Dimensions to measure cultural differences

Various perspectives have been advanced on how culture should be identified and measured. One of these perspectives was provided by a Dutch researcher – Geert Hofstede – who breaks down culture into five components (dimensions) namely: power distance, individualism versus collectivism, masculinity versus femininity, uncertainty avoidance, and long-term versus short-term orientation (Itim International 2009). The power distance – measured as an index (PDI) – indicates the extent to which those at lower “power” positions in organizations and institutions such as the family “accept and expect that power is distributed unequally” – hence denotes the inequality in power as viewed from below (Itim International, 2009). Individualism versus collectivism on the other hand indicates the degree of individual integration into groups. For individualistic communities the social ties are loose and thus each individual is more likely to be independent unlike for collective societies where individuals bear some responsibility towards one another (Itim International 2009). Masculinity versus femininity relates to how genders factor into the distribution of various roles whereas uncertainty avoidance index is a measure of how tolerant the society is for ambiguity hence their quest find out the truth (Itim International 2009). Finally the differences in culture between different societies according to Hofstede may be attributed either to long-term orientation (e.g. perseverance and having a sense of shame) or short-term orientation – such as protecting ones face and respect for tradition (Itim International 2009).

Hofstede’s perspective is however not the only school of thought that has attracted attention. An equally compelling perspective on culture measurement was provided by fellow Dutch, Fons Trompenaars, with the support of a British philosopher – Hampden-Turner. Though some of their dimensions bear some semblance to Hofstede’s; others offer new perspectives on culture measurement. The identified attributes by Trompenaars were: universalism versus particularism, communitarianism versus individualism, neutral versus emotional, diffuse versus specific, achievement versus ascription, human-time relationship and human-nature relationship (Bhagat & Steers 2009). Whereas in universalistic cultures people view ideas and practices to be unanimous in the entire globe hence focusing more on rules; particularistic communities view application of ideas practices to be determined by the prevailing circumstances hence focus more on establishing relationships (Bhagat & Steers 2009). Individualism-communitarianism on the other hand focuses on the degree to which individuals attain their identity – either within themselves (individualism) or from groups [communitarianism] (Bhagat & Steers 2009). In regard to neutral verses emotional dimension the culture could either allow free expression of emotions in public (emotional) or not allow such [neutral] (Bhagat & Steers 2009). Trompenaars also noted that people could either have distinct separation of roles according to the culture (specific) or such roles could be integrated [diffuse] (Bhagat & Steers 2009).

Another observation was that different societies differed in relation to how people are accorded respect and status. Whereas for achievement oriented societies respect is earned through accomplishments for ascription oriented cultures such respect could arise out of inheritance (Bhagat & Steers 2009). Culture also differs on how individuals relate their daily activities to time either by focusing on past achievements or on future possibilities (Bhagat & Steers 2009). Finally Trompenaars also argued that cultures could differ on their relationship with the environment in regard to whether they perceive to control or be controlled by these environments (Bhagat & Steers 2009).

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