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Dimensionalizing Cultures: The Hofstede Model

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Hofstede’s first dimensions (1980) to analyze the distance or how countries differ from one another were four constructs: uncertainty avoidance, power distance, individualism and masculinity. The data that was used from his early work did contribute in enhancing the global studies about distance, particularly regarding the empirical analysis. His approach was appealing for different reasons: he emphasized that the flows of information are based on cultural and cognitive differences, hence the uncertainty factor and the difficulty of foreign expansion. His dimensions also offered a specific set of cultural indicators for quite a significant number of countries at the time. The forty countries that he selected were measured according to his dimensional approach. However, this approach to cross-national distance was solely relying on the cultural dimension of a country, failing to grasp the globality of a country’s dynamics.

Consequently, his findings may be lacking in terms of ambiguity and may prove to be conflicting. Additional dimensions seemed to be required for a more comprehensive and accurate understanding of distance that goes beyond the only cultural aspect. His work has been completed over the years, adding two more dimensions – Indulgence versus Restraint and Long-term orientation versus Short-term orientation – and a wider range of countries for his analysis. Regardless of the actual findings and the accuracy of the model, Hofstede’s dimensions and his global work have been the basis for international research on the topic of cross-national distance.

Hofstede’s six dimensions are defined as follows:

  • Individualism vs. collectivism, are the dynamics of one individual towards a group or organization.
  • Power distance, is the degree of acceptance of people towards the unequal balance of powers in a group.
  • Uncertainty avoidance is the way a group interacts through social norms, rules and laws to prevent unpredictable events.
  • Femininity vs. Masculinity, measures the roles of genders in order to acknowledge if a society is more or less moved by masculine or feminine values.
  • Long-term orientation vs. Short-term orientation, measures the orientation that societies have towards time.
  • Indulgence vs. Restraint, measures the trends that individuals show in a society regarding leisure, happiness.

Following the work of Hofstede, Shalom H. Schwartz released his own perception of a culture model in six dimensions under three major pairs. (Schwartz, 1994)

They are defined as follows:

  • Embeddedness vs. Autonomy, measures the dynamics between an individual and a larger group. Cultures focused on embeddedness perceive the individual as single entity part which belongs to a group whereas cultures focused on Autonomy perceive the individual as a self-standing personality who can pursue its own life achievements outside of a group.
  • Mastery vs. Harmony is the difference between the understanding and acceptance of the natural environment and processes (Harmony) and the control, will to change in order to go towards higher objectives (Mastery).
  • Hierarchy vs. Egalitarianism, measures the social behaviors in a society. Hierarchy sees its foundations in the traditional hierarchical organigramme, acknowledging the lack of balance of roles and powers as legitimate. Egalitarianism, however, encourages responsible behaviors towards one another in an equal society.
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