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Introducing values studies

The following summary and download describe how values function. Guiding our associations with sameness and responses to difference, values affect cross-cultural interactions. Therefore understanding and clarifying them is important.

Starting from a need to associate with sameness

In the genetic, evolutionary, or God-given nature of human beings, there appears to be a deep, intrinsic, inherent yearning for association, for sameness. Rooted in basic human needs, this innate drive to affiliate with similar creatures leads us to pair off for reproduction and co-create communities.

William B. Schutz (1958, 1978) identified aspects related to this in his pioneering “fundamental interpersonal relations orientation” (FIRO-B) theory, suggesting basic human needs include inclusion, affection, and control. Shalom Schwartz (2005) similarly suggests three basic human needs that foster values: 1. biological needs, 2. social needs, 3. survival and welfare needs. All of these needs drive us, at some level, toward forming social groupings in which we can feel satisfied, meaningful, important and comfortable. These desires are the basis of cultural values.

Values are standards of what is considered to be desirable within a collectivity, reflecting shared cultural traditions that are instilled in individuals, to varying degrees, by the major institutions of socialization operating in the collectivity. (Lipset, 1963)

Like the proverbial sense of “a fish in water,” we typically become so absorbed in establishing and functioning in communities of similarity that we unconsciously and actively create a Kultur – colonies based on species similarity. Our word “cultivation” comes from this same Greek root, and relates to the same process, whether the association and care of similar species is focused on plants (horticulture), the land (agriculture), animals or our own human culture.

Far removed from the philosophers’ lofty ideas, the tacit-acquired side of culture includes a broad range of practices and solutions to problems with roots in the common clay of the shared experiences of ordinary people…In humans, tacit-acquired culture is made up of hundreds and possibly thousands of micro-events comprising the corpus of the daily cycle of activity, the spaces we occupy, and the way we relate to others, in other words, the bulk of experiences of everyday life (Hall, 1998).

Thus we unconsciously but cooperatively create cultures based on sameness and simultaneously disassociate from those dissimilar. Alternatively, encountering variance may arouse our curiosity about the reasons for such diversity.

Difference – encountering “Other” as a starting point for cultural awareness

As humans we are generally unaware of the extent to which we are embedded in our cultural patterns.

“Culture is (1) the collective (2) programming of the mind (3) distinguishing the members of one group or category of people from another.” (Hofstede, 2007)

It is our shared, pass-on-able features that give us a collective identity. But this identity may only by salient when it needs to be distinguished. We can’t clearly know what our own culture is or that we even belong to one until someone or something presents “us” or “we” in contrast to “them” or “other.”

At some point in our maturing and experience cycle we encounter “otherness” for the first time. For most people it is only when we notice such differences that we truly awaken to the reality that our own life-orientation assumptions may not be assumed by everyone. This is normal, since beliefs, values, identity, attitudes or behaviors all operate mostly at the unconscious, prescribed, norm (below the proverbial visible iceberg) level until they are confronted with obvious variance.

There are truths on this side of the Pyrenees that are falsehoods on the other” (Pascal’s Pensées).

So whether our approach to understanding others or ourselves is based on sameness or difference, how do we study these dynamics? How do we get to the salient “core of culture” in our analytical observations or scientific examinations?

Original published as: Kulich, S. J. (2012). Values studies: The origins and development of core-cross-cultural comparisons. In S. J. Kulich, M. H. Prosser, & L. P. Weng (Eds.), Value frameworks at the theoretical crossroads of culture. Intercultural research (Vol. 4, Chap. 1, pp. 33-70). Shanghai, China: SFLEP.

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This article is from the free online course:

Intercultural Communication

Shanghai International Studies University (SISU)