Skip to 0 minutes and 6 secondsNow let's take a closer look at three value dimensions that are often found in books about cultures. We have selected them because they seem to often offer the most explanatory power. Individualism and collectivism-- these are probably the most widely-used terms when we compare cultures. An individualistic culture is defined as a culture that emphasises independence and the pursuit of personal goals over group goals. A collectivistic culture, on the other hand, is defined as a culture that emphasises interdependence and the satisfying of group goals at the cost of individuals. Power distance-- it is a very insightful concept that addresses whether power is distributed evenly or unequally among members of a society. In cultures of high power distance, power is distributed differently.

Skip to 1 minute and 12 secondsIn culture of low power distance, power is distributed more or less the same. Seat arrangements, titles on name cards, or locations of offices all reflect our perception of power. Time orientation-- we construct and allocate time differently across cultures. Some of us prefer a linear way of interaction, and structure our lives following items on an agenda. Others don't mind dealing with different things spontaneously and simultaneously. For these two types, we name them monochronic and polychronic orientations.

Individualism, power, time, and other dimensions

This video discusses three of the most widely-used dimensions for analyzing cultural differences: Individualism and Collectivism, High-Low Power Distance, and E. T. Hall’s Time orientations: Monochronic and Polychronic.

Though we have mentioned two constructs from E. T. Hall, six dimensions from Hofstede, and other frameworks, several of these seem to be particularly applicable or have strong explanatory power across a wide ranger of cultural contexts. So we have decided to focus our discussion on these three.

  1. Individualism and Collectivism may be the most widely-used terms in seeking to make sense in comparing cultures. However, it is often misunderstood and misused in research. The next step is dedicated to helping you correctly understand its meaning and application.

  2. High and Low Power Distance as a dimension addresses whether power is distributed evenly or unequally among members of a society. Hofstede and other empirical scholars seek to use measures of power distance to describe the functional expressions of hierarchy, status, and inequality that manifest themselves, especially organizational structures across cultures. Note that critical scholars look at this in more theoretical and socially situated ways. They aim to address systemic power inequalities and social injustices that need to be studied, rectified, and call privileged classes to account to better acknowledge, empower, or motivate agency for marginalized populations.

  3. Time orientations also vary across cultures. In coining the term “chronemics,” E. T. Hall proposed differences between Monochronic (M-time) and Polychronic (P-time) orientations. The video highlight how some cultural systems prefer Monochronic (arranging time linearly, one event after another, in analog sequential ways) and others prefer Polychronic processes (doing many things at one time, multi-tasking, in more digital, event centered ways).

    Hall was also interested in examining how each culture emphasizes different slow or fast messages. Studying what people take time for can help make us award of what is more important or meaningful to them. A modern technological culture might seek to use devices to save time, to do more things at the same time more quickly (fast!), and yet still find or take time for slow-time expressions like religious meditation, a massage, or enjoying music or a concert.

    How does your culture view time? Do you tend to be more Poly-chronic trying to do many things at the same time, or more linear and sequential in the way you do things? What fast or slow expressions of messages or time use are common in your culture? However you view or practice these areas, we suggest “its time” to be more cross-culturally sensitive to the variations that exist around us.

We urge you to think about these variations and comment on any suggestions you have for being more aware or more sensitive to the different ways that other cultures emphasize certain values or dimensions. Thanks for providing your insights and feedback.

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This video is from the free online course:

Intercultural Communication

Shanghai International Studies University (SISU)