Theories of Culture in Human Relations Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1939 words)  ·  Style: APA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Level: College Sophomore  ·  Topic: Anthropology

¶ … Culture in Human Relations

In his attempt to argue the importance of culture in human relations, Geert Hofstede (2005) resorts to the following introductory paragraph for the first chapter of his book Culture and Organizations. Software of the Mind:

11th juror: (rising) "I beg pardon, in discussing..."

10th juror: (interrupting and mimicking) "I beg pardon. What are you so goddam polite about?"

11th juror: (looking straight at the 10th juror) "For the same reason you're not. it's the way I was brought up." (Reginald Rose, Twelve Angry Men, 1955)

The dialogue above takes place between a garage owner (10th juror) and a European born watchmaker (11th juror) in the context of having to reach a unanimous verdict regarding the innocence of a boy accused of murder. The scene occurs in a New York court of law, within the frame of an emotional background that has reached its climax (Hofstede & Hofstede, 2005).

Consequently, Hofstede (2005) makes use of the fragment from Rose's play for building his theory of culture as mental programming. According to him, every individual subscribes to a "pattern of thinking, feeling, and acting" that is acquired in early childhood and later shaped by interacting with family members, neighbors or colleagues (i.e. The social environment to which he/she belongs). Moreover, the Dutch sociologist asserts that once acquired, such patterns become solid 'programs' that dictate humans' behavior, emotions and thoughts and, therefore, must be 'unlearned' in order to make room for learning new things. Thus, culture seen as "software of the mind" is defined by Hofstede as "the programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from others." Hence, such patterns are said to be collective and learned during lifetime. They derive neither from the human nature which is universal and inherited, nor from an individual's personality which is specific to each human being and is shaped as a result of both learning and genetic inheritance.

A major part of Hofstede's conclusions have been drawn after conducting two surveys (1968-1969, 1971-1973) within the IBM subsidiaries in 66 countries. The questionnaires that were administered aimed at detecting the interviewees' values defined as "broad tendencies to prefer certain states of affairs over others," values considered by the Dutch sociologist to be the "core element in culture." (Hofstede cited in McSweeney, 2002).

As a result of corroborating the answers obtained and some additional data, Hofstede identified five major cultural dimensions: power distance index, individualism vs. collectivism, masculinity vs. feminity, uncertainty avoidance index and long-term vs. short-term orientation (http://www.geert-hofstede.com).

The power distance index emphasizes the extent to which the "weaker" part of a society consents to or expects the unequal distribution of power.

Individualism vs. collectivism is a cultural dimension which stresses the importance that members attribute to personal goals. Hence, within individualist societies, personal goals prevail over collective goals while, within collectivist cultures, the vice-versa is true.

Masculinity vs. feminity refers to role distribution between genders. Thus, the masculine cultures appear as "assertive and competitive" while the feminine ones look "modest and caring."

Uncertainty avoidance index indicates the degree to which risk is tolerated among the members of a culture. Under these circumstances, Hofstede draws a line between uncertainty avoiding cultures to which rules, laws, and security measures are vital and uncertainty accepting cultures whose appetite for regulations is low but which prove to be more tolerant of others' points-of-view.

Term orientation is another dimension that depicts the time horizon that a culture embraces or the perspective that a culture has on its future in comparison with its present or past. According to this criterion, cultures fall into two categories: long-term orientated (that are thrifty and perseverant) and short-term orientated (that are more preoccupied with obeying social conventions, preserving traditions and not losing face).

Despite being used for characterizing cultures from all over the world, the five dimensions were criticized out of several reasons.

First of all, the average number of questionnaires administered per country is considered to be too insignificant for leading to a general conclusion. For example, the number of respondents exceeded 1000 in only six countries while 15 countries reported a number of respondents well below 200. As an edifying example, one could mention Pakistan where the first survey addressed 37 employees and the second one targeted 70 employees (McSweeney, 2002).

Secondly, Hofstede's conclusions are rooted in the data collected from 40 countries even though the questionnaires were administered in 66 countries (McSweeney, 2002).

Thirdly, the population included in the survey belonged to a single company - IBM, encompassed mainly marketing and sales managers and displayed several atypical characteristics as a result of international trainings, middle class recruitment pool, frequent contacts between subsidiaries and headquarters, an impressive number of young managers and so forth (McSweeney, 2002).

Yet, Hofstede's major sin that criticisms bring into the limelight is the synonymy that he establishes between culture and nation and the assumption that a national culture's traits are common to all its members (McSweeney, 2002). To conclude with, he generalizes hypotheses by ignoring the specific of numerous subcultures which make up the whole.

Another leading theorist who pointed out the importance of culture was Franz Boas, the father of the American anthropology and the author of the cultural relativism theory. The latter expressed Boas's point-of-view according to which the beliefs, values and actions of an individual should be interpreted within the frame of the culture to which he/she belongs (http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Cultural+relativism).

The epistemological origins of the theory above (which received the title 'cultural relativism' only after the death of its author, in 1942) can be discovered in the German Enlightment (http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Cultural+relativism).

One of the most prominent promoters of such thesis was Immanuel Kant who claimed that people were incapable of assimilating direct knowledge due to the human mind that acted as mediator and universally categorized experiences.

Later, Kant's student, Herder stressed out that experiences were also filtered through particular cultural structures and for backing up his assertion, he invoked the human creativity underpinned by the diverse national cultures.

Sociologist Sumner took these statements further and concluded that the culture to which an individual belonged limited his/her perceptions. As a result of such rationale, he presented ethnocentrism or the tendency of a group to believe that it was the touchstone against which all the other groups were evaluated.

Consequently, it was on these inferences that Boas and his students built the cultural relativism theory.

Moreover, due to the fact that each person's beliefs and actions should be interpreted according to his/her own culture led the anthropologist to the following conclusion: for accurately describing a different culture, scientists should live among its members for a significant period of time in order to learn their language and customs (http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Cultural+relativism).

To sum up, cultural relativism states that "there are no universal moral standards" but that people acting according to moral standards is a "universal" (Kluckhohn cited on (http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Cultural+relativism).

The main criticism that was brought to the theory above referred to the fact that nothing was seen as absolute or, better said, that 'nothing meant nothing'. One of the persons who best expressed reticence toward relativism was Wattenberg who, during his Think Tank show, asked the following question: "Can you say that the Aztec society that sacrificed 13-year-old virgins and tore their heart out on a funeral pyre is the same as Middletown, USA?." Yet, his skepticism faded away when one of the guests evoked "mustard filled gas trenches of WWII," crusades and other similar examples in the European history (http://www.pbs.org/thinktank/transcript920.html).

On the other hand, an additional criticism of Boas's theory could refer to his idea of depicting a culture after living among its members. In this context, one could resort to Hofstede's belief that it takes a long time for an individual to unlearn his old patterns and learn new ones. Moreover, Edward Said (1979) offers a pertinent point-of-view in his masterpiece Orientalism. According to him, people draw a line between their land and the "land of barbarians" (i.e. those belonging to a different culture) and scientists who 'invade' the latter territory are unable to give up the beliefs, values, and norms that are characteristic to their own culture. In other words, they continue to see the others as 'barbarians' who are valuable only because they are subject to their research. Consequently, they have a natural tendency to look down upon those displaying different features.

Another theorist who studied the implications of culture in human relations (and, especially, psychology) was Harry Triandis who claimed, together with H. Markus and S. Kitayama, that "shared values of social groups play key roles in individuals' cognitive, emotional, and social functioning." (Cooper, Denner, 1998).

In this context, one of his main concerns was the Individualism-Collectivism theory in which he stated that the discrepancies between individualist and collectivist cultures were due to the different perspectives on goals, self and duty. Thus, he argued that for a collectivist pattern (in the light of which all members are closely linked to each other), group goals… [END OF PREVIEW]

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