Jul 23, 2019 in Personal

Cultural Theories

Introduction

The report provides a short description of such socio-cultural theories as Hofstede’s cultural dimensional theory, Schwartz’s value theory, and social cognitive theory. Their strengths and weaknesses are studied and described below. These studies help to develop one of my own theories, which combine characteristics of the above theories. The description of this theory is provided in the final part of the paper. 

Identification and Explanation of Cultural Theories

The first cultural theory that will be described in this essay is Hofstede’s cultural dimensional theory. Greet Hofstede studied and analyzed the social behavior and the behavior of each particular individual. He tried to identify similar factors and interrelations between these two behaviors and their influence on each other. Greet Hofstede paid much attention to social culture and values and their perceptions by particular individuals influenced by them. By applying his own factor analysis, Greet Hofstede developed a cross cultural communication model more than 50 years ago. One of the main goals of his studies is determination as an ability to calculate and visualize differences between the representatives of different cultures. Hofstede’s cultural communicational model was initially based on four main dimensions. 

The first one is reflected in personal perceptions towards individualism or collectivism. This dimension describes the extent of personal integration into some social group or the whole society. Greet Hofstede states that individualistic societies are characterized by such an extinguished feature as paying more attention to one’s personal achievements. That is why social institutions try to protect personal rights, freedoms and liberties. Unlike individualistic society, the collectivistic society is characterized by a great extent of collectivistic spirit, i.e. obtaining social benefits stand above reaching personal goals. In such societies individuals are considered to be an inherent part of the whole social group. 

The second dimension concerns the avoidance of uncertainty. Greet Hofstede intended to measure the extent to which each member of the society tries to avoid any uncertainty in his/her life by means of this dimension. It is notable that people with a high level of uncertainty are more likely to have a quite emotional and expressional reaction towards certain events and issues. Their actions are more likely to be influenced by their personal emotions. That is why these individuals try to establish definite rules and regulations. They try to control and determine certain steps to be taken in order to decrease the possibility of any unexpected event that might happen in their lives. Individuals with a low rate of uncertainty are less influenced by their emotions. They are not frightened with unexpected situations and considerable changes. So, there is no necessity for them to make up definite rules and regulations which will direct and limit their behavior in any situation. Hence, the amount of rules and regulations in society with a low level of uncertainty is considerably lower than the amount of rules and regulations in the society characterized by a high level of uncertainty. 

The next dimension analyses and evaluates the strengths or weaknesses of existing hierarchy in the society. It is also called power of distance. This dimension determines the distribution and acceptance of power between the more powerful social members and less powerful ones. The high power distance undermines the elimination of a need for power justification, i.e. each individual accepts the existing distribution of power and duties without any doubts and arguments. The low power distance is inherent to more democratic societies, where individuals who have more power consulate with individuals who have less power before making any considerable decisions. 

The last dimension determines whether an individual is oriented on tasks or personality. It is also called masculinity and femininity dimension. This dimension reflects personal behavior inherent to males or females. Masculine behavior is more competitive and powerful, as men tend to be more ambitious in terms of reaching materialistic goals. Feminine behaviors are based on such inherent desires as improvement of the life quality and environment; and development of strong and friendly relationships with other representatives of the society. It is notable that in the feminine societies, men and women have closer and more self-resistant relationships, as their actions are directed towards cooperating and caring for each other. At the same time, masculine societies are characterized with the existence of a gap between men and women, which is reflected in social limitations of sexuality. 

 

It should be mentioned that in addition to primary four dimensions existing in the societies, Greet Hofstede added the fifth one. It is long-term and short-term orientation. Societies with long-term orientation pay more attention to their future prospects. Their actions are directed towards gaining benefits in a long-term perspective, while actions of the societies with a short-term orientation are directed rather towards obtaining quick results. They pay more attention to the fulfillment of traditional rules and social obligations. Kiril Dimitrov described this dimension as follows: «it deals with a society‘s „time horizon" or the importance attached to the future versus the past and present. In long term oriented societies such pragmatic virtues oriented to future rewards as thrift, perseverance and adaptation to changing circumstances are valued more. In short term oriented societies virtues related to respect for tradition, national pride and preservation of „face", social obligations, reciprocation of gifts and favors are valued more». 

Romie Littrell in the article “Cultural Value Dimension Theories: Hofstede – A Work in Progress” noted the following: “dimensions of national culture are not personality types but estimates of the values prevailing in a national society, which can only be compared with those in another society”. Hofstede’s dimensions “fully cover and extend major conceptualizations of culture….they are empirically developed”.

The second socio-cultural theory described in this essay is a theory of cultural value orientations developed by Shalom Schwartz. This theory is based on real life research and analysis of student’s behavior that was performed in more than two thousands higher educational institutions all over the world. It is notable that representatives of more than 70 nationalities took part in the research. Shalom Schwarz had set special scores which depicted cultural orientation of a person. These scores were thoroughly analyzed in order to generate reasonable description of personal behavior. The research contains fifty seven questions and forty five value items that have an equivalent meaning in the state analyses. Schwarz has developed indicators which help to treat a person as a representative of one of seventy six cultural groups. This amount of groups stands for about eighty percent of the whole world population. Schwartz methodology is based on seven different dimensions.

The first one is mastery. It is a situation when a person who intends to change the existing order (social, natural and etc) for the sake of obtaining personal goals and bringing benefits to the whole society. These changes may be implemented through improvement of skills and knowledge, self-assertion, etc. Such society is characterized by personal independence, lack of fear (especially uncertainty concerning changes), high extent of ambitions (as an individual has to be brave enough to change the existing order), and determination to work hard. Mastery is opposite to such dimension as harmony. According to Schwarz, harmony is reflected in personal acceptance of the existing order (social and natural) and unwillingness to implement any changes into it. Such societies are characterized by a high level of development in terms of environmental protection, peacefulness and unity with nature. 

The second group of dimensions is embeddedness and autonomy. Embeddedness is reflected in personal identification as a valuable part of a group of people or the whole society. Embedded individuals have close relationships with the rest of the members of the society. They have shared vision and their actions are directed towards gaining common benefits to the group of people. Personal perceptions and values are not as significant as social values. The group of people tries to eliminate and even suppress personal initiatives which may cause harm to the society. In the embedded societies much attention is paid to strict hierarchy and a well-defined social order. Observance of steady traditions and maintenance of these traditions are of top importance. This term is contrary to the term autonomy. Individuals can freely express their viewpoints and take actions which are beneficial to themselves but not to the whole group of people in such societies. Independence and self-reflection are among the main characteristics of such a society. Hierarchy represents the third dimension. People in the societies with a developed hierarchy clearly understand their social position and existing division of duties and responsibilities. They also recognize possible punishment for breaching the existing order. Such societies are characterized by a high extent of self-control and modesty of its representatives. Egalitarian societies are those which have opposite characteristics to hierarchical ones. Such societies are characterized by a high level of sua sponte cooperation and voluntary support provided to each other for the benefit of the whole society. They are not obliged to help the weaker members. These actions are performed on the basis of the following feelings: social justice, equality, honesty and humanism. The last dimensions described by Schwarz are affective autonomy and intellectual autonomy. Affective autonomy is characterized by such features as personal independence and attempts made in order to feel pleasure and experience new emotions. Schwarz described such behavior as follows: “affective autonomy encourages individuals to pursue affectively positive experience for themselves. Important values include pleasure, exciting life, and varied life”. Intellectual autonomy is reflected in a personal attempt of reflecting his or her creativity and curiosity. 

The last social cultural theory that will be described in this essay is social cognitive theory. According to this theory, personal behavior and actions are based on the observation of environment, activities of other members of the society, and personal experience of interaction. Also, it is highly influenced by the outer environment actions of other people. Social cognitive theory is based on the understanding that a personality observes events and actions of others and their consequences. After that, personal attitudes, intentions and actions are formed on the background of these observations. Observation can not only shape the behavior of a social member, but can also support and enhance the existing understanding or on the contrary, evoke arguments leading to misunderstanding. Observation of success or failure of other members of the society and the formation of personal behavior on basis of these observations lead to considerable reduction of wrong and condemned actions and expressions. Much attention should be paid to reliability of the observed situation or personality. If a person does not trust or appreciate actions of other member of the society, he or she will most probably not repeat these actions, notwithstanding the fact that they were accepted by the group of people or the whole society. Also, additional attention should be paid to such factor as personal sensibility. High sensibility provides higher probability of accurate repentance of observed behavior. 

Thus, social cognitive theory suggests that personal behavior is shaped under the influence of three main factors. The first factor is environment (both social and physical). Social environment is represented by family, colleagues, mates and friends. Physical environment is reflected in the size of personal living place and availability of certain goods (including food). A person should analyze and understand the actions of other people in terms of the influence of social, physical behavior and the circumstances of a particular situation. According to social cognitive theory, situation is considered to be a cognitive and mental representation of environment that also has a considerable impact on personal understanding and perception. As it is mentioned in the article Social Cognitive Theory “Environment and situation provide the framework for understanding behavior”. This theory also studies personal perception of physical features of others, time and place. It should be stressed that the main concept of this theory (the concept of the behavior formation under the influence of observation) is based on the combination, interaction and interdependence of environment, society and behavior.). Bandura supported this idea by stating the following: “in this causal model, behavior, cognitive and other personal factors, and environmental events all operate as interacting determinations that influence each other bidirectionally.”

Strong and Weak Sides of Each Theory

All of the above mentioned theories have both strong and weak sides. Hofstede’s cultural dimensional theory is characterized by such a considerable advantage as precise definition of personal attitude to particular dimension. He pays much attention to people’s attitude to power, vision on their future and relations between men and women. However, he does not consider personal intentions to change the existing order (or not to change it) and personal intentions to achieve intellectual growth or experience new emotions (like Schwarz). Also, not much attention is paid to the influence on environment and observation of the behavior formation.

Schwarz provides more definite and precise measurement of personal behavior. His cultural theory is rather oriented towards identifying personal intentions to change the existing order (or to adapt to it), and towards mastering knowledge or learning new emotions. It is notable that his analysis is based on a definite amount of answers to numerous questions, so that it is as measurable as the Hofstede’s analysis. So, the possibility of doubtful understanding of outcomes is minimized. However, Schwarz’s theory has such weak sides as insufficient measurement of personal attitude to distribution of power and relations between men and women. No attention is paid to the extent of influence of the outer environment on the behavior, attitudes and actions of people.

The social cognitive theory has such considerable weak sides as impossibility of conducting a quantitative analysis of personal behavior which leads to obtaining uncertain and doubtful results. Researchers who apply this theory have no possibility to assess personal attitudes to power and its distribution in the society, hierarchy; intentions to make any changes in the existing order and attitudes to uncertainty and relations between men and women among others. However, it has such considerable strong side as assessment of human behavior via his or her observations of different situations, which took place in certain sphere of social life. These situations are related to the existing social structure, relations between men and women, uncertain situations, etc.

Description and Explanation of Personal Cultural Theory

My personal theory will be based on a combination of the above mentioned socio-cultural theories. It will contain questions which will help to determine personal attitudes towards power and hierarchy in the society; certainty and uncertainty; individualistic or collectivistic behavior; susceptibility to influence of observation of outer events and actions of other people on the formation of behavior. This theory will contain the following dimensions: power distance; extent of acceptability and acquisition of observed behavior; uncertainty; individualism s collectivism; acceptance of hierarchical order; long-term and short-term orientation; confirmism vs traditionalism; mastery vs harmony. A quantitative analysis will facilitate a clear understanding of culture and social perceptions of a particular person. I think this theory will be more overwhelming than the theories described at the beginning of the paper. It will provide a broader understanding of personal, social and cultural characteristics.

Summary

Hofstede’s cultural dimensional theory, Schwartz’s value theory and social cognitive theory have been analyzed in this report. Strengths and weaknesses of these theories and a unified theory that combined characteristics of all the three have also been examined. Hofstede and Schwartz used several dimensions for analyzing human behavior. However, unlike social cognitive theory, they do not pay any attention to the influence of observation on human behavior.

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