SOCIAL AND CULTURAL INFLUENCES ON SOCIETY.
HOW CULTURE SHAPES SOCIETY
1. Understanding the significance of Cultures
The essential nature of any society; its social cohesion and political stability, how successful it is economically, and the quality of the lives of all its members - is affected by many factors. Obviously geography, climate, history and neighbours will have a vitally important effect. For example, Poland lacks natural borders, is bounded by powerful neighbours like Russia and Germany, and has been invaded by many other nations through its history. Its boundaries have been forcibly changed many times, and for short periods of history it has been obliterated as a political entity. Yet Poland has always bounced back as a viable nation. The reason for this seems to lie in the culture and shared history (often suffering) of its people. It seems that shared experiences, norms and values have kept Poland alive over a long and turbulent history and have made it the vibrant and successful country it is today.
So it appears that Culture, an apparently ephemeral entity, is absolutely at the centre of any Society. This section will examine the issues behind Culture, and its interplay with politics, economics and the quality of life for citizens in a society
Culture and Society
Culture is a slippery concept to grasp, but in simple terms, it is the commonly held, but often unspoken values and expectations that enable a Society to function. People with similar values tend to trust each other, which means that decisions can be taken and enacted without the use of coercion. Societies can cope successfully with a variety of different cultural elements, but in the end, there must be agreement over some basic values, such as national identity and the rule of law.
Culture is deep and often invisible
In his book “Cultural DNA”, Gurnek Bains describes the lasting effects of events from far-back history on the cultures of countries and regions. The region which is the focus of this book, northern Europe, has a complex deep history, but eventually was the wellspring that produced not only the current countries of Northern Europe, but also spawned North American and Australasian societies through later emigrations.
Forces that have shaped Northern European cultural DNA(From “Cultural DNA” by Gurnek Bains; Wiley 2015)
“The story of how modern humans inhabited Europe and the challenges they faced on the continent is, as with all groups critical to our understanding of modern-day societies in the region. It was only 45,000 years ago that modern humans gingerly made their way into the continent. This was much later than the settling of the Indian sub-continent. There are a variety of delays. First, the barriers of the Sahara and the Arabian desert prevented an easy movement of people out of Africa via the most direct route, through the Levant into Anatolia, and into Europe. The second and perhaps more important, reason was that Europe was already densely populated by an earlier version of humans – the Neanderthals. Neanderthals had been in Europe for the best part of 400,000 years and presented a formidable challenge to other humans entering the continent . There was at least a 5000 year standoff for the ecological space in Europe. Neanderthals were gradually pushed back to their final enclave in the south of Spain. Just how modern humans triumphed over the Neanderthals has important implications for European cultural DNA. The most persuasive theory as to why modern humans “won” is one advanced by evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, who argues that it was modern humans’ superior social organisation that gave them the edge .It appears that the early groups were communicating extensively across relatively large swathes of territory. It is likely that better communication and collaboration beyond the traditional hunter-gatherer populations of 200 or so would have given modern humans in Europe an edge with both technological inventiveness and warfare. Many elements of European cultural DNA, , including an openness towards innovation, in-group cooperation, out group aggression, most likely arise at least in part from the fact that for a significant part of the time modern humans have been in Europe, they were in a life and death struggle with a powerful competitor species.
But just how Europe was populated also has profound implications for understanding its cultural DNA. It appears that there were two very distinct paths through which Europe was populated. One migratory trail came from the west of India, into the Balkans and southern Europe. A more northerly route again originated in the west of India – but this time up through Kashmir into the Ural, then west into northern Europe and Scandinavia. But an unfortunate conjunction of climatic cycles, starting about 20,000 years ago, caused temperatures to plummet, sea levels to fall by over 120 metres, and ice caps several miles thick to form through Scandinavia and into northern Europe. Many humans in Europe only survived by huddling in small enclaves. As a result of the impacts of these climatic factors, some parts of Europe, mainly in the South, are relatively benign environments for humans. But a substantial aspect of European DNA has been shaped by people who needed to adapt and survive in challenging environments. People had to build shelters, make clothing, and create all manner of tools to cope with the conditions.
Another observation about Europe is that the continent’s geography, inevitably created barriers to the establishment of a single unified state, as occurred in China.
Some of Europe’s dynamism, as well as a propensity to quarrelsome fragmentation, arise from the peculiarities of this geography. Individualism and a propensity for challenging authority were also able to flourish more in an environment where a monolithic state was not able to exert control over a wide expanse of territory, as in China and India.
A final, and more recent point about Europe’s population structure is that over the last 500 years or so, many societies on the continent have experienced significant migrations to many parts of the world occupied or colonised by Europeans, but fewer received large populations of immigrants from different cultural backgrounds until recently. Europe has sent more people beyond its shores than any other culture. Those who left were not a random selection of people – and the reasons for their leaving affected both the culture created in the new environments and the societies they left behind. Attitudes in the mother countries were affected deeply – especially towards class, status, and levels of achievement”.
Bains identifies several overriding cultural traits in Northern European Societies as a consequence of its turbulent history.
Many northern European countries have very equal societies – for example, the Scandinavian countries, led by Iceland, had universal suffrage long before those in other parts of the continent. Another factor is Inequality. Europe generally has more equal societies in terms of income and wealth than many other parts of the world. An outrider is Britain, or rather England, which has a long established class system, probably derived from the 1066 Norman invasion , and cemented by the restoration of the monarchy after a short period of the Commonwealth. Also the migration of generally eqalitarian Puritans and Quakers to America might have reinforced the class system.
A second factor is the balance between individualism and a form of collectivism. This maybe best explained by the example of Sweden. Swedes generally believe in taking responsibility for one’s personal affairs, working hard and supporting a family (individualism). But they also believe strongly in the fact that people have a duty towards others in society, especially the less fortunate (a form of collectivism). This has been described as institutional collectivism, defined as the extent to which a society has a clear rules and social obligations that people must follow. Institutional collectivism is highest in the Scandinavian countries.
A good summary of the societal behaviour of the Scandinavian countries might be “Individualism, working for the interests of the self and family (Margaret Thatcher’s strong value), but being willing to collaborate with others for the good of society as a whole. (This idea was far too complex and diffuse for an absolutist like Thatcher to understand.) So, unlike the Soviet model of collectivism, which was actually enforced slavery dictated from the top of society, the Scandinavian model of voluntary collaboration melded with a strong element of personal responsibility is a very distinctive cultural feature
The United States is far lower on this measure and sits in the bottom half globally. A factor affecting this score is that a significant number of early settlers fled their original homes to escape various forms of institutional control. The dislike of control by distant institutions, especially government, is still very marked in America today.
This paradoxical statement might be explained by a Chinese executive: “Westerners treat their family like strangers and strangers like their family.”
To unravel this paradox: in Northern Europe there is a strong sense of responsibility towards the wider society. This is described as “Bridging Social Capital” and can be contrasted with “Bonding Social Capital”, which entails very strong attachment of family and friends and much less to strangers even from the same society. This was brilliantly described by Margaret Thatcher when she said
"They are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there's no such thing as Society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours." (In an interview in Women's Own Magazine in 1987).
This sentiment would be strongly rejected by most people in northern Europe, especially those in the Nordic countries. Thatcher’s philosophy also reflects her strong attachment to Market Fundamentalism, as will be explored later.
Northern Europeans appear to find no difficulty in having strong attachments to family and friends, but also stretching this to include community and the wider Society. This can be understood by contrasting the Nordic countries with Northern Ireland. The Unionist (protestant) community has a strong identity and common ideals. But they generally do not feel affinity with the “Nationalist” (Catholic) community which forms roughly half the population of Ulster. This is a description of a community characterised by strong Bonding and weak Bridging Social Capital.
By contrast, most people in Nordic and Northern European countries (with the exception of modern England) see no problem in giving up some personal advantage for the good of the wider community.
The Impact of Great Historical “Events”
The 1918/9 post-war settlements following the first World War have had The profound effects on subsequent events in the Middle East. The Arab nations had high expectations of rewards after the war. Instead they found that France and Britain had arbitrarily defined national boundaries, and the subsequent Balfour Declaration created the state of Israel in Palestine. Even worse, the punitive conditions put upon Germany by France and England led to the collapse of the German economy, followed by Nazism and eventually the Second World War. Many societies have experienced major events in modern history – events that have shaped their Cultures.
Here are some that have affected communities with Northern European origins:
The United States was originally shaped by settlers from northern Europe, in particular people from Britain. These early settlers were refugees from what they saw as overbearing authority. The War of American Independence was an emphatic rejection of the distant and authoritarian behaviour of the British Crown and Government. Ever since, there has been a strong streak of mistrust of central government, now in Washington.
- The American Declaration of Independence and the creation of a strong Constitution has deeply affected current culture. The resistance to gun control is enshrined in the Constitutional “Right to bear arms” as is the tripartite separation of powers between the Legislature, Executive and judiciary.
- Part of the rich “soup” that is the United States is the cultural differences of early settlers; in particular the differences between the Cavaliers who mainly settled in the south and the Protestant Non-Conformists who colonised the North Eastern states. The “Cavaliers” were descended form English aristocracy, used to having servants, and saw no problems with slavery, whereas the Quakers and Non-Conformists in the North had very different ideas. The result was the American Civil War, the echoes of which can still be heard today.
- The conquest of the “West” had had a profound effects. Originally the move towards the west coast was led by settlers who had come from the Scottish borders, and later, Northern Ireland. It has created a strongly individualistic and somewhat “macho” streak in modern America. The West was seen as a place of boundless opportunity for those with the “get-up-and -go” to seize opportunities. The same spirit affected the numerous Gold Rushes. The pioneering spirit of the West is deeply imbued in American folklore.
- Latterly, the “defeat” of the Soviet Union has affirmed the superiority of the “American Way”. This, combined with a strong Non- Conformist religious culture created the expectation of the “American Century”, characterised by such works as “The End of History”, which contended that the superior American model of society was near perfect and could be exported world-wide. The Vietnam disaster and latter-day failures in the Middle East have caused confusion and anger that can be seen in deeply schismatic politics today.
The result of Founders’ values and the rich tapestry of more modern events have created a Society with many deep Paradoxes embedded in it. He are some of them, as seen by an “outsider” with 40 year’s experience of working in the US.
America draws some of its deeper cultural features from its Northern European roots. In particular, there is a strong individualistic streak, which is not as modified by a sense of the “Good of Society” as in the Nordic countries. BUT, there is a deep sense of attachment to the American Ideal that draws from its rejection of colonial control. However…. It is not clear which version of the ideal America prevails. These differences are the cause of much internal conflict and strife, as different versions clash with each other. This idea of “America the Good” is driven by a very strong streak of Evangelistic Protestantism. For example, after the invasion of Iraq aimed at creating a modern democratic, capitalist society, some American Christian churches were poised to start missions to Iraq, to instill Christian values. Other ingredients in the American cultural “soup” are values derived from the conquest of the “West”. Flavours introduced by this passage of history include very strong individualism, the ideal of real men fighting the heathen – and a very strong strand of optimism about the future. Also, the “Wild West” idea placed women in a subordinate role, as supporters and family builders who mostly stayed at home.
So there is still a strong attachment to the idea that America is the land of opportunity, where strong (men) can make it, get rich and keep their wealth, rather than give it away to a deeply suspect government in Washington. Also, those who don’t make it are probably weak and undeserving. This has profound effects on the role of Society in supporting its weaker members, as well as a deep antipathy to “Socialism”, as exemplified by state supported public health.
Slavery still creates strong tensions and affects the attitudes of many in the more southern parts of the country towards Negroes. The recent furore about the lack of Oscars for black film actors and directors is a small example of a deep problem still embedded in US society.
Dislike of distant governments
Originally the American settlers revolted against the imposition of taxes by the Crown in England. But this was strongly underlined by a dislike of a superior level of government which was emotionally and psychologically distant. The mantra of “No taxation without Representation” resonated strongly with the original Puritan Americans.
The Founding Fathers of the American constitution carefully designed a system of government based on a balance of power between the legislature, judiciary and executive arms of government. This system was leavened by an electoral process of considerable complexity, designed to ensure that all interests were represented in the election of the President. But a driving force in the design of the political system was a fear of excessive power invested in a head of state.
Reverence for foundation Values.
Americans in general have a strong attachment to their origins as a nation. The Constitution, designed by a group of wise men in 17….., drew strongly on then prevailing streams of European thought. It is an elaborate document, based on Separation of Powers, but also has some Articles that reflected the concerns of the time. In particular, the Right to Bear Arms was based on the idea of a citizens’ war against British oppression. Despite the fact that the British have long gone as a threat, and the West has been well and truly won, any attempts to dilute this sacred right to own weapons are greeted with something approaching hysteria!
England/ United Kingdom
The deep cultural history of Britain, like America, is very complex. Different waves of early immigration have resulted in considerable cultural differences between various regions, in particular Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, to the point that there is a strong sense of separate nationhood.
Critical events in Britain have been conquest by the Roman Empire, waves of invasion from Denmark, Angeln and Saxony (Anglo-Saxons), mainly into the South and East of the country.
A truly critical event occurred in 1066, with the conquest of most of England by the Normans from across the channel. Major impacts of this were the defeat of a system of small local kingdoms, along Nordic lines, by a centralised state in which the king parceled out large lots of land to ennobled landowners in return for fealty. The “beheading” of local kingdoms and the “rape” of the rest of the old communities was a truly cataclysmic event. This event created the beginnings of a system of social class which has endured to modern times. The UK, in particular England, is still deeply affected by embedded class privilege, perpetuated by a division of schools into private and public, with private school pupils having assisted entrance to top professional, banking and political positions.
Emigration from Britain, Scotland and Ireland in the nineteenth century reinforced the position of the English upper classes, and deeply affected the patterns of habitation and agriculture – first leading to the Agricultural Revolution, which enforced radical change on the countryside and cities alike, leading to the Industrial Revolution, in which Britain led the world as a manufacturing and technological powerhouse. This revolution had a modifying effect on the class system, which became more occupation based – but the upper class remained mostly unchanged. Successful entrepreneurs sought to join the upper class, to the point of building large country houses with extensive estates.
Allied to the industrial revolution was the second British Empire, which was based on trade – the colonies providing raw materials and providing captive markets for British manufactured goods. A system of shipping “lines” developed as arteries for the passage of people, goods and soldiers across the far-flung empire.
Then, the growth and decline of empire has left lasting echoes. Britain developed a mighty empire in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But as British economic and industrial power diminished, so did the empire. The Second World War was the final death knell of British imperial power, strongly accelerated by nationalism in major colonies like India. The war deeply diminished Britain, and was a huge boost to American industrial power. The American role as provider of wartime materiel set up the United States as a world power – in some ways a successor to Britain.
Later, as empire was waning, Britain received a massive influx of immigrants from ex-colonial countries, such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the West Indies. In the main, these immigrants were eventually assimilated, but less so when they congregated in urban enclaves. But these new arrivals had little or no effect on the English class system, which remained intact.
Britain, unlike the Nordic countries and other northern European countries, maintained a strong Upper Class – which diminished the sense of wider social cohesion. So Britain has fostered strong Bonding Social Capital, including strong in-class bonding, occupational class bonding, and geographical bonding. Changing class structures have done nothing to deepen the overall cohesion of Society as a whole.
The Nordic countries
Throughout their history, the Scandinavian countries did not develop a strongly established class system. The underlying structure of society remained based on regional and local communities, with widespread participation in community affairs. As industrialisation developed, the position of Labour alongside Capital remained strong at individual firm, community and national levels. Despite considerable boundary changes, reflecting the rise and waning of Swedish power, the Nordic culture remained intact. One feature that remained constant until relatively recent times was national uni-cultures. This cultural stability has had a distinct effect on the character of Scandinavian countries. Finland was an outlier in the fact that its relations with Russia and the other Nordic countries has been changeable over the centuries, but this has not changed a very strong sense of Finnish national identity.
In recent years this sense of national “purity” has become threatened by waves of immigration, resulting in the development of right wing parties opposed to immigration, but these still exist on the fringes of society.
This has meant that the features of “Reserved Sociabliity”, Bounded Individualism” and “Equality” have remained strong. Thus a sense of obligation to a wider society has persisted alongside the value of hard work and personal responsibility.
Germany is a relatively new country, only becoming a unified nation in the nineteenth century. Prussian culture of aristocratic militarism was strong in the North, which differentiated it from the more agrarian regions in the South. German history has been a procession of violent changes, with almost constant competition with its neighbour France flaring up into frequent wars. The cataclysm of the First World War – and the total disaster of the Second World War have deeply scarred contemporary German society. The monstrous tragedy of the Nazi era can be understood but not excused by considering what the vengeful Allies, led by France and Britain, did to Germany after the 1914/1918 war. The country was starved and humiliated, to the point that a rather shallow democratic system broke down. Desperate and angry Germans were susceptible to appeals to Germany’s mystic and wonderful Teutonic past. The Nazis skillfully used total control of media and a huge propaganda machine to stir up German rage about humiliation and create a field where Nazi militarism could flourish.
Partition after the Second World War and Allied support against Russia have inclined Germany strongly back towards “Western” European values. Germany was re-unified in the 1980’s and ex-Soviet East Germany has been assimilated into the western German “system”. The reconstruction of the German political and economic systems, assisted strongly by American and British ideas and American capital, have resulted in a “Social Democratic” society; strongly industrialised, with co-determination between labour and capital, and a parliamentary political system. One noticeable feature of German society to a visitor is a strong sense of community, perhaps resulting in conformist pressures. However, local voluntary organisations aimed at addressing social problems are a strong feature of German society.
Germans believe strongly in order:
“In many respects, Germans can be considered the masters of planning. This is a culture that prizes forward thinking and knowing what they will be doing at a specific time on a specific day. Careful planning, in one's business and personal life, provides a sense of security. Rules and regulations allow people to know what is expected and plan their life accordingly. Once the proper way to perform a task is discovered, there is no need to think of doing it any other way”. Germans believe that maintaining clear lines of demarcation between people, places, and things is the surest way to lead a structured and ordered life. Work and personal lives are rigidly divided. There is a proper time for every activity”.
Whilst German society is relatively hierarchical, there is a very structured system of co-determination in industry (in part designed by British and American academics after World War Two) that ensures that the interests of Labour are strongly represented in decision making.
Sweden scores relatively low on power distance, so Swedes do not to accept that people in power have a right to be different in terms of social separation, special rights or displays of wealth by comparison with people in general. Low power distance cultures are characterized by relatively equal power sharing and discourage attention to status difference and ranking. Low power distance cultures challenge authority, encourage a reduction of power differences between management and employees, and encourage the use of power legitimately.
It also has a moderately individualistic culture, so people are expected to work hard, and take care of themselves and their families. Individualistic cultures are classified as having low power distance, or horizontal, cultures. Individualism is the moral stance, ideology, or social outlook that emphasizes the moral worth of the individual. Individualists promote the exercise of one's goals and desires and so value independence and self-reliance.
But the outstanding feature of Swedish culture is its attachment to “feminine” values. Sweden is distinguished by a strong concern for a healthy society, defined as one where all should have equal life chances, where the weaker members are taken care of, and key stakeholders should collaborate to make key decisions affecting society. Conflicts should ideally be solved through negotiation and conciliation.
Men and women should have equal opportunities in education and employment. This is backed by superior childcare facilities and equal rights for time off work after the birth of a child. The quality of life and achieving a satisfactory work/leisure balance are strongly valued.
The Swedish political system is strongly based on collaboration between central government and the major stakeholders in society. Trades Unions, Industry employers' associations and local government collaborate with central government and each other to help formulate and enact national economic and social and economic policy.
The Swedish social security system provides high levels of education, health care and social support for all citizens. Those who experience difficulty in the workplace or become unemployed are given strong support to reskill and find other work.
Recent Research on cultures: Geert Hofstede and Fons Trompenaars.
Gerd Hofstede and Fons Trompenaars have both researched and written on issues related to culture, using large multi - national groups as a basis for their evidence.
Hofstede's book 1980 book “Culture's Consequences” combined his personal experiences with the statistical analysis of two unique data bases. The first and largest comprised answers of matched employee samples from 40 different countries to the same attitude survey questions. The second consisted of answers to some of these same questions by his executive students who came from 15 countries and from a variety of companies and industries. Systematic differences between nations in these two data bases occurred in particular for questions dealing with values. Values, in this case, are "broad preferences for one state of affairs over others", and they are mostly unconscious.
Hofstede: Dimensions of Culture.
Cultures are not amorphous blobs. They are comprised of a number of different facets. Understanding these and the differences between societies is essential to developing an understanding of how politics is organised, why nations can enter into conflictual relationships - or the opposite, how they may easily collaborate. Understanding cultural differences is very important in international relations, and in business. The attempts of US Neo-Liberals to impose their version of “democracy” on other nations, and the disastrous failure of those attempts is simply the result of a belief in the universal superiority of their values and a gross failure to understand other cultures. The failure of the alliance to convert Iraq to a neo-liberal view of the world - and their complete underestimation of the chaos that would follow President Bush's declaration of “Mission Accomplished” after Iraqi armed forces had been overcome - is an example of another such failure.
An even greater cause of international economic and political fracture was the Washington Consensus, which was more accurately described by a British economist as the “American Business Model”.
The term Washington Consensus was coined in 1989 by English economist John Williamson to refer to a set of 10 relatively specific economic policy prescriptions that he considered constituted the "standard" reform package promoted for crisis-wracked developing countries by Washington, D.C.-based institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and the US Treasury Department. The prescriptions encompassed policies in such areas as macroeconomic stabilization, opening economies for both trade and investment, and the expansion of market forces within the domestic economy.
The imposition of these values can be blamed for the collapse of the Russian economy after the collapse of the Soviet Union - and, more interesting, the reappearance of an autocratic centralised political system, which seems more attuned to the Russian culture. Equally destructive was the collapse of South East Asian and South American economies as a result of the imposition of market fundamentalist values. The fact that many of the victims have learned better ways of tackling their own problems is to be celebrated.
Understanding Cultures is crucial to fostering international collaboration and sustainable national societies.
Hofstede's first four dimensions of culture
The values that distinguished countries (rather than individuals) from each other grouped themselves statistically into four clusters. They dealt with four anthropological problem areas that different national societies handle differently: ways of coping with inequality, ways of coping with uncertainty, the relationship of the individual with her or his primary group, and the relative positions in society of women and men. This dimension has broadened into values that have profound effects on the relationships between individuals and society.
These became the Hofstede dimensions of national culture: Power Distance, Uncertainty Avoidance, Individualism versus Collectivism, and Masculinity versus Femininity.
This dimension expresses the degree to which the less powerful members of a society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. The fundamental issue here is how a society handles inequalities among people. People in societies exhibiting a large degree of power distance accept a hierarchical order in which everybody has a place and which needs no further justification. In societies with low power distance, people strive to equalise the distribution of power and demand justification for inequalities of power.
High power distance suggests that a society's level of inequality is endorsed by the followers as much as by the leaders.
This measure does not necessarily distinguish men from women, but much more the general beliefs that lie behind some prevailing values in a society. There is a considerable crossover in reality between men and women. For example, Margaret Thatcher is a good example of a woman who espoused many “masculine” values, and Nelson Mandela practiced forgiveness and reconciliation, without either of them changing their sex!
“Masculine” behaviour is taken to be characterised by competitive spirit, striving to be best and a tendency to characterise some people as “losers”, as though it was their own fault.
“Feminine” behaviour is characterised by concern for the welfare of others, conflict resolution by conciliation and a propensity to collaborate rather than compete.
A high score (masculine) on this dimension indicates that the society will be driven by competition, achievement and success, with success being defined by the winner/ best in field - a value system that starts in school and continues throughout life.
A low score (feminine) on the dimension means that the dominant values in society are caring for others and quality of life. A feminine society is one where quality of life is the sign of success and standing out from the crowd is not admirable. A fundamental issue is what motivates people, wanting to be the best (masculine) or liking what you do (feminine).
Sweden scores 5 on this dimension and is therefore a “feminine” society. In feminine countries it is important to keep the life/work balance and make sure that all are included. An effective manager is supportive to his/her people, and decision making is achieved through involvement. Managers strive for consensus and people value equality, solidarity and quality in their working lives. Conflicts are resolved by compromise and negotiation. Swedes are known for their long discussions until consensus has been reached.
The fundamental issue addressed by this dimension is the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members. It has to do with whether people's self-image is defined in terms of “I” or “We”. In Individualist societies people are supposed to look after themselves and their direct family only. In more Collectivist societies people belong to groups and communities that will support them.
Another dimension of individualism is the degree to which individuals are expected to work hard, take responsibility and do their best.
This dimension can interact with some others. For example, in Scandinavian societies, individuals are expected to be responsible and hard-working (Individualism); but these Societies also demonstrate a strong bias towards Feminine values in the fact that the quality of life, collaboration and support for others is highly valued.
Uncertainty avoidance deals with a society's tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity. It indicates to what extent a culture programmes its members to feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured situations. Unstructured situations are novel, unknown, surprising, different from usual. Uncertainty avoiding cultures try to minimize the possibility of such situations by strict laws and rules, safety and security measures, and on the philosophical and religious level by a belief in Absolute Truth: "there can only be one Truth and we have it".
People in uncertainty avoiding countries are also more emotional, and motivated by inner nervous energy. The opposite type, uncertainty accepting cultures, are more tolerant of opinions different from what they are used to; they try to have as few rules as possible, and on the philosophical and religious level they are relativist and allow many currents to flow side by side. People within these cultures are more phlegmatic and contemplative, and not expected by their environment to express emotions.
Dimension scores are relative
Country scores on these dimensions are relative - societies are compared to other societies. These relative scores have been proven to be quite stable over decades. The forces that cause cultures to shift tend to be global or continent-wide - they affect many countries at the same time, so that if their cultures shift, they shift together, and their relative positions remain the same.
Scores in different dimensions may complement each other - or cancel each other out. For example, Sweden has an individualistic culture, but it's very high score on the feminine measure means that it is a relatively egalitarian and collaborative society. On the other hand, The United States scores highly on both Individualism and Masculinity, and tends towards competition, “Winners”, “Losers” and inequality.
Scores around the world
Power distance scores are high for Latin, Asian and African countries and smaller for Anglo and Germanic countries. Uncertainty avoidance scores are higher in Latin countries, in Japan, and in German speaking countries, lower in Anglo, Nordic, and Chinese culture countries. Individualism prevails in developed and Western countries, while collectivism prevails in less developed and Eastern countries; Japan takes a middle position on this dimension. Masculinity is high in Japan, in some European countries like Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and the “Anglo” countries. It is low in Nordic countries and in the Netherlands and moderately low in some Latin and Asian countries like France, Spain and Thailand. Long-term orientation scores are highest in East Asia, moderate in Eastern and Western Europe, and low in the Anglo world, the Muslim world, Latin America and Africa.
International Comparisons - Some Key dimensions
|Power Distance||Individualism||Masculine/Feminine||Uncertainty Avoidance|
Fons Trompenaars added some other useful dimensions, in particular what he termed Universalism as opposed to Particularism. Universalism he described as a strong tendency to believe that there were rules, values and norms which had universal validity. Laws were meant to be obeyed, no matter what the individuals' circumstances. Universalist cultures tended to foster the strong view that there was a right way to do things and be critical when they encountered differences in other cultures.
Particularist cultures tended to regard individual needs to be more important than universal laws and to be flexible in response to changing circumstances.
Typical Universalist cultures include the U.S., Canada, the U.K, the Netherlands, Germany, Scandinavia, New Zealand, Australia, and Switzerland. The United States is noted for believing that its systems and practices are models that other nations should copy - and that other cultures are inferior. But it should be pointed out that the relative success of European societies - and the revelation that other societies are far less unequal - is beginning to dent confidence in the notion that the American way is best.