While some cultures give status on the basis of achievement, others ascribe it on the basis of age, class, gender, education, etc. 6. Sequential – Synchronic: In the former cultures time is treated as a sequence of events while on later cultures a number of events are juggled at the same time. 7. Inner-Directed – Outer-Directed: The former cultures believe that they can and should control nature while the later go along with nature. Hofstede (1991) defines culture as mental programming or the software of the mind.

Hofstede identifies five national culture dimensions as follows (Hofstede, 1980), (Hofstede, 1991): 1. Power Distance that is the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organisations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally. 2. Individualism-Collectivism that indicates the relative closeness of the relationship between team members. 3. Masculinity-Femininity that identifies the sexuality of roles in society and the degree to which a society allows overlap between the roles of men and women. 4.

Uncertainty Avoidance that is the extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by uncertain or unknown situations. 5. Long-term Orientation that is based on values of Confucianism showing to what degree do people value the future versus the past or present. The advantages of Hofstede’s dimensions include the fact that they are founded on outstanding psychological and sociological theories within the American and European traditions that are over 100 years old; they are empirically derived; they allow us to rank order nations on each dimension; and they are readily understandable by managers and students.

While Hofstede’s dimensions provide an effective general approach for comparing the cultures of nations, they are not grounded to specific nations. His dimensions are designed to be culture-general rather than culture-specific. Moreover, Hofstede results are often hard to remember and difficult to use in daily cultural interactions. All of the above models are quite useful and have several strengths. However there are also some points of concern; some weakness that should be identified with respect to each model separately.

Hall’s model is built on qualitative insights rather than quantitative data and does not rank different countries. Hofstede’s work has such main problems like it assumes that national territory corresponds to culture limits, omitting existing cultural non-uniformity in various countries included in the survey, or some of the dimensions effects overlap such as the small power distance characteristics with the feminine ones.

For Trompenaars’ model the main problem is that the pool of informants is vaguely defined and lacks homogeneity, therefore the comparisons that are made between cultures are imprecise. References: Hall, E. T. & Hall, M. R. 1990 Understanding Cultural Differences, Intercultural Press. Hofstede, G. 1980 Cultures Consequences, Sage. Hofstede, G. 1991 Cultures and Organisations, McGraw-Hill. Trompenaars, F. 1993 Riding the Waves of Culture, Nicholas Brealey.

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