The different concepts

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.


The term or expression 'culture' is frequently used loosely in everyday language to explain a number of different concepts. The term is sometimes used to explain concepts such as national culture or organisational culture, as well as arts and culture (Dahl, 2004). Definition of culture crosses many disciplines including history, linguistics, literature, anthropology, sociology, psychology and, more recently, economics, business, management science, information systems, technology, and management information systems. Each field has its own approaches to and methodology for dealing with the question of culture (Srite, Straub, Loch, Evaristo, & Karahanna, 2004). Definitions and analyses of the culture concept have been numerous since at least 1952 when Kroeber and Kluckhohn (1952) reported the presence of more than 164 definitions. Definitions vary from the general to the specific, depending on the discipline and the level of analysis. The term "culture" is a broad one, and usually includes things such as norms, beliefs, values, traditions, language, clothing, or art of a certain group of people. Cultures are by no means simple to understand and interpret.

The concept of culture can be applied to social systems at different levels, not only at the national level but also at the sub-cultural levels of ethnic group, region, gender, generation, religion, profession, and organisation. Culture is the substance that holds and binds groups together. Hofstede (1991) suggests that there is no such thing as human nature independent of culture. What, then, are the common features in definitions of culture? Most of the major definitions refer to culture as a set of shared values, beliefs, and practices. These definitions embody specific behavioural, motivational, and other psychological aspects depending on the research emphasis. Generally, anthropologists tend to define culture as an important domain, and in anthropological terms, culture encompasses a broad range of material objects, behaviour patterns, and thoughts (Punnett, 1989). Anthropologists view individual motivation as a function of the larger society of which the individual is a member (Punnett, 1989). Although researchers in different disciplines have defined culture differently, all refer to culture in terms of shared norms, values, beliefs, and attitudes that differentiate one group of people or a nation from another. Beliefs are people's recognitions and awareness of how things are done in their groups or countries according to their cultures.

Culture is also defined as "the belief systems and value orientations that influence customs, norms, practices, and social institutions, including psychological processes (language, care taking practice, media, and educational systems) and organisations (media, educational systems)" (American Psychological Association, 2002). Psychologists define culture as the main domain of motivations (Munro, Schumaker, & Carr, 1997).

Researchers such as Kroeber and Kluckhohn (1963) are very well known in the field of anthropology and define culture thus: Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievements of human groups, including their embodiments in artefacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e. historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, and on the other as conditioning elements of further action. (p. 181).

Researchers such as Triandis (1994) defined culture as a set of human-made objective and subjective elements. Triandis (1994) distinguishes the objective elements of culture from the subjective ones. Objective aspects of culture include tools and technology, while subjective aspects include categorisations, associations, norms, roles, and values, which form some of the basic elements affecting social behaviour. Schein (1992) defines culture from a sociological context as a basic set of assumptions that define for people what they pay attention to, what things mean, how they react emotionally to what is going on, and what actions they should take in various kinds of situations, while Trompenaars (1998) defines culture from a managerial perspective as the way in which a group of people solve problems.

Another well known, distinguished, widely accepted, and cited definition of culture is Hofstede's definition. Hofstede (2001a) defines culture "as the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another" (p 9). Collective programming takes place at the societal and organisational levels. Hofstede further distinguishes national culture from organisational culture. National culture distinguishes members of one nation from another, while organisational culture distinguishes one employee of an organisation from another. National culture refers to profound beliefs, values, and practices that are shared by the vast majority of people belonging to a certain nation or society. It is reflected in the ways people behave at school, in the family, on the job, etc., and it reinforces societal laws and governmental policies with respect to education, family life, and business.

As can be seen from Figure, national culture is different from organisational culture because of the different roles played by the manifestations of culture. Culture at a national level is manifest mostly in values and less in practices; culture at an organisational level resides mostly in practices and less in values (Hofstede, 1997).


Culture is difficult to measure and discuss because it involves shared ways of perceiving the world that members of a group take for granted. Culture is learnt, and can be considered only relative to other cultures. There is no absolute right or wrong in cultural performance (Hoecklin, 1995). The literature from as early as the 1960s up through to the late 1990s has provided us with several possible basic cultural concepts and patterns to measure culture. Some of these concepts and patterns will now be reviewed and the most relevant selected as the focus of this research study.

Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (1998; 2003) categorized cultures as a mix of behavioural and values patterns. Their study concentrates on the cultural issues from business and senior management executives. They identified seven value dimensions: universalism vs. particularism; communitarianism vs. individualism; neutral vs. emotional; diffuse vs. specific cultures; achievement vs. ascription; human-time relationship; and human nature relationship. A different approach to finding national culture differences has been taken by Schwartz. Schwartz (1992; 1994), using his Schwartz Value Inventory (SVI), has suggested seven cultural dimensions based on a list of 45 values: Collectivism; Intellectual Autonomy; Affective Individualism; Hierarchy; Mastery; Egalitarian Commitment; and Harmony. The study conducted by House (1999) may be the most recent study of national culture. In this study, House conducted comprehensive research on most previous studies of culture and compared most dimensions of culture by different researchers. House developed a new model consisting of nine dimensions to measure culture at the national level. House's nine dimensions of culture are: power distance; uncertainty avoidance; collectivism I; collectivism II; gender egalitarianism; assertiveness; future orientation; performance orientation; and humane orientation.

The most well-known and most cited work in cross-cultural research is the work of Dutch organisational anthropologist Hofstede (Dahl, 2004). Hofstede (1980) derived his cultural dimensions from examining work-related values of IBM employees during the 1970s. He suggested four work-related values. These were:

Power Distance: defined as "the extent to which the less powerful members of the institutions and organisations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally" (Hofstede, 1991) (p.28).

Uncertainty Avoidance: defined as "the extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by uncertain or unknown situations" (Hofstede, 1991) (p.113).

Individualism versus Collectivism: defined as "individualism stands for society in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after himself/herself and his/her immediate family only. Collectivism stands for a society 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, 2001a) (p.225).

Masculinity versus Femininity: defined as "masculinity stands for a society in which social gender roles are clearly different (men are supposed to be assertive, tough, and focused on material success whereas women are supposed to be more modest, tender, and concerned with quality of life). Femininity on the other hand stands for a society in which social gender roles overlap (both men and women are supposed be modest, and concerned with the quality of life)" (Hofstede, 2001a).

Bond (1988) added a fifth dimension to Hofstede's dimension after conducting an additional international study using a survey instrument developed with Chinese employees and managers. This survey resulted in the addition of the Confucian dynamism factor. Subsequently, Hofstede described this dimension as a culture's long-term orientation. Long-term orientation focuses on the degree the society embraces, or does not embrace long-term devotion to traditional, forward-thinking values (Hofstede, 2001a).

For the purpose of this research, therefore, Hofstede's five dimensions to measure the attitude of people toward knowledge sharing process in a single organisation in Libya.

Hofstede defined five dimensions of culture frequently referred to as "Hofstede's Dimensions." that help to describe and explain how and why people from a variety of cultures behave as they do. Hofstede claimed that by selecting people from the same organisation and working in the same organisational culture but in different countries, non-cultural variables could be controlled. The dissimilarities that emerge between countries can be confidently credited to differences in national culture. For this research these five dimensions of culture will be used to determine its effect on knowledge sharing process in and between activity systems in a single organisation in Libya.


Hofstede (1980) developed and presented a model to measure and compare national culture based on his survey that hypothesised four dimensions: power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism versus collectivism, and masculinity versus femininity.


Power distance (PD) can be defined as the unfair differences between groups of people within a country, whereby some have more wealth, authoritarian power, status or opportunities than others. It is the degree to which inequality is seen as an irreducible fact of life. It would condition the degree to which people accept that their superiors have more power than they have and the extent to which they accept that their superior's opinions and decisions are correct and appropriate because he/she is the superior and should not be questioned. In essence, PD illustrates how people deal with the fact that they are unequal in power sharing. It influences the way people accept and confer authority. In a low PD culture there is a partial dependence by subordinates on superiors, and a preference for consultation. In a low PD culture, people accept that their superiors have more power, know the best way to do something, and know the correct answers. In high PD cultures superiors and subordinates consider each other as unequal: the hierarchical system is felt to be based on some existential inequality (Hoecklin, 1995). Subordinates are expected to be told what to do. In low PD cultures subordinates and superiors consider each other as more equal: the hierarchical system is just a parity of roles, used for convenience, which may change depending on the circumstances. These cultures are leaning towards developing into more decentralised structures, with flatter hierarchies and a limited number of supervisory personnel (Hofstede, 2001a). Privileges for the senior ranks are essentially undesirable, and superiors are expected to be accessible to subordinates. Organisations in low PD culture more often have in place ways of dealing with employee complaints (Alder, 1997). On the other hand, in a high or large PD culture there is a substantial reliance by subordinates on superiors, and subordinates are unlikely to approach or question their superiors directly (Hofstede, 2001a). In high PD cultures superiors and subordinates deem each other as unequal: the hierarchical system is based on some existing inequality. These cultures seem to centralise power more, and subordinates expect to be told what to do. Superiors are believed to be entitled to privileges in a high PD culture. There are more visible signs of status, and contacts between superiors and subordinates are assumed to be dictated by superiors (Hofstede, 2001a). According to Hofstede's (1980; 2001a) PD index, countries with low PD include Australia, Ireland, and the Scandinavian countries. Countries with a high PD include the Arab regions, Malaysia, Mexico, and Venezuela. The US, with a score of 40, ranked 38 out of 50 countries, suggesting moderate to low power distance (Hofstede, 2001a). Table ????shows some characteristics of cultures with high and low PD which might have an influence on knowledge sharing process. High PD cultures tend to favour the centralised system of organising organisations, which means that there are fewer people in senior management positions and management take decisions without consulting or considering the feelings of subordinates, and expect subordinates to carry out these decisions unquestioningly. This gives greater power to higher ranked people in the organisation, information is classified as top secret and confidential, and only top trusted people are entitled to it (Straub et al., 2001). Lower ranked people are always dependent on their superiors to tell them what to do. This would influence the way both information and knowledge is handled within the organisation. In high PD cultures educated and uneducated people alike hold very similar values and attitudes when it comes to authority and the way power and privileges are handled and unequally distributed in the organisations. This can be seen in most of the Arab countries. People learn from early childhood the values of respecting and obeying the elderly, and helping them in every possible way. These values motivate them to respect their superiors and avoid clashing with them (Bagchi et al., 2001; Barakat, 1993; Straub et al., 2001). The Arabic culture has inherited a few social "sayings" which have an influence on people's lives and reflect the way they do things, such as "look to the people who are lower than you and you will be comfortable", also "do not look what other people possess only mind what is yours". These sayings influence people, reflect their attitudes and beliefs, and shape many of their characteristics. Low PD cultures tend to favour less centralised systems, which in-turn treats information as an essential element for those people who are entitled to use it. Flatter organisational pyramids and higher-educated employees hold much lower authoritarian values than lower-educated ones. Subordinates negatively evaluate close supervision. Managers like to see themselves as practical after consulting with subordinates. All these characteristics make both information and knowledge is more shared.


Uncertainty avoidance (UA) is the degree to which members of a culture feel insecure because of uncertain, ambiguous or unknown future situations and try to avoid these situations (Hofstede, 1991). It is also the lack of tolerance for ambiguity and the need for formal guided rules. They may do this by establishing more guided formal rules, refusing unusual ideas and behaviour, and accepting the possibility of absolute truths and the achievement of unchallengeable expertise (Hofstede, 1984; 2001a). Hofstede argues that UA is based on country scores rather than individual correlations, hence reaction need not be found within the same persons, but only statistically more often in the same society. One person may react in one way, such as feeling more nervous, while another may be adamant that rules be respected (Hofstede, 1984; 2001a).

Hofstede argues that countries with high UA will have more people who feel under stress at work, who want rules to be respected, and who want to have a long-term stable career. Disagreements and clashes are intimidating for high UA cultures. In cultures that have high UA, people will look for unmistakably clear, official rules governing their behaviour. Hofstede sees the need for rules in a high UA country as an emotional need to rapidly resolve vagueness and leave as little as possible to chance. People in high UA cultures are more driven to keep busy, tend to like their jobs less, and are often more precise and punctual. In addition they can appear busy, nervous, aggressive and/or active (Hofstede, 1984; 2001a). Hofstede argues that people in low UA cultures are not so driven, like their jobs more, and tend to be more relaxed in their work. Moreover they can appear quiet, easygoing, controlled and/or lazy.

According to Hofstede's (1980; 2001a) index, countries that are high in UA include those in Arab regions, Latin America, Latin Europe and the Mediterranean. Medium-high are the German-speaking countries with their preference for rules, and medium to low are Anglo and Nordic countries (Hofstede, 2001a). Table ??? shows some of the characteristics of both high and low UA cultures that might have an influence on knowledge sharing process. People in high UA are characterised as worrying about the future and thinking of the negative consequences of decisions to resolve problems. Moreover, Arabs, being in the high category of UA, tend to be resistant to change. Rules should be respected, not broken, even if they are for the organization's benefit. These characteristics will definitely have negative influences on the knowledge sharing process in Libya. While low UA cultures are characterised as having less emotional resistance to change, managers need not be experts in the field, optimistic for success, risk takers and entrepreneurs, believing that rules must be broken if that in benefit of the organisation.


This dimension is important for the knowledge sharing process and has received more attention than any other dimension; it is Individualism versus Collectivism (IDV).Individualism concentrates on the extent to which the culture supports individual accomplishment and interpersonal relationships. In contrast, collectivism concentrates on the group achievement and interpersonal relationships. Individualists tend to think of individuals as the basic element, while collectivists tend to think of groups as the basic element of organisation. Hofstede (1984; 2001a) suggested that collectivist societies are very tightly integrated, whereas an individualist society is loosely integrated. Social communication and group participation are considered conceptualised in terms of costs, rewards, and outcomes. Independence and self-satisfaction are appreciated, such that individual achievement and recognition are preferred to group-based rewards. Independence is a strong point, while seeking help implies weakness, and mistakes are evaluated by personal standards. Under conditions of low accountability, individualists tend to perform better on their own than as part of a group.

Organisational significance on IDV illustrates the extent to which organisations practise support and reward collective sharing of information, knowledge, resources and collective achievement. People from individualistic cultures tend to consider only themselves as individuals, as "I", distinguishing them from other people (Hofstede, 1984). They prefer simplicity in their discussions to communicate more successfully. People in individualistic cultures stress their success or achievements in jobs or private wealth and aim to gain promotion. In workplace they strive to improve their relationships and to get more value out of them. Employees are likely to support their own interests and to promote themselves whenever possible (Hofstede, 1984; 2001a; House et al., 1999).

In collectivist cultures, People put importance on groups and believe more in terms of "we" (Hofstede, 1984). Agreement and faithfulness within a group is appreciated and must be maintained and disagreement should be avoided. Expressions or phrases used to illustrate a difference or a negative statement are used instead of saying "no". Saying no would mean damaging the harmony in the group. The relationship between superiors and subordinates is based on trust and confidence and understanding of moral values (Hofstede, 1980; Johnson, Mohler, & Ozcan, 2000; Schwartz, 1994). Based on Hofstede's (2001a) individualism index, the US is ranked first with a score of 91, Australia is second, and the UK is third with 89. Countries with low individualism scores (high collectivism) include Arab regions with a score of 38, Central and South American countries, and many Asian countries. Table??? shows some of the characteristics of the IDV dimension that may have an influence on the knowledge sharing process in Libya.


This dimension is Masculinity/Femininity (MAS); it was the only dimension on which men and women in the study scored consistently differently (Hofstede, 1984; 2001a). The main social pattern explained by Hofstede in his MAS formation is for men to be more self-confident and self-assured (express opinions or needs powerfully and with self-confidence, so that people take notice) and for women to be more fostering (to help to develop and be successful). The literature from anthropology, psychology, and political science confirms this male assertiveness/female nurturance pattern (Hofstede, 2001a). Hofstede hypothesises that masculinity is at the country or national level, and associated with societies where gender roles are obviously separate. Men are supposed to be self-confident, strong, tough, and strong-minded on material success. Women are supposed to be self-effacing, caring, and concerned about the quality of life. Femininity is associated with societies where social gender roles overlap, and there is greater concern for quality of life.

One of the characteristics recommended by Hofstede's MAS is the attraction towards a money orientation in high MAS countries and on the contrary an attraction towards people orientation in low MAS countries. Hofstede (1994a) argued that one classifies societies on whether they attempt to minimise or maximise the social role separation.

Some societies allow both men and women to take many different social roles. Other societies make sharp separations or distinctions between what men and women may do in that society. Highest role separation is associated with a masculine society, while minimum social role division or separation is evident in a more feminine culture. Low MAS is related to concern for the weak and to social levelling.

The Arabic culture is categorised by Hofstede's (2001a) index as a high MAS culture. Table ??? shows some of the characteristics of high and low MAS cultures that may affect the knowledge sharing process in Libya. Libyan culture in general believes in segregation based on gender in the workplace. Females in Libya are assigned to certain jobs that fit their conditions and situations. In Libya fewer women are found in senior management jobs. On the other hand, low MAS cultures have less occupational segregation based on gender, and the qualification of the person is determined by their ability regardless of their gender.

Long-term vs. Short-term Orientation

Shortly after Hofstede first formulated his cultural dimensions, Michael Bond convinced him that a fifth dimension needed to be defined, which is now known as long-term orientation, an important cultural pattern in Asian countries that has been influenced by Chinese Confucian philosophy over thousands of years. After a survey specifically design for Asian countries, Hofstede and Bond concluded that these countries, with the same Confucian philosophy background as China, are oriented to the search for virtuous behavior while western countries, like the United States, are more oriented to the search for truth. The long-term orientation dimension (LTO) can be interpreted as dealing with society's search for virtue. Societies with a short-term orientation generally have a strong concern with establishing the absolute Truth. They are normative in their thinking. They exhibit great respect for traditions, a relatively small propensity to save for the future, and a focus on achieving quick results. In societies with a long-term orientation, people believe that truth depends very much on situation, context and time. They show an ability to adapt traditions to changed conditions, a strong propensity to save and invest thriftiness, and perseverance in achieving results. This dimension unevaluated in Arabic cultures. Table ??? shows some of the characteristics of The long-term orientation and Short-term cultures that may affect knowledge sharing process in Libya's organisations.

The Arab World findings reflect PDI, IDV, MAS, and UAI but not LTO which is new to VSM94. Hofstede has identified large PDI (80) and UAI (68) for the Arab World where the society is highly rule-oriented, risk adverse and does not readily accept change. According to Hofstede, the high MAS index (52) may be more a result of the Muslim religion than culture and the relatively low IDV (38) indicates a society where loyalty and close long-term commitment to groups such as family is paramount. Table ??? shows Geert Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions.