Sunday, January 3, 2010

Culture & Communication

It is Week One of the winter term and my students are already selecting a country to study in-depth. Just a few selections include: Dominican Republic, Belize, Venezuela, and Jamaica. As they prepare their "virtual field study" projects, one area of research is how culture impacts communication.

One source of cross-cultural research in communication is from researcher, Geert Hofstede. Hofstede identified five (5) cultural dimensions that influence communication in different countries:

Power distance
"the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally" (

"...the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups. On the individualist side we find societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after him/herself and his/her immediate family. On the collectivist side, we find societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, often extended families (with uncles, aunts and grandparents) which continue protecting them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty (

Masculinity/femininity "... (a) women's values differ less among societies than men's values; (b) men's values from one country to another contain a dimension from very assertive and competitive and maximally different from women's values on the one side, to modest and caring and similar to women's values on the other. The assertive pole has been called 'masculine' and the modest, caring pole 'feminine'. The women in feminine countries have the same modest, caring values as the men; in the masculine countries they are somewhat assertive and competitive, but not as much as the men, so that these countries show a gap between men's values and women's values" (

Uncertainty avoidance - "deals with a society's tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity; it ultimately refers to man's search for Truth. It indicates to what extent a culture programs its members to feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured situations" (

Long-term orientation. "
versus short-term orientation: this fifth dimension was found in a study among students in 23 countries around the world, using a questionnaire designed by Chinese scholars It can be said to deal with Virtue regardless of Truth. Values associated with Long Term Orientation are thrift and perseverance; values associated with Short Term Orientation are respect for tradition, fulfilling social obligations, and protecting one's 'face'. Both the positively and the negatively rated values of this dimension are found in the teachings of Confucius, the most influential Chinese philosopher who lived around 500 B.C.; however, the dimension also applies to countries without a Confucian heritage" (

To explore how various countries differ with respect to these dimensions, visit Hofstede's website at

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