Factores Culturales de Hofstede

Culture & Management

Defining the concept of culture with a single definition would be to try to reduce its real meaning to a very limited set of parameters. Looking at the roots of the original formation of a word, sometimes, helps to understand the original idea of the semantic meaning of such term. The word culture, from the Latin “colere”, originally meant to build, to care for, to plant, or to cultivate. What all of these actions have in common is that they are related to the humankind managing its environment. Currently, it might still have some relation to how human manage its environment. However, only looking at the roots is not enough to understand the modern meaning of the term. The concept of culture today has evolved from meaning some actions related to the environment to a concept that relates to common characteristics between groups of people.

In the current business and management research, a number of authors define more specific parameters to the meaning of culture and try to understand its application into a modern international world setting. One of the main definitions used in the international management research ground has been given by the Dutch anthropologist Geert Hofstede (1980, 1991), who defines culture as “the collective metal programming of the people of any particular nationality”. Hofstede (1980) suggests that people share a collective national character which represents their cultural mental programming. This mental programming shapes the values, attitudes, competences, behaviours, and perceptions of priority of that nationality.

Looking now to a different author, another way of defining culture is to be “a fuzzy set of attitudes, beliefs, behavioural norms and basic assumptions and values that are shared by a group of people and that influence each member’s behaviour and his foe interpretation of the meaning of other people’s behaviour (Spencer-Oatey, 2000, p4)”. Additionally, one of the important factors that weight in culture is that these set of tendencies are argued to be passed through generations in the group values and ways of perceiving and approaching the environment (Triandis, 1972). According to the aforementioned definitions, and now trying to capture some of their meaning in conjunction, it could be considered that the way in which a cultural group evolves can be more or less stable on their characteristics.

Still defining and trying to understand the meaning of the term culture, it is important to look at the components of the concept. Important components that need to be emphasised are on one side at the invisible level, which is formed by the values and beliefs. On the other side, at the visible level there is the behaviour consequent of this values (as stated in Dahl, 1998). These two levels can be more specifically classified as cognitive, the invisible values and believes, and behavioural level, the actual visible behaviour. Both, cognitive and the behavioural levels will be an important part on influencing groups life styles and tendencies.

Looking at these definitions, and now trying to capture a resumed meaning, culture could be generally considered a group tendency towards certain characteristics at both, cognitive and behavioural level.

Despite being able to find a number of slightly different definitions of the term by other very well respected authors, for the purposes of this study, these aforementioned definitions completely capture the sense of the cultural framework that will be used for the future analysis. Still is important to remark that despite in both definitions there is a common conception of culture being related to characteristics shared by a group of population, the first mentioned definition also remarks the national bounding of culture. Therefore, as the focus of this research project is on national culture, it will be Hofstede’s (1980, 1991) approach to culture the one that will be principally followed, thought is important not to forget that culture as a whole concept has a much broader meaning of what a sentence can capture on parametric words.

Categorising & Measuring Culture

In the way that culture has been defined in the previous heading, it is a concept that can bind many different size groups of population or on the other hand these groups can be clustered according to several different criteria, depending of the cultural parameters. For instance we can talk about Mediterranean culture, or more specifically Spanish, Italian or Greek culture.

There are many ways in which human groups can get to share the aforementioned characteristics to be called culture. However, as aforementioned, for the purposes of this study, culture will be studied at the national level; always acknowledging that smaller or bigger groups than nations can share cultural cognitive and behavioural characteristics. Furthering now the intentions of the selected national approach to culture, it is important to be aware that these cultural characteristics cannot be reliably applied to predict individual behaviour. Nevertheless, it should be reliably applied to find national group patterns of behaviour. At the time of using cultural measures for cultural groups, nations in this project, it is very important to point out that using data from one level of analysis such as the culture level of analysis at another level of analysis such as the individual level would be inappropriate. This type of error is labelled an “ecological fallacy” by Hofstede, (1980, 1991).

Different authors have largely researched the factors and aspects with which cultures can be categorised and measured. Within the most important authors who have performed these types of cultural analysis we can find Hall [1960, 1976, 1990] who differentiates between high context and low context cultures. Firstly, it is important to mention that this author, more than measuring culture is categorising cultures by types. From this categorical approach, it can be argued that if cultures can be defined by types, the categorisation can be used as a reason to justify that those cultural parameters can be determined and measured. In this case, “context” is defined in terms of how individuals and their society seek information and knowledge through life. According to Hall, all «information transaction» can be characterised as high, low or middle context. «High context transactions feature pre-programmed information that is in the receiver and in the setting, with only minimal information in the transmitted message. Low context transactions are the reverse. Therefore, most of the information must be in the transmitted message in order to make up for what is missing in the context (Hall, 1976, p.101)».

Another of the very important cultural studies it was published by Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (1997), who classified cultures along a mix of behavioural and value patterns. However, their research does not focus on the general population; instead it does focus on the cultural dimensions of business executives. The cultural dimensions that were identified on this study were Universalism versus Particularism; Communitarianism versus Individualism; Neutral versus Emotional; Defuse versus Specific Cultures; Achievement versus Ascription; Human-Time Relationship; and Human-Nature relationship (for a further explanation of these dimensions see Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner, 1997).

Looking at the aforementioned cultural classification, they can be used to support the argument that there are noticeable differences on characteristics between cultures. As well as the mentioned authors and studies there are other important cultural studies which could also be used in order to support the argument (see Schwartz, 1992 & 1994 or Fukuyama, 1995). Nevertheless, due to the space limitations of this project can not be further explained on this paper. Therefore let’s jump into the specific cultural measurement that will be used to the aim of this study.

Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Model

At the time of measuring culture for research purposes, Hofstede’s (1980) cultural framework has attained the greatest attention from business scholars in the recent years, and its well established and widely applied in international business research (Sivakumar and Nakata, 2001).

Hofstede [1980, 1991] proposes that national culture and values, as they affect the work environment and its management, could be categorised on the basis of four variables which Hofstede (1980) defines as follows:

Power Distance Index (PDI) focuses on the degree of equality, or inequality, between people in the country’s society. A “High” Power Distance ranking indicates that inequalities of power and wealth have been allowed to grow within the society. These societies are more likely to follow a caste system that does not allow significant upward mobility of its citizens. A “Low” Power Distance ranking indicates the society de-emphasizes the differences between citizen’s power and wealth. In these societies equality and opportunity for everyone is stressed.

Individualism (IDV) focuses on the degree the society reinforces individual or collective achievement and interpersonal relationships. A “High” Individualism ranking indicates that individuality and individual rights are paramount within the society. Individuals in these societies may tend to form a larger number of looser relationships. A “Low” Individualism ranking typifies societies of a more collectivist nature with close ties between individuals. These cultures reinforce extended families and collectives where everyone takes responsibility for fellow members of their group.

Masculinity (MAS) focuses on the degree the society reinforces, or does not reinforce, the traditional masculine work role model of male achievement, control, and power. A “High” Masculinity ranking indicates the country experiences a high degree of gender differentiation. In these cultures, males dominate a significant portion of the society and power structure, with females being controlled by male domination. A “Low” Masculinity ranking indicates the country has a low level of differentiation and discrimination between genders. In these cultures, females are treated equally to males in all aspects of the society.

Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) focuses on the level of tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity within the society – i.e. unstructured situations. A “High” Uncertainty Avoidance ranking indicates the country has a low tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity. This creates a rule-oriented society that institutes laws, rules, regulations, and controls in order to reduce the amount of uncertainty. A “Low” Uncertainty Avoidance ranking indicates the country has less concern about ambiguity and uncertainty and has more tolerance for a variety of opinions. This is reflected in a society that is less rule-oriented, more readily accepts change, and takes more and greater risks.

In further work from Hofstede (1994) long term orientation (LTO) has also been measured and included within the cultural dimensions. However, it will not be used for this study since data has not been provided for all the countries which will be measured in this paper.


            Instituto Humanista PsicoScioLogía

            Francisco Balanza Miura, Psicólogo.

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