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Global Cultural Dimensions – Collectivism vs Individualism

Global Cultural Dimensions

Professor Geert Hofstede conducted one of the most comprehensive studies of how culture influences values at the workplace. His definition of culture is collective programming of the mind to distinguish the members of one category or group of people from others. There is six cultural dimension which resulted from the extensive research done by Geert Hofstede, Michael Minkov, Gert Jan Hofstede and their research teams. Having operated in an international environment since 1965, his curiosity as a social psychologist led him into comparing nations.

He statistically grouped the values that differentiated countries rather than individuals from each other into four clusters. The four anthropological problem areas that societies dealt with differently included ways of coping with uncertainty, ways of dealing with inequality, the emotional implication of having a boy or a girl and the relationship of an individual with his or her primary group. The following became Hofstede’s national cultural dimensions: Uncertainty of Avoidance, Individualism versus Collectivism, Masculinity versus Femininity and Power Distance. Six other cross-national studies were carried out between 1990 and 2002 on totally different populations in 14 to 28 countries and the findings totally replicated Hofstede’s cultural dimensions.

Individualism vs. Collectivism

How is communication across a cultural divide affected by cultural differences? More specifically, how is communication affected by a culture’s collective or individual orientation? One of the key cultural dimensions as identified by Geert Hofstede is individualism vs. collectivism. This is referred to as the degree to which individuals in a certain country prefer acting as individuals rather than as members of groups. This dimension focuses on the relationship between the individual and the larger social groups. Cultures vary on the level of emphasis they provide on encouraging uniqueness/ individuality and on interdependence and conformity. Individualistic societies tend to focus more on themselves and the immediate families while collective societies put more emphasis on integration into strong cohesive in-groups which they protect and provide unquestionable loyalty.

Countries like Germany and the US are considered individualistic since they focus more on personal achievements and individual rights. In as much as group work is important in such societies, everybody has his/ her opinion. The ‘American Dream’ is a perfect representation for this since it focuses on the people’s hope for a better quality life with living standards higher than their parents. It encourages people to pull up their socks and get out of poverty. On the other hand, China as a collectivistic society encourages more group work and puts more emphasis on strong relationships between individuals hence the basis of guanxi. To them, the needs of a group are way more important than individual needs.

Characteristics of Individualistic cultures

§ Fosters contractual relationships that revolve around the basics of exchange. In such cultures, calculation of the profit or loss of engaging in a particular behavior is calculated before going for it.

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§ Concentrates more on self and the very dear or near ones as well as concern with behavioral relationships as well as own interests, needs and own goals.

§ More emphasis on personal pleasure, over duties, fun, enjoyment and social norms. They are part of in-groups, but they hardly have any influence on their lives.

§ Value independence and self-sufficiency with self-interest placement rather than collective interest. In such societies, confrontation is an acceptable attribute.

§ More emphasis on the horizontal relationship for instance relationship between spouses over vertical relationships such as parent-child relationships.

§ They hold unique beliefs and decisions are made based on individual needs.

Characteristics of Collectivistic Cultures.

§ For maintenance of social harmony among in-group members, the behavior must subscribe to the social norms established.

§ More giving up of personal interest and sharing of resources to facilitate the collective interest.

§ Before making any major decision must consider the implications to the wider collective.

§ Favoritism especially to in-groups including family and friends.

§ Be a part of few influential in-groups and inclining towards conformity

§ Increased concern when it comes to in-group members but show indifference or hostility towards out-group members

§ Much emphasis on hierarchy and harmony within the group

§ There are group norms which help in the regulation of behavior.

Traits of Individualism/collectiveness in specific areas:

National

High Individualism: more economic development, urbanization, and wealthy modern industry.

Low Individualism: less economic development, more traditional agriculture, poor

Politics

High Individualism: rights same for all, political power by the voter.

Low Individualism (collectiveness):rights depend on group, political power by interest groups law.

Religion/ideas

High Individualism: monotheistic, science/tech matter of fact, individual conversations

Low Individualism:polytheistic, science/tech considered magic, group conversations.

Work

High Individualism: more working hours, family relationships a disadvantage in hiring, promotion based on rules/ skills.

Low Individualism: fewer working hours, relatives preferred in hiring, promotion and hiring consider in-group status.

School

High Individualism:learn how to learn, students expected to speak up teachers deal with individuals.

Low Individualism:learn how to do, students expected to listen, teachers deal with groups.

Other

High Individualism:security through insurance, children take care of self as soon as possible, disability a handicap to overcome.

Low Individualism:security through the social network, children maintain a lifelong contact with family, disability a shame.

Understanding the individualism versus collectivism as a cultural dimension clearly shows the diversity in how societies relate to one another. In individualistic societies it’s more about acknowledging individual accomplishments, not mixing social life and work life too much, privacy, encouraging debate and expression of an own idea. On the other hand, in collectivistic societies wisdom is the most important factor, avoid giving negative feedback, highly encouraged to suppress feelings that may cause rife in the group and people are encouraged to be polite and to say “No” causes people to lose face thus should be avoided and that’s where China falls.

Cultures based on individualism places more importance on attaining personal goal while cultures based on collectivism, the groups well being and goals are valued over individual’s goals. Society’s position in this cultural dimension is highly reflected in whether people view themselves as either “we’ or ‘I’. Collectivism tends to prevail in Eastern countries while individualism prevails in Western countries. Japan falls right at the middle of this dimension.Geert Hofstede reiterates that cultural dimensions are only supposed to a framework to assess certain culture and aid in the decision-making process.Other factors such as personality, personal wealth, history and family should also be put into consideration. It is important to not that the proposed cultural dimensions do not take into account an individual personality thus cannot predict an individual’s behavior.

Global Cultural Dimensions – Collectivism vs Individualism
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