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definitions of culture

characteristics of culture

cultural dimensions – Hofstede G

- Hall E., T.

- Schwartz etc.

stereotypes (European culture versus Japanese culture)

business protocol


short overview of the main concepts and theories in intercultural and cross-cultural communication,

providing a brief introduction into the field of empirical research into culture-based value variations

providing a short outline of the major works in this area (e.g. the works of Hall, Hofstede, Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner, Dahl and Schwartz).

culture is an abstract entity which involves a number of usually man-made, collective and shared artefacts, behavioural patterns, values or other concepts which taken together form the culture as a whole.

The word ‘culture’ is often used loosely in everyday language to describe a number of quite distinct concepts; for example, the word is often used to describe concepts such as :

organisational culture’ as well as ‘arts and culture

involves a number of usually man-made, collective and shared artefacts, behavioural patterns, values or other concepts which taken together form the culture as a whole.

For example,

people in an organisation are said to “share the organisational culture” – yet, at the same time, they define the organisational culture.

Historically, the word derives from the Latin word ‘colere’, which could be translated as

to build’, ‘to care for’, ‘to plant’ or ‘to cultivate’. Thus ‘culture’ usually referred to something that is derived from, or created by the intervention of humans – ‘culture’ is cultivated.

The word ‘culture’ is often used to describe:

something refined, especially ‘high culture’, or describing the concept of selected, valuable and cultivated artefacts of a society. (Dahl, 1998, 2000)

On a more basic level, ‘culture’ has been used to describe:

the modus operandi of a group of people, such as implied by organisational culture.

A company can be said, for example, to have a ‘highly competitive culture’ thus implying that

competitiveness is valued highly within that company,

it forms a core value within the company as a whole.

competitiveness’ is a shared value among those people working in that company.

the company as a whole will behave very competitively in the way it is conducting its business.

Thus the concept describes both the underlying value as well as the behaviour that can be observed.

the concept does not necessarily imply that all employees share the same value to the same degree, but it does imply that the employees will be more likely to share the common value, and express it, if not necessarily individually, then collectively

On a broader scale, Triandis introduced the concept of

subjective culture”, or a 'characteristic way of perceiving its social environment' (Triandis, 1972, p. viii) common to a culture.

Based on these perceptions, and what has been perceived to work well in the past, values are passed on from generation to generation


Hofstede’s cultural dimensions

The most famous and most often cited work in this area is the research by the Dutch organisational anthropologist Hofstede.

Hofstede derived his culture dimensions from examining work-related values in employees of IBM during the 1970s. In his original work he divides culture into four dimensions at culture-level:

power distance,

individualism /collectivism,


uncertainty avoidance.

powerful members of institutions and organisations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally'. (Hofstede, 1994, p. 28)


The concept is one of the most frequently discussed and researched concepts. Hofstede defines this dimension as: 'individualism pertains to societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after himself or herself and his or her immediate family. Collectivism as its opposite pertains to societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, which throughout people's lifetime continue to protect them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.' (Hofstede, 1994, p. 51)


'masculinity pertains to societies in which social gender roles are clearly distinct (i.e., men are supposed to be assertive, tough, and focused on material success whereas women are supposed to be more modest, tender, and concerned with the quality of life); femininity pertains to societies in which social gender roles overlap (i.e., both men and women are supposed be modest, tender, and concerned with the quality of life).' (Hofstede, 1994, p. 82-3)

Uncertainty avoidance is the final dimension present in Hofstede's original work. 'the extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by uncertain or unknown situations.' (Hofstede, 1994, p. 113)

This dimension is fairly easily grasped, and can often be seen reflected in business negotiations.

In his later work, Hofstede (1991) introduces a fifth dimension.

The long-term orientation dimension is the result of his co-operation with Michael Bond, who links this dimension to the work of Confucius.

Hofstede describes long-term orientation as characterised by persistence, ordering relationships by status and observing this order and having a sense of shame, whereas short-term orientation is characterised by personal steadiness and stability, protecting your 'face”, respect for tradition and reciprocation of greetings, favours, and gifts.

Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner

Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (1997) classified cultures along a mix of behavioural and value patterns.

Their research focuses on the cultural dimensions of business executives.

In their book 'Riding The Waves of Culture' (1997), Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner identify seven value orientations. Some of these value orientations can be regarded as nearly identical to Hofstede's dimensions. Others offer a somewhat different perspective.

The seven value dimensions identified were:

Universalism versus particularism

- Communitarianism versus individualism

- Neutral versus emotional

- Defuse versus specific cultures

- Achievement versus ascription (atributii)

- Human-time relationship and

- Human-nature relationship

Shalom Schwartz

A different approach to finding (cultural) value differences has been taken by Shalom Schwartz (1992, 1994).

Using his “SVI” (Schwartz Value Inventory), Schwartz did not ask for preferred outcomes, but asked respondents to assess 57 values as to how important they felt these values are as “guiding principles of one’s life”.

Schwartz’s work is separated into an individual-level analysis and a culture-level analysis, a major difference compared to the works of Hofstede and Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner who sometimes fail to clearly distinguish between the two levels, although generally claim to work at the culture-level.

Schwartz distinguishes between value types and value dimensions.

A value type is generally a set of values that can conceptually be combined into one meaningful description, such as egalitarian commitment at the culture level. Values located in that value-type have other values that are located at the opposite, or in the opposing value type. In the case of egalitarian commitment, this would be hierarchy at the culture-level. Together these two value types form the value dimension of ‘egalitarian commitment versus hierarchy’.

From data collected in 63 countries, with more than 60,000 individuals taking part, Schwartz derived a total of 10 distinct value types











at an individual-level analysis

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