Gospel & Culture blog
1. Sample: Hofstede's data was gathered by professionals in IBM, so the values are not necessarily representative of women, children, or those in poverty.
2. Reductive: The culture-value orientation theory gives the impression that cultures can be reduced to a handful of values like "collectivist" or "indulgent." This reductivism was not Hofstede's intent, but it is nonetheless a reality of how the theory is used.
3. Essentialist: One gets the erroneous impression that virtually ANY cultural feature can be explained by the fact that a society is, for example, "collectivist" or "individualist." So we end up attributing even individual's behavior within a society to these cultural value orientations.
4. Positivist ontology: Hofstede's major research was done in an era before postmodernism, when scholars still largely assumed that there were scientific "rules of human nature" which could be discovered. Most scholars in the social sciences nowadays are more constructivist in their ontology, and do not expect theories to describe human nature the way the Culture Value orientation theory does. These value orientations can be factors that explain behavior, but it is too positivist to see these orientations as foregone conclusions.
5. Urbanization and globalization: We know that the USA is a melting pot; but increasingly, many of the world's nations are diverse; so it is increasingly difficult to pinpoint a national culture. Hofstede's value orientations may have been more accurate if they focused on ethno-linguistic groups, or took into account socio-economic status. Of course, the more they did this, the more complicated the theory would be- and it would become more cumbersome.
Do you assume that travelers are more accepted in certain countries,and less accepted in others? What accounts for the difference? One major factor may be cultural values. The more collectivist a culture is, the harder it can be to get into the "in-group." Another cultural value that can affect an expatriate's experience of finding acceptance would be the host culture's value of uncertainty avoidance. Cultures which highly avoid uncertainty tend to be less tolerant of difference- they tend to be tightly regulated and prefer many prescribed norms of behavior.
Without invoking "cultural values" framework (viz Kluckhohn and Hofstede), Berry (1990) focused on how cultural values affect whether immigrant communities will assimilate. His conclusion was that the more an immigrant community values convergence, and the less they value the in-group, the more likely it is they will assimilate. If they value the in-group and divergence to the wider culture, they will live separately in enclaves.
It occurs to me that we could use cultural values to work the other way around. Not only can values like collectivism and Uncertainty avoidance affect how an immigrant community assimilates to a new culture, but they can influence how expatriates are accepted when they travel. Below, I have plotted data from Geert Hofstede's study of value dimensions throughout the world. I have plotted 26 countries on a 2 dimensional grid that compares tolerance (uncertainty avoidance) and in-group cohesion (collectivism/individualism).
Countries in the upper right quadrant have a strong in-group; and with a high UAI, people are anxious about differences. That is, they tend to be both cliquish and intolerant. These would be the hardest countries for travelers find acceptance.
Countries in the lower right quadrant are pluralists. They accept cultural differences; but since they value the in-group. Nepotism or Guan Xi in China characterize social interactions. So travelers may not find people anxious about their own differences; but they still may find it hard to be accepted.
Countries in the top right quadrant do not have strong in-group mentalities, but are nonetheless fairly intolerant of cultural differences. Travelers who fit within the cultural norms (i.e., know the language and behave like the host culture) may make friends easily; but those who diverge will find socializing more difficult.
Countries in the lower right are the most open. The in-group boundary can easily be crossed, and differences are tolerated.
This theory relies on previous work that has been done on value orientations. The theory that the acceptance travelers experience is dependent on UAI and IDV could be further explored through a quantitative study on people who have traveled to various countries. We may have participants answer the following questions with a Likert Scale:
1. How easily did you make friends?
2. To what extent did you find people frustrated with your own culturally-bound behaviors?
There are, of course, many other factors that influence the way that travelers experience acceptance from their host country. One salient value orientation would be hospitality, but we do not have global data on "planned v. spontaneous hospitality."
Cultural adaption is affected by internal competencies like preparedness, personality, openness, predisposition, positivity and strength. And the degree and rate of adaptation is also affected by external factors like the conformity pressure of the host culture, the hosts’ receptivity, the hosts’ in-group solidarity, and the ethnic proximity of the host and guest (Jackson, 2014, p. 211). For example, it seems fairly obvious that US Americans would have an easier time adapting to life in a culturally-similar society like the UK than in a culturally-distant society like Afghanistan or Nigeria. Also sojourners find acculturation easier in a society that is flexible, and which has a lower level of uncertainty avoidance (e.g., the USA) rather than tight with high levels of uncertainty avoidance (e.g., Indonesia, Japan).
Some sojourners retain dual memberships, but never expect to make a permanent shift to the host culture. For instance, cross-cultural workers must engage their host culture, but may not expect to assimilate, since they will eventually return home. Early theorists usually described the bicultural sojourner’s adjustment a “u” shaped line over time (Lysgaard, 1955). At first, the cross-cultural worker experiences the euphoria of a new setting. The sights and smells are refreshingly unfamiliar; the laws and customs are bewilderingly different- even exotic. When all of this change becomes irritating, there is a downward turn in emotional composure, which represents a dip on the line graph over time. Eventually, the world traveler adjusts, copes, or even enjoys his new environment, and the line on the graph ascends again- maybe even supersedes the initial “high”.
Gullahorn and Gullahorn (1963) modified this “u” model to look more like a “w.” The expatriate still experiences a “honeymoon phase”, disillusionment, and adaptation. But eventually, he will receive a home assignment. He initially has anxiety about this, and his anxiety turns to a genuine depression as he experiences nostalgia for “the way things were in my host country” as well as disappointment about the new life he is establishing in his home country. According to the “w” theory, a healthy individual will eventually work through this “reverse culture shock” and the line graph will ascend to normalcy.
Cross-cultural trainers have repeated this “u” or “w” theory over and over again – and many students accept the theory at face value. But does it represent reality? What percentage of cross-cultural businessmen and missionaries actually experience adjustment as euphoria, disillusionment, adaptation, anxiety about returning home, further disillusionment and finally growth and acceptance? Kealey’s (1989) study of 277 expatriates showed that while 50% of the sample experienced stress during adjustment, only about 10% of cross-cultural workers actually experience the typical “u” curve. Therefore, the “u” curve is not really typical at all, calling into question the generalizability of the model (Jackson, 2014, p. 209).
Some theorists have recognized the weakness of the “u” or “w” curve, and have proposed alternate representations for the process of adjustment. For example, Young Yun Kim’s model is an upward spiral, moving from stress to adaptation, followed by more stress and adaptation. Over time, as the spiral moves upward, the cross-cultural worker grows in character and ability (Kim, 2002, pp. 236-239).
Still other theorists recognize that we adjust on different levels at different rates. The emotional adjustment may very well follow something like a u-curve, whereas one’s interpersonal skills or technical skills in a host culture may sharply increase without a dip. Ward (1999) has noted that sojourners experience acculturation on at least two levels: psychological and socio-cultural. However, our adjustment to the physical surroundings, to the workplace, and to interpersonal relationships will likely follow different trajectories. Would we expect a traveler’s adaptation to his physical surroundings to follow a u-curve, where he is initially competent at getting on trains and ordering in restaurants, then his skills sharply decrease, only to take an upward turn after time? Of course not- one’s competence at getting around should start lower and increase (though it may eventually plateau as he gains nearly full-competence). Similarly, one’s competence in work duties may easily increase without an initial downward dip. Interpersonal relationships may take longer to develop, but will still increase, not decrease, over time.
Gullahorn, J., & Gullahorn, J. (1963). An extension of the u-curve hypothesis. Journal of Social Issues, 19, 33-47.
Jackson, J. (2014). Introducing Language and Intercultural communication. New York: Routledge.
Kealey, D. (1989). A study of cross-cultural effectiveness: Theoretical issues, practical applications. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 13(3), 387-428.
Kim, Y. Y. (2002). Cross-cultural adaptation: an integrative theory. In J. Martin, T. Nakayama & L. Flores (Eds.), Readings in cultural contexts (2nd ed.). Mountain View, Ca: Mayfield.
Lysgaard, S. (1955). Adjustment in a foreign society: Norwegian Fulbright Grantees visiting the United States. International Social Science Bulletin, 7, 45-51.
Ward, C. (1999). Acculturation and Adaptation Revisited. Journal of Crosscultural psychology, 30(4), 422-442.
Kenneth Nehrbass, Ph.D.
Associate Professor at Biola University, Author, Pastor