Gospel & Culture blog
Why old "dyadic" cultural categories like "hot-cold" or "individualist-collectivist" may no longer be (as) relevant
The excerpt below comes from my book God's Image and Global Cultures
Cross-cultural theorists have come up with a number of ways of describing the differences between cultures. Usually these comparisons are based on dyadic (two-element) categories of value-orientations.
Early “value orientation” theories polarized certain values like competition vs. cooperation, shame vs. guilt; or short-term vs. long-term planning. The data seem to suggest that many dominant national cultures will lean heavily toward one end of the spectrum rather than maintain the polar opposites simultaneously. For instance, a culture will not be both hierarchal and egalitarian, or competitive and cooperative—though some cultures are far more polarized than others. For instance, the USA has the most individualistic culture on the planet; Australia has the most egalitarian national culture. Argentina is right in the center between individualism and power distance, and between egalitarianism and hierarchy (The Hofstede Center).
So these value-orientations are tendencies or generalizations; they are not descriptive of everyone in a given society. As Hofstede collected his data, he worked mostly with professionals in the host cultures. Subsequent theorists have noticed that there is a significant amount of variation within the societies that Hofstede studied. For example, a study of women, children, or ethnic minorities in some societies would return different results for variables like being/doing, or individualism/collectivism (see Tanno 2008). And we are seeing variation to a much greater degree in highly heterogeneous (“melting pot” or “salad bowl”) cultures in this era of globalization. Also, while the “culture difference” theory of Hofstede (and others) uses a model with polar opposites, no culture is entirely polarized. Cultures lean (sometimes heavily) one direction while maintaining some tendency toward the value on the other pole. For example, members of culture X may promote a strong “in group” mentality and may exhibit very hospitable behavior toward insiders, and yet be far less hospitable toward strangers. So it is difficult to plot Culture Xers on a continuum either as “spontaneous hospitality” or “planned hospitality” since the orientation changes depending on the context. Or they may be very expressive of emotions to insiders, and very stoic toward outsiders. So it is not that people of Culture X are incapable of hospitality and are always stoic; their orientation to both values depends on the social context.
Theorists such as Lingenfelter and Mayers employed a six-fold model of dyadic value orientations, including time vs. event orientation; task vs. person orientation; dichotomistic vs. holistic thinking, status vs. achievement, concealment or exposure of vulnerability, and crisis vs. non-crisis orientation. Still others have introduced the ideas of polychronic or monochronic time reckoning. Geert Hofstede’s dyadic categories included the idea of “masculine or feminine” cultures, which described the degree of aggression and competition in a culture. Other theorists have re-named this category “tough vs. tender”. Quite recently, Hofstede’s researchers introduced a pragmatism scale, rating some cultures as resistant toward change while others embrace it.
Even though the theoretical orientation of dividing ethnic or national cultures into dyadic categories is increasingly contested, it is important for World Changers to be aware of the canonical cultural variables that are discussed in the field of intercultural studies. And these variables allow us to think through God’s plan for cultures in light of their vast differences. Theorists have put so much effort into understanding these value orientations because, quite often, cross-cultural misunderstandings and conflicts are related to a clash of value orientations.
 Mead, Cooperation and Competition among Primitive Peoples.
 Piers and Singer. Shame and Guilt.
 Hofstede, Geert, et al., Cultures and Organizations.
 Hofstede, Culture's Consequence.
 Lingenfelter and Mayers. Ministering Cross–culturally.
 Hall and Hall. Understanding Cultural Differences.
 Hofstede, Culture's Consequences.
 Hoppe, “An Interview with Geert Hofstede.”
 Lingenfelter, Agents of transformation; Storti, The Art of Crossing Cultures.
© 2015 Kenneth Nehrbass. All Rights Reserved.
Kenneth Nehrbass, Ph.D.
Professor at Biola University, Author, Pastor