The National Cultural Conceptualizations Revisited Cultural Studies Essay

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Culture, organizational culture, national culture are some of the popular constructs which organizational theorists, psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists seem to be fascinated with. At the same time these constructs are also similar to some of the constructs in social sciences, which are always enveloped by a cover of mist and are amenable to multiple interpretations. The origin of the concept of culture lies in the ethnographic studies of anthropology, where specific tribes or societies are observed and a set of observation about their norms, rituals, language, physical structures, stories, food, festivals, social relations etc. are noted. This construct has seen its emergence in organizational studies with the movement of US and European firms outside their country of origin and with the increasing diversity of workforce in organizations owing to the increased migration of workforce and participation of people who were earlier on the fringes. The culture as a construct has been studied at many levels, but one which has been used or extended at all levels is the notion of national culture.

The term national culture has been deliberated upon by many theorists (Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck, 1961; Boyacigiller & Adler, 1991; Hofstede, 1980; Hampden-Turner & Trompenaars, 1997; Newman, Summer, & Warren, 1977; Burell & Morgan, 1979; Hall, 1976; Lewis, 1992; Triandis, 1995; Bottger, Hallein, & Yetton, 1985 etc.). These studies differ in two ways. First, in the use of multidimensional construct vs. single dimensional construct and second, in the conception of national culture as one homogenous programming vs. a heterogeneous programming. The multidimensional conceptions of national culture are in true sense the models of national culture. They are more comprehensive and suited to analysis of national culture. Uni-dimensional models find better application in organizational analysis. In the following part some of the popular multidimensional models of national culture have been discussed. Appendix-1 describes the various conceptualizations of culture.

Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck (1961) have been among the first researchers who engaged in a systematic discussion on national culture. They put forth the concept of national value orientations and their influence on organizational systems. These value orientations are described as the commonly shared constructs within a community. The five value orientations which human beings use to form their behavioral responses are human nature orientation (evil-evil/good-good), man nature orientation (mastery-harmony-subjugation), time orientation (future-present-past), activity orientation (doing-being- being in becoming) and relational (individualistic-laterally extended groups-hierarchical groups). Boyacigiller & Adler (1991) have also conceptualized national culture on the same lines. However they introduced a sixth value orientation to the list of value orientations proposed by Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck (1961). They introduced the concept of space orientation which dealt with private-mixed-public space in a society. Trompennars (1993) has conceptualized culture as the way people solve problems, particularly in connection with relationships, time and the external environment. He also created scales on which individuals' responses to the problems can be interpreted. Some of those scales were Universalism - Particularism, Analyzing - Integrating, Individualism - Communitarianism, Inner-directed - Outer-directed, Time as sequence - Time as synchronization, Achieved Status - Ascribed Status, Equality - Hierarchy etc. (Hampden-Turner & Trompenaars, 1994).

However the most famous work of national culture came from Hofstede (1980). He conceptualized national culture as "collective programming" of the mind that distinguishes inhabitants of one nation from another. It is argued that collective programming develops as a result of the experiences shared by inhabitants of a nation and includes values transferred by the educational, government and legal systems, family structure, patterns of religious preference, literature, architecture and scientific theories. National culture changes very slowly, because what is in the minds of people of a nation also becomes crystallized in its institutions. Hofstede (1980) proposed four dimensions for evaluation of cultural dispositions of a nation, power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism/collectivism and masculinity/femininity. Hofstede (1993) further introduced a fifth dimension of long-term orientation vs. short-term orientation to explain some of the contradictions of Oriental nations.

The one storyline, which flows through all the models discussed above, is the story of homogeneity in national culture in a country. The fundamental theme from which national culture seems to have emerged is the 'nation state'. It is this concept of nation state, which is stretched to the extent of a single national culture in Hofstede's work and other similar works. There is no doubt that the national culture models discussed above made an impressive contribution to the study of culture by conceptualizing national culture. These models lose some of their explanation and contradictions emerge when one takes an inside view or an emic perspective. There are three reasons behind it: first, national culture is a relatively new concept which emerged at the close of nineteenth century; second, this concept has European centric/western origin, whereas most parts of the world have witnessed emergence of any sign of nation state only during middle or late twentieth century; and third, the meaning and basis of nation state varies in different part of the world. Oxford English Dictionary, 1999 defines nation, culture, and nation state as:

Nation: Large aggregate of people united by common descent, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory.

Culture: Arts and other manifestation of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively, the customs, institutions and achievements of a particular nation, people or group

Nation State: A sovereign state of which most of the citizens or subjects are united also by factors which define a nation, such as language or common descent.

Most of the existing models of the national culture use this theme of homogeneity to describe national culture. These models of national culture/culture are models of sophisticated stereotyping. Sophisticated stereotyping can be understood as the phenomenon of reducing a complex culture to a shorthand description, which people might believe to be applicable to all the individuals inhabiting that country/nation. This stereotyping is more useful in making comparisons between cultures than in understanding the wide variations of behavior within a single culture (Osland & Allan, 2000). Culture is embedded in the contexts and cannot be understood fully without taking context into consideration. However some of the conceptualizations also take the variability dimension into consideration (e.g. Burell & Morgan, 1979). The theme of homogeneity can be questioned because many countries are typified by diverse descent, language, geographical topography etc. Meek (1988) argued that culture cannot be analyzed in terms of a universal unitary concept. In this paper we are not ruling out the existing models of national culture. We have taken multi paradigmatic view proposed by Schultz & Hatch (1996) where it has been argued that it is the interplay between paradigms which gives a better understanding of phenomenon.

Antecedents of Culture

Culture is a construction of both historical and present shared realities in a given society or group. Triandis (1994) saw two contributors to culture as the history of people and ecology. Shared historical realities encapsulated as myths, stories and a shared sense of lineage play a big role in determining culture. As do the historical influences that a society undergoes. Masculinity in a society may have a lot to do with the historical past that the society shares and so does power distance. Ecology represents the socio-economic niche in which a society operates. The niche structure determines to a large extent the manifested aspects of culture. The economic structure of the society has a role to play in the manifested aspects of culture like power distance, masculinity and time orientation.

Peterson and Smith (1997) identified culture contributors as language, proximity, colonization, religion, economic systems, economic development, technical development, national boundaries, major industry, climate, topography and indigenous economy. Another parameter they introduced is that of geography which could play an important role in determining culture as it determines a lot of aspects of human life. Language is another important determinant especially the root/family of the language. If the root of the language is common with adjacent languages then there will be a greater overlap of culture. Language codifies culture within its grammar and vocabulary and is a key constituent of culture. Religion and the underlying philosophy of the religion as also the mix of religions in the society will determine culture. Both language and culture are part of the social construction of reality and contributors to culture and social structure.

Smith (1992) postulated the basis of national identity as historical territory or homeland, common myths, common historical memory, mass public culture, common legal rights & duties and common economy with territorial mobility for members. These bases reflect different antecedents of culture formation. These bases cover geographical, historical, institutional, social identity, and the economic elements embedded in the culture. Broadly then the antecedents of culture can be divided into historical antecedents and contemporary antecedents. Sinha et al (2002) have identified historical influences and contemporary influences as the contributors to culture. However like the historical dimension, geographical dimension too has its constraining effect on the formation of culture. Together they provide the inner core of cultural understanding. These two factors are hard part of culture antecedents. There are other elements like social identities, economic parameters, and institutional factors which can be seen as the softer elements in the antecedents to culture. These softer elements are also contemporary in nature. Each of these soft and hard elements would have an impact on the culture of a society or a group. Each of these broad categories would comprise a set of influences that make these categories.

Economic factors have a role to play in culture formation. The forms of employment, means of production, the resource scarcity or availability influence culture formation. This paper argues for five antecedents to the culture (refer table 1)


Antecedents of Culture

Social Identity

Historical Context

Economic Parameters




Mass public culture,




Sex ratio,

Territorial mobility for members.


Historical memory,

Historical territory or homeland,


Extent of external influences.

Economic systems,

Economic development,

Technological development,

Major industry.

System of governance,

Legal System,

Rights and duties,

Rule of law,



Social identity would comprise mass public culture, language, religion, literacy, sex ratio, food habits etc. Herriot & Scott-Jackson (2002) argue that social identity refers to those social categories to which one believes one belongs (e.g. family, religion, nationality, political party, ethnic group, occupation, locality, work group etc.). Contemporary social context play an important role in the formation of social groupings, power relations within social groups, work behavior, social order etc. This is an important factor in our conceptualization of cross-cultural studies. Social identity is related in a logical and coherent way to values assumed by people (Gouveia & Albuquerque, 2002). Vigil & Hanley (2002) argued that social identities are historical constructs. Identity has historicity built into it but over time historical connection gets lost. Apart from it identity is also an emergent phenomenon and a great number of contemporary factors play their role in the formation of social identity. We argue that social identity is a separate antecedent to culture. And despite multiple elements involved in its formation, it rarely displays any connection to its origin. Most of the earlier models whether they are uni-dimensional or multi dimensional suffer from single mass culture, single language and single religion syndrome due to their European origin of nation state conception. Many countries like India, China, USA, Russia exhibit many instances of multiple mass culture coexisting. It means that using homogenous models of inter country study may have very little practical uses as they represent the mean scores of varying social contexts within a nation and hence may represent a national culture which does not exist in reality.

Historical Context would comprise extent of external influences, colonization, shared historical homeland, shared myths and stories etc. These factors play an important role in the formation of cultural identity of people. Dien (2000) argues that cultural identity is constructed and reconstructed through different levels of historical process. He argues that historical text and symbols maintain the cultural identity of a group. It leads to various responses which we cannot explain by merely looking at economic conditions, social context, geographical context, or institutional mechanisms. Why many countries choose to have close door economic policy or why some countries became rogue states may be explained more from a historical context than any other factor.

Economic Parameters would comprise GDP growth, per capita income, major industries etc. These factors are critical in breaking the linkages of other factors upon the culture formation and are responsible to an extent for homogenization of culture across globe. Economic is embedded in culture and culture is materialized in the economic (Gison & Kong, 2005). Castree (2004) argues that economy produces the symbols of culture. Economy plays an important role in shaping the material culture which spreads fastest among all the cultural symbols and myths.

Institutional Factors would comprise the extent of rule of law, shared duties and responsibilities, system of governance etc. It also plays an important role in development of homogenous culture or of coexistence of diverse culture. Fells (2003) has analyzed the role of governmental institutions in formation and management of cultural identity. Bierbrauer (1994) has studied production of cultural systems by legal institutions. Roller (2002) has also looked into the role of institutions and institutional rules in shaping the shared values and beliefs of their members.

Geography comprising topography and climate is one factor which explains the development of culture the most. The resources available many a times also explain the way religious norms vary across countries. Geographical factors determine the dwellings, food habits, rituals, the physical structure of people, the work habit, martial art of the region etc. This factor may explain better the culture variation than any other dimensions of existing models. Geography is central to national identity, and while geography is not destiny, it comes awfully close to being so ….. tradition can be invented but it cannot be invented out of nothing (Raymond, 2005). Broers (2003) has also recognized this influence of geography on multiple aspects of culture. He argued that geography has seminal influence on political culture and on the historical realities. Rankin (2003) argued that globalization studies can turn to geography for tools to analyze the significance of place and scale in understanding the culture. Geography can determine the economic structure, food habits, structure of society, division of labor and rituals in a society or a group. Giddens (1984) has also commented on the importance of historical geography in the social routines. Giddens (1984) argued that regionalization is not just a question of space but also "the zoning of time-space for routine social practices"; regions represent "the structuralization of conduct across time-space," contexts within which social interaction takes place.

If the factors described above are responsible for construction of a national identity or culture then even at first sight the idea of a single national culture for countries like India, China, Russia and Japan etc. seems preposterous. Outcomes of national culture itself at individual, group and organization have been widely studied. However the outcomes need to be studied in view of the antecedents as well. If culture is assumed to be homogenous without looking at what constitutes culture then the findings on the basis of a homogenous definition of culture would be contradictory. We propose a model of culture that looks at antecedents of culture to determine homogeneity or heterogeneity of culture in a national context (refer to figure 1). The outcomes then would make far greater sense.

Another implication would be that if these antecedents determine culture then culture may even cut across national boundaries. This phenomenon is widely observed in the Indian sub-continent, the middle-east and in the far-east. This would have interesting implications for organizations.

The various observations outlined above have great implications for any cross cultural / inter-country study involving nations with diverse historical, geographical, social, economic or institutional characteristics. Why many MNCs flounder while setting up their shops in alien country using Hofstede or any other existing model can be explained by this perspective. The detailed implications are discussed in next section.


Antecedents and outcomes of culture

Social Identity

Historical Context

Economic Parameters

Institutional Factors







Implications of Multiple National Cultures

In complex countries with multiple cultures existing within the same political boundaries, there would be multiple implications for an organization. In the proposed model the antecedents of culture have been postulated as social context, political factors, institutional factors, economic factors and geography. Any large complex country has a federated structure where the judiciary and legislature of the states or provinces operate with varying degrees of freedom. This directly impacts the political and institutional factors and culture formation in these states and provinces. There is some evidence that these states and provinces have impact on the contiguous states and provinces and culture develops as a cluster. Countries with multiple languages and religious groups present another set of challenges for organizations. This is apart from the customs or beliefs that usually follow a strong geographical pattern. People living in one kind of geography have similar cultures. The challenges that this kind of complex countries present are both relevant to ongoing companies as well as for MNCs trying to enter these markets. The first impact of the realization that for complex and large countries there might be nothing called national culture is on the 'entry strategy' for any company. The entry strategy needs to be calibrated on the following questions. Is the entry strategy relevant for the entire country? Location of operations in the country? Level of customization in products and services needed in various parts of the country? The level of multilingual or cross-cultural skills required in the work-force? HRM processes to take care of the multi-cultural context? This essentially means that the strategy that organizations need to develop for these markets would in essence become a multi-market strategy. What needs to be done is that a formal multi-cultural conception of these markets has to be developed. The model proposed in this paper could be a good starting point. We propose that for large companies, data on the parameters above needs to be collected and culturally similar regions needs to be delineated. Once a formal typology is developed it will make two areas for organizations easier to handle, one is marketing and the other is human resource management. Marketers who segment purely on demographic or psychographic terms might run into problems. Culture based segmenting or working out national strategies based on cultural similarities will become a reality. HRM professionals if they have a clear understanding of multi-cultural milieu will be able to better align policies to these realities.

This also opens up a set of opportunities in markets that have similar antecedents. Adjacent countries may have contiguous areas of similar culture. Or many nations or countries could form cultural clusters. Products and services once developed can be extended across these clusters or in the contiguous regions. Similarly there could be scope for extending HRM practices. The antecedent approach opens up great possibilities.

Implications for Research

We propose that if a study based on this model is carried out on a worldwide basis, a cultural map will emerge that may have very little to do with political boundaries. For example, Pakistan or even Afghanistan may actually be much closer to north Indian culture than south Indian, given commonality of history, geography, language and mass culture. The same maybe true for the Kurd region that spans Iran, Iraq and Turkey. As well as for Mongolia and Inner Mongolia that is a part of China. The cultural map might give a far better understanding of the world as it exists today. The current conceptions of culture depend on the concept of nation state and measure culture using manifestation variable without worrying about what led to that culture. The resulting numbers while they give statistics may hide a very different set of antecedents. Also given that these numbers are averaged over large complex cultures, mean very little. As a beginning complex countries need to be mapped out and the multiple cultures they hide need to be discovered.


Appendix 1: Conceptualizations of Culture



Cultural Dimensions

Single Dimension

Hall, 1960, 1976; Hall & Hall, 1990

Lewis, 1992

Fukuyama, 1995

Triandis, 1995

Bottger, Hallein, & Yetton, 1985

High Context - Low Context

Monochronic - Polychronic

High Trust - Low Trust

Idiocentric - Allocentric (common core to collective-individualistic dimension, operate at individual level)

Monomorphic and Polymorphic

Multiple Dimensions

Hofstede, 1980, 1983, 1991; Hofstede, Neuijen, & Ohavy, 1990

Hampden-Turner & Trompenaars,


Lessem & Neubauer, 1994

Kluckhohn & Strodbeck, 1961

Burell & Morgan, 1979

Newman, Summer, & Warren, 1977

Power Distance, Uncertainty Avoidance, Individualism - Collectivism,

Masculinity - Femininity

Universalism - Particularism

Analyzing - Integrating

Individualism - Communitarianism

Inner-directed - Outer-directed

Time as sequence - Time as synchronization

Achieved Status - Ascribed Status

Equality - Hierarchy

Pragmatism - Idealism/Wholism

Rationalism - Humanism

Free Will - Determinism

Accumulation of Wealth - "Just Enough"

Value orientations

Human Nature: Evil-evil/good-good

Man Nature: Mastery-harmony-subjugation

Time: Future-present-past

Activity: Doing-being-being in becoming

Relational: individualistic-laterally extended groups-hierarchical groups

Separation-Integration (Population Variation)

Cultural Particularism-Cultural Plurasim-Cultural Homogenization (Cultural Variation)

Relativism-Deliberative Universalism-Comprehensive Universalism


Improvement - Maintaining Status Quo

Social Action - Maintaining Relationship

Merit-based - Relationship-based

Wide Sharing - Non-Sharing

Objective - Emotional