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Geert Hofstede is an influential Dutch expert on the interactions between national cultures and organizational cultures, and is an author of several books including Culture's Consequences (2nd, fully revised edition, 2001) and Cultures and Organizations, Software of the Mind (2nd, revised edition 2005, with Gert Jan Hofstede).
Hofstede demonstrated that there are national and regional cultural groupings that affect the behaviour of organisations, and that are very persistent across time.
Hofstede's Framework for Assessing Culture[edit | edit source]
Hofstede has found five dimensions of culture in his study of national work related values. Replication studies have yielded very similar results, pointing to stability of the dimensions across time. They are:
- Small vs. large power distance
- Main article: Power distance
-This measures how much the less powerful members of institutions and organizations expect and accept that power is distributed unequally. In cultures with small power distance (e.g. Ireland, Austria, Australia, Denmark, New Zealand), people expect and accept power relations that are more consultative or democratic. People relate to one another more as equals regardless of formal positions. Subordinates are more comfortable with and demand the right to contribute to and critique the decisions of those in power. In cultures with large power distance (e.g. Malaysia), the less powerful accept power relations that are autocratic or paternalistic. Subordinates acknowledge the power of others based on their formal, hierarchical positions. Thus, Small vs. Large Power Distance does not measure or attempt to measure a culture's objective, "real" power distribution, but rather the way people perceive power differences.
- Individualism vs. collectivism - This dimension measures how much members of the culture define themselves apart from their group memberships. In individualist cultures, people are expected to develop and display their individual personalities and to choose their own affiliations. In collectivist cultures, people are defined and act mostly as a member of a long-term group, such as the family, a religious group, an age cohort, a town, or a profession, among others. This dimension was found to move towards the individualist end of the spectrum with increasing national wealth.
- Masculinity vs. femininity - This dimension measures the value placed on traditionally male or female values (as understood in most Western cultures). In so-called 'masculine' cultures, people (whether male or female) value competitiveness, assertiveness, ambition, and the accumulation of wealth and material possessions. In so-called 'feminine' cultures, people ( whether male or female)value relationships and quality of life. This dimension is often renamed by users of Hofstede's work, e.g. to Quantity of Life vs. Quality of Life. Another reading of the same dimension holds that in 'M' cultures, the differences between gender roles are more dramatic and less fluid than in 'F' cultures; but this strongly depends on other dimensions as well.
- Weak vs. strong uncertainty avoidance - This dimension measures how much members of a society are anxious about the unknown, and as a consequence, attempt to cope with anxiety by minimizing uncertainty. In cultures with strong uncertainty avoidance, people prefer explicit rules (e.g. about religion and food) and formally structured activities, and employees tend to remain longer with their present employer. In cultures with weak uncertainty avoidance, people prefer implicit or flexible rules or guidelines and informal activities. Employees tend to change employers more frequently.
Michael Harris Bond and his collaborators subsequently found a fifth dimension which was initially called Confucian dynamism. Hofstede later incorporated this into his framework as:
- Long vs. short term orientation - This dimension describes a society's "time horizon," or the importance attached to the future versus the past and present. In long term oriented societies, people value actions and attitudes that affect the future: persistence/perseverance, thrift, and shame. In short term oriented societies, people value actions and attitudes that are affected by the past or the present: normative statements, immediate stability, protecting one's own face, respect for tradition, and reciprocation of greetings, favors, and gifts.
These cultural differences describe averages or tendencies and not characteristics of individuals. A Japanese person for example can have a very low 'uncertainty avoidance' compared to a Filipino person even though their 'national' cultures point strongly in a different direction. Consequently, a country's scores should not be interpreted as deterministic.
Criticism[edit | edit source]
Hofstede's conceptualization of culture as static and essential has attracted some criticism. In a recent article in the Academy of Management's flagship journal, The Academy of Management Review, Galit Ailon deconstructs Hofstede's book Culture's Consequences by mirroring it against its own assumptions and logic. Ailon finds several inconsistencies at the level of both theory and methodology and cautions against an uncritical reading of Hofstede's cultural dimensions.
Hofstede's work has also been criticized by researchers who think that he identifies cultures with nations based on the supposition that within each nation there is a uniform national culture, a suggestion explicitly denied by Hofstede himself in chapter 1 of 'Cultures and Organizations'. In modern times, with ever-increasing international mobility, the growing acceptance of, for example, grounded theory and inductive approaches, Hofstede's ideas are seen as essentialist and reductionist by some. Furthermore, the quote at the top of his homepage, 'Culture is more often a source of conflict than of synergy. Cultural differences are a nuisance at best and often a disaster', is seen by some as 'illustrating the blinkered views he holds about the benefits of intercultural flows, and the obvious point that cultural phenomena have been swapped, adopted, adapted, imposed, for millennia and are arguably part or a macro-evolutionary process'. One wonders why, since this point is explicitly made by Hofstede all through his books. according to Hofstede, the point about culture is precisely its resilience to change in spite of all this flux. 
Uncertainty avoidance[edit | edit source]
Uncertainty avoidance measures a nation's preference for strict laws and regulations over ambiguity and risk. According the Hofstede's research, Greece is the most risk-averse culture, and Singapore the least.
Protestant and Chinese culture countries rank relatively low; Catholic, Buddhist, and Arabic countries tend to score high in uncertainty avoidance. Ironically, high uncertainty avoidance cultures tend to have a less efficient infrastructure than low uncertainty avoidance cultures.
Some characteristics of a low uncertainty avoidance culture:
- Typically the country is newer or more recently settled (but not always, as in the case of China).
- The population tends to be ethnically diverse.
- Risk is valued in business (i.e. U.S.A.)
- Frequent innovations.
- Citizens are proud of the nation.
- Foreigners or minorities are encouraged to assimilate.
- Examples: U.S.A., Singapore, Jamaica, Ireland, Sweden, China
Some characteristics of a culture high in uncertainty avoidance:
- Generally older countries/cultures with a long history.
- The population is more ethnically homogeneous.
- Risk is avoided in business (i.e. Germany)
- Low tolerance for innovation, prefer to stick to traditional routines.
- Citizens are often critical of their own nation.
- People tend to be more superstitious.
- Smoking is more common. 
- Higher maximum speed limits and a higher rate of motor vehicle accidents.
- Xenophobia is common and foreigners/minorities tend to be ostracized.
- Examples: Greece, Portugal, Japan, Israel, Spain, Latin America
Given the characteristics known to be associated with uncertainty avoiding societies, this dimension could also be conceptualized more broadly as "cultural paranoia" versus "cultural trust."
See also[edit | edit source]
- cross-cultural communication
- culture shock
- Emotions and Culture
- National character studies
- Fons Trompenaars
- Edward T. Hall
Other cultural indexes:
Publications[edit | edit source]
Articles[edit | edit source]
- Hofstede, Geert (July 1978). The Poverty of Management Control Philosophy. The Academy of Management Review 3 (3): 450–461.
[edit | edit source]
- His homepage: http://www.geerthofstede.nl
- A training institute based on his work and actively supported by him http://www.itim.org
- His C.V.: http://www.itim.org/cv_geert.html
- Information on cultural dimensions: http://stephan.dahl.at/intercultural/Hofstede_dimensions.html
- Hofstede's cultural dimensions World maps of Geert Hofstede's 5 cultural dimensions
- http://web.archive.org/web/20031016135525/http://www.it.murdoch.edu.au/~sudweeks/b329/readings/mcsweeney.doc (essay criticizing the supposed finding of cultural dimensions)
- International Business Cultures: http://www.via-web.de
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- Ailon, G. (2008). Mirror, mirror on the wall: Culture's Consequences in a value test of its own design. The Academy of Management Review, 33(4):885-904
- McSweeney, Brendan (January 2002). Hofstede's Model Of National Cultural Differences And Their Consequences: A Triumph Of Faith - A Failure Of Analysis. Human Relations 55 (1): 89–118.