Geert Hofstede was a Dutch cultural scientist, social psychologist and professor emeritus of organizational anthropology and international management at Maastricht University. In the professional world, he is considered the founder of statistically based intercultural research.
At the end of the 1960s, Hofstede conducted an empirical study of more than 110,000 IBM employees in 67 countries, from which he developed the model of cultural dimensions. Initially, Hofstede identified four cultural dimensions, followed later by two more, and the number of countries studied was also increased to 76. „A dimension is an aspect of a culture that can be measured in relation to other cultures.“ (Hofstede 2017, 38)
The following is an overview of the culture dimensions:
The power distance cultural dimension describes the expression of power relations within cultures as well as their distribution. Whether the distance between parents and children, teachers and learners, supervisor and employee – hierarchical relationships can be tolerated differently. Power distance is thus the
„degree to which the less powerful members of institutions and organizations in a country expect and accept the unequal distribution of power.“ (Hofstede 2017, 518)
The second cultural dimension describes the relationship between individualism and collectivism within each culture. While individualistic cultures emphasize personal self-actualization, collectivistic cultures emphasize we-group identity.
„Individualism represents a form of society in which the social bonds between individuals are not very strong. Everyone is expected to care only about themselves or their own immediate family.“ (Hofstede 2017, 516)
„Collectivism represents a society in which people live from birth in we-groups, that is, groups with a strong sense of belonging that provide them with protection throughout life for their unquestioned loyalty.“ (Hofstede 2017, 516)
Cultures deal with unfamiliar situations that trigger uncertainty in different ways. Members of societies with high levels of uncertainty avoidance attempt to control the unknown as well as the uncertain using regulatory measures. Cultures with low uncertainty avoidance, on the other hand, place less emphasis on rule orientation.
Uncertainty avoidance refers to the „degree to which members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations.“ (Hofstede 2017, 522)
The cultural dimension of masculinity and femininity is a sociocultural category because it describes the distribution of roles between men and women.
„Masculinity represents a society in which emotional gender roles are clearly defined: Men are supposed to be assertive, tough, and focused on material success; women are supposed to be modest, tender, and concerned with quality of life.“ (Hofstede 2017, 518)
„Femininity represents a society in which emotional gender roles overlap: both men and women are considered modest, sensitive, and concerned with quality of life.“ (Hofstede 2017, 514)
The dimension of long-term and short-term orientation describes the orientation of societies toward either short-term successes or long-lasting solutions.
„Long-term orientation represents the nurturing of virtues oriented toward future success, especially frugality and perseverance.“ (Hofstede 2017, 518)
„Short-term orientation stands for the cherishing of values related to the past and present, especially respect for traditions, preservation of ‚face,‘ and fulfillment of social obligations.“ (Hofstede 2017, 517)
The sixth cultural dimension from 2010 describes how the expression of individual needs is handled in a society – pleasure-oriented or more restrained.
„Enjoyment stands for a society in which a relatively generous satisfaction of basic and natural human needs is allowed, which consist of enjoying life and having fun.“
„Restraint represents a society in which the satisfaction of needs is suppressed and regulated by means of strict social norms.“
Hofstede’s critics complain that the surveys were conducted exclusively among IBM employees and that the results therefore do not allow any representative conclusions to be drawn about the entire population of a country. IBM employees do not correspond to ‚average‘ citizens, since an above-average level of qualification is required for this job.
The German cultural scientist Klaus P. Hansen also criticizes Hofstede’s theory of cultural dimensions: „All in all, his book is a disaster for modern cultural studies. It sins against all the progress that has been made since the sixties, and of all things, this macho work has taught the unteachable who thought the concept of culture was nonsense. Those psychologists, sociologists, and economists who trusted only empirical analysis were convinced by Hofstede’s statistics that culture consisted of hard facts that could be measured and weighed.“ (Hansen 2000, 285)
Furthermore, it is criticized that a whole country is characterized as a group that cannot reflect the identity and self-understanding of individual social groups. Since society is in a constant process and change, the data, which is now more than 40 years old, is no longer meaningful enough from today’s perspective. Also, the mere six dimensions described so far are not sufficient to adequately define complex cultures.
Hansen, Klaus P. (2000): Kultur und Kulturwissenschaft. Eine Einführung. 2. Aufl. Tübingen/ Basel: Francke.
Hofstede, G.: Lokales Denken, globales Handeln. Interkulturelle Zusammenarbeit und globales Management. 6. Aufl. München: Beck.
Geert Hofstede: https://geerthofstede.com [07.07.2018].