Skip to 0 minutes and 7 secondsOne of the challenges of comparing and contrasting cultures is coming up with vocabularies that allow us to do that meaningfully. Perhaps one of the main contributions of cross-cultural and intercultural scholars has been this very process of trying to come up with terms or taxonomies that help us compare the differences across cultural variations. For example, Clyde Kluckhohn and his wife, Florence, and their team sought to identify some of these value orientations that they noted very early on. They came up with five basic questions that all human societies seem to have to answer. These five questions include-- what is the innate character of human nature? What is the relationship of humans to nature?

Skip to 1 minute and 4 secondsWhat is the temporal focus or sense of time of human life? What is the mode of human activity? What is the mode of social relationships? They identified that, for each of these orientations, a wide range of options are available. And over time, each culture develops a shared sense of cultural priorities-- that is, what is preferred and what is generally expected.

Skip to 1 minute and 36 secondsThose qualitative orientations proved to be very useful in comparing traditional or modern cultures or cultures with large philosophical or lifestyle differences. However, such orientations cannot be easily categorised or measured. Cross-cultural psychologists, for many years, have been seeking to find ways to derive quantitative dimensions for cultural comparison. But Geert Hofstede's work established the most broadly used framework since the 1980s. His dimensions include power distance, how inequalities are viewed and handled; individualism/collectivism, how people consider the relationship of self and group; uncertainty avoidance, how tolerant the culture is of ambiguities; masculinity/femininity, how masculine or feminine traits are perceived; long-term orientation or Confucian dynamism, how people consider time preferences.

Skip to 2 minutes and 56 secondsAnd more recently, they have also added the restraint and indulgence dimension-- how much control is expected to regulate self-expression. There are other influential frameworks that use different taxonomies. It is worth looking into the work of Fons Trompenaars for business training or the theoretical framework a Shalom Schwartz for academic research.

Considering values frameworks

What are terms, vocabularies or taxonomies that help meaningfully compare or contrast cultural values? This section discusses important orientations, as well as the psychological dimensions that many use for explaining cultural values.

Our discussions this week have emphasized that the search for ways to clarify, express, and explain values has been long and continuing. In this segment we highlight some of the helpful approaches that are still used today, especially those put forward by Florence Kluckhohn and Geert Hofstede.

As highlighted in our book series, Intercultural Research, Volumes 4 and 5, these many attempts to categorize and dimensionalize values have had an important role in shaping the intercultural field and its application to a wide range of cross-cultural training endeavors. In the 1950s, sociologist Talcott Parsons was one of the first to develop comparative patterns that might explain differences in behavior across cultures. Working with him and other cultural anthropologists, Clyde and Florence Kluckhohn did a major study called the Harvard Values Project.

The Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck model suggested that all cultural groups seek to find answers and develop cultural preferences for the following questions:

  1. What is our orientation to human nature?
  2. What is the relation of man to nature?
  3. What is our time focus?
  4. What is our orientation toward activity?
  5. What is important in our social relations?

Those questions continue to provide interesting comparisons between cultures, particularly between those that contrast traditions with modernization. We might not be able to pinpoint cultures very specifically in this framework, but knowing that these preference ranges exist enhances our awareness.

However, social scientists pushed for more quantitative frameworks. The groundbreaking effort in this venture was the Hofstede Values Orientation Model (VOM), first published in 1980 as Culture’s Consequences. Though some criticize his dimensions as oversimplifying “culture,” research and training has shown that these dimensions have enduring validity, salience, and some explanatory power.

Hofstede initially identified four values dimensions that continue to be widely applied. Later, his collaborative work with Michael Bond in Hong Kong and more recently with Michael Minkov, his son Gert Jan Hofstede, and other researchers, has led to a 6-Dimensional model, published in his 2010 update of Culture: The Software of the Mind.

Our course readings cover these developments in detail and will help you better understand how they are used to study values across cultures. They will also alert you to other scholars’ work, such as Fons Trompenaars’ values dimensions in business settings or Shalom Schwartz’s attempt at a universal model of inter-related values. As you listen to the explanations and read these summaries, we hope you will keep reflecting on which of these approaches makes the most sense to you.

Consider which dimensions or specific values stand out to you as providing insightful explanations or a practical understanding of your own culture or those you have come into contact with.

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This video is from the free online course:

Intercultural Communication

Shanghai International Studies University (SISU)