I would like to discuss, reflect on and analyse Hofstede’s cultural patterns. Based on my personal experiences and opinions I believe Hofstede has to some extent attempted to successfully classify different nations and cultures into their predominant dimensions, however it is not without its flaw. Of the four dimensions Hofstede has identified, I will explain two. The notion of power distance (PD) has proven to be a relatively accurate cultural phenomenon.
Having lived abroad for 8 years during my childhood years in Perth, Australia, I find it most fitting for me to discuss and compare this dimension between the two cultures which I have been exposed to. Based on Hofstede’s findings, Australia has a large negative PDI, which indicates they prefer small power distances, while Singapore has a rather large positive PDI, which indicates they prefer large power distances. Back when I was in studying in Australia, I noticed that my peers dared to openly speak up in class while in Singapore; almost nobody was encouraged to speak up.
Other examples of low PDI in Australia include calling your friend’s mother by the first name which is a common practice while here in Singapore; a title usually precedes the name like ‘aunty’ or ‘Mrs. ’ The disparity of PDI between the two cultures has been accurately reflected in Hofstede’s findings as well as through my own personal experience. I was somewhat skeptical at the PD predictors outlined by Hofstede because the predictors such as climate do not seem to be relevant in today’s context.
Although climate can be considerably harsher in Australia, it is not a daily/recurring issue where the need for solutions will lead to a general decentralization of authority and power. Furthermore, the solutions to overcome climate adversities have more or less been put in place. I feel it is not a strong enough factor to which we can attribute to the disparity of PD between different nations. The disparity can be attributed to other factors such as cultural upbringing such as in Singapore we are taught to respect the elderly and to know our place in society.
It is this which perpetuates power distance. Upon reading that Singapore was placed at the very top of the list which does not prefer to avoid uncertainty I was taken aback. I think most Singaporeans would agree that Singapore is averse to uncertainty and has many rigid rules, regulations and red tape to avoid uncertainty. But accordingly to Hofstede, he places countries which have low UAI, like Singapore according to their high level of modernization.
Although it is true that Singapore has enjoyed a rapid rate of modernization, it is still uncertain as it is still a relatively young nation. In addition, Singapore has a small land mass and therefore we lack many resources. I believe these are some of the reasons in which Singapore should have a high UAI, but which Hofstede has overlooked, perhaps due to his research methods. Let’s analyse Hofstede cultural patterns in a broader sense. While his model certainly allows for a quicker and a more general understanding of cultures at large, it has its flaws.
When learning about it in theory, Hofstede’s model may come across as static and rigid but really, culture is dynamic, fluid and very susceptible to change and influence. Also, although Hofstede has grouped them into nation which may accurately capture the general essence of that country, one must be aware of other factors not discussed in this module such as personality, experiences and individual values. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach and not all regions or subcultures fit into the mould.
This is especially true for multiracial countries such as Singapore where the population comprises of four ethnically different races. Rather, it should be used as a guideline in understanding culture between countries, not as laws set in stone. Another area of critique is the currency of the data presented, on the issue of whether it is up to date. The culture of a country changes over time, especially with the phenomenon of globalization at its peak. If the same survey were to be taken again today, I am convinced that the results will differ from the one in the readings.
Also, Hofstede has given only four dimensions, which are may be inadequate in assessing cultural differences. If there were more dimensions added to the model, it may represent a more holistic, comprehensive picture of cultural differences. Despite, all the criticism being arrowed at Hofstede model, it is still a very relevant and important model in helping us to manage intercultural communication. Understanding intercultural communication is imperative in today’s highly interdependent globalised world.
It is important not only in the business context but also valuable in our interpersonal relations with people with an array of different backgrounds. Even within NUS (and within our module! ), one can see swarms of foreign exchange students. Furthermore with NUS set to become a leading global university, we should all learn to embrace intercultural communication! There are drawbacks and advantages to using any cultural pattern model be it Hofstede’s, Halls or Bond’s. However, if we keep in mind the limitations, we will be well on our way in becoming more competent intercultural communicators! .