I spent the last 3 days with Prof Geert Hofstede in Finland. He is 82 years old and still passionate and excited about his work. He is the 4th most cited Social Scientist of all time (and the only one of the top 5 that is still alive). His major contribution has been in the area of culture.
What is Culture?
Geert Hofstede defines it as “the collective programming of the mind distinguishing the members of one group or category of people from another”. The “category” can refer to nations, regions within or across nations, ethnicities, religions, occupations, organizations, or the genders.
The 6 dimensions of National Culture
(from Geert Hofstede)
Power Distance (PDI)
Power distance is the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. This represents inequality (more versus less), but defined from below, not from above.
Individualism on the one side versus its opposite, collectivism, is the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups. On the individualist side we find societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after her/himself and her/his immediate family. On the collectivist side, we find societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, often extended families (with uncles, aunts and grandparents) which continue protecting them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.
Masculinity versus its opposite, femininity, refers to the distribution of emotional roles between the genders which is another fundamental issue for any society to which a range of solutions are found. The assertive pole has been called masculine and the modest, caring pole feminine. The women in feminine countries have the same modest, caring values as the men; in the masculine countries they are more assertive and more competitive, but not as much as the men, so that these countries show a gap between men’s values and women’s values.
Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI)
Uncertainty avoidance deals with a society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity. It indicates to what extent a culture programs its members to feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured situations. Unstructured situations are novel, unknown, surprising, different from usual. Uncertainty avoiding cultures try to minimize the possibility of such situations by strict laws and rules, safety and security measures, and on the philosophical and religious level by a belief in absolute Truth: “there can only be one Truth and we have it”. The opposite type, uncertainty accepting cultures, are more tolerant of opinions different from what they are used to; they try to have as few rules as possible, and on the philosophical and religious level they are relativist and allow many currents to flow side by side.
Long-Term Orientation (LTO)
Long- term oriented societies foster pragmatic virtues oriented towards future rewards, in particular saving, persistence, and adapting to changing circumstances. Short-term oriented societies foster virtues related to the past and present such as national pride, respect for tradition, preservation of “face”, and fulfilling social obligations.
Indulgence versus Restraint (IVR)
Indulgence stands for a society that allows relatively free gratification of basic and natural human drives related to enjoying life and having fun. Restraint stands for a society that suppresses gratification of needs and regulates it by means of strict social norms.
This is a sample of the values on these 6 dimension for a range of countries. The full list of countries is available as an excel download here.
I lived in Ireland til I was 14, then USA til 16, then London til 18. We spoke the same language in each place, but it took a year or so until I really understood the kids and teachers around me. The explicit stuff is easy, it is the implicit, assumed stuff that is really dangerous in creating misunderstanding.