The concept of culture

MNGT 583 – Özge Can
Culture and Organizations
Why to Study Culture?
World full of confrontations between people,
groups and nations who think, feel and act
But we have to find solutions to some common
problems (e.g. economic, political, ecological,
technological, medical) and cooperate
Culture as Mental Programming
Software of the mind
Patterns of thinking, feeling and acting in some
expected way
Soruces of mental programming => family,
neighborhood, school, friendship groups, workplace,
living community
Culture as Mental Programming
Every society has a culture; it includes all kinds of
activities in life such as greeting, eating, showing
feelings, keeping a distance from others and etc. =>
unwritten rules of the social game
Collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the
members of one group or category of people from others
Culture is learned, not inherited
It is also different from human nature or personality
Manifestations of Culture:
Symbols: words, gestures, pictures, or objects that carry a
particular meaning that is recognized as such by those who
share the culture (e.g. language)
Heroes: persons, alive or dead, real or imaginary, who
possess characteristics that are highly prized in a culture
and serve as models for behavior (e.g. our parents)
Rituals: collective activities that are technically superflous
but are considered socially essential. (e.g. toilet training)
Values: broad tendencies to prefer certain states of affairs
over others (e.g. evil versus good)
Moral Circle
“Our group” => Only the members of the moral circle
have full rights and obligations of a culture. But who
are they?
Nations or religions try to set the boundaries of a
moral circle: expanding or narrowing it (e.g. Universal
Declaration of Human Rights)
Race and family – “blood is thicker than water”
But; genetic differences are NOT the main basis for
group boundaries; symbolic boundaries are becoming
more important
Moral Circle
In-group: “We”
Out-group: “They”
We have a persistent need to classify people in
either group
Moral Circle
 If you could make only three statements about
yourself, what would you say?
Reinforcing the moral circle:
 Showing
your membership in the clothes, movements,
way of speaking, possessions, jobs
 Talking, laughing, playing, touching, singing, eating,
driinking with the other members of the group
Differentl Levels of Culture
National level
Regional and/or ethnic and/or religious and/or
linguistic affiliation level
Gender level
Generation level
Social-class level
Organizational and/or corporate level
Change: Practices and Values
“Onion” model: Different layers of culture
 Change
mostly involve the relatively superficial spheres
of symbols and heroes, of fashion and consumption
=> Visible practices
 But values as the deepeset sphere (inner layer) do not
change easily
National values are hard to change (as well as
gender and regional ones)
National Culture and Identities
Important: Nations should not be equated to societies
Societies are historically, organically developed forms
of social organization
Three main differences between countries:
 Identity => language, religion (visible)
 Values => software of the mings (invisible)
 Institutions => rules, laws, organizationas (visible)
Identities vs. Values
Identity is explicit
 “A
 “A bilingual individual”
 “A Turkish citizen”
Values are implicit
 It
is like the air we breathe; difficult to talk about or
Cultural Relativism
No culture is superior or inferior to another
Studying differences in culture among groups and
societies from a neutral vantage point => cultural
It calls for suspending judgments when dealing with
groups or societies different from one’s own
You should not apply the norms of your own culture
to another
Riding the Waves of Culture
Trompenaars & Turner-Hampden (2000)
Riding the Waves of Culture
Three goals of the book:
1. Dispel the notion that there is ''one best way" of
managing and organizing
2. Give readers a better understanding of their own
culture and cultural differences in general, by
learning how to recognize and cope with these in a
business context
3. Provide some cultural insights into the "global“ versus
"local" dilemma facing international organizations
A Major Question
Can management solutions be universal?
Can management “thruths” be applied
anywhere, under any circumstances?
 Some
implimantation failures: pay-for-performance
and management-by-objectives schemes
 Even the notion of HRM is difficult to translate to other
cultures; human beings as “resources”
Common Culture Worldwide?
McDonalds and Coca-Cola given as exaples of
tastes, markets and cultures becoming similar
But the question is not what they are or where they
are found:
 What they mean to the people in each culture
 The essence of culture is not what is visible on
the surface
International dilemma: “glocalization”
Common Culture Worldwide?
Critique of the standart model of North America
Internationalization of business life requires more
knowledge of cultural patterns
The "one best way“ is a management fallacy which
is dying a slow death.
Culture is like gravity: you do not experience it until
you jump six feet into the air.
We cannot understand why individuals and
organizations act as they do without considering the
meanings they attribute to their environment.
The organization and its structures are thus more
than objective reality; they comprise fulfilments or
frustrations of the mental models held by real
Meaning of Culture
A fish only discovers its need for water when it
is no longer in it.
Our own culture is like water to a fish. It
sustains us. We live and breathe through it.
Meaning of Culture
The existence of mutual beliefs
The meanings we give to what we experience; our
The Layers of Culture:
 Outer
layer: Explicit culture
 Middle layer: Norms and values
 Core: Assumptions about existence
Outer Layer: Explicit Culture
Explicit culture is the observable reality of the
language, food, buildings, houses, monuments,
agriculture, shrines, markets, fashions and art.
They are the symbols of a deeper level of culture.
Prejudices mostly start on this symbolic and
observable level.
What Is Culture?
The way in which a group of people solves
problems and reconciles dilemmas.
The layers of values and norms are deeper than
explicit culture, and are more difficult to identify.
What is taken for granted, unquestioned reality =>
this is the core of the onion.
Middle Level: Norms and Values
Norms are the mutual sense a group has of what is
"right" and "wrong".
They can develop on a formal level as written laws,
and on an informal level as social control.
Values determine the definition of "good and bad",
and are therefore closely related to the ideals
shared by a group.
Middle Level: Norms and Values
While the norms, consciously or subconsciously, give
us a feeling of "this is how I normally should
behave", values give us a feeling of "this is how I
aspire or desire to behave".
A value serves as a criterion to determine a choice
from existing alternatives. It is the concept an
individual or group has regarding the desirable.
Core: Assumptions about Existence
Each society organized themselves to find the ways
to deal most effectively with their environments,
given their available resources. Such continuous
problems are eventually solved automatically.
"Culture" comes from the same root as the verb
"to cultivate", meaning to till the soil: the way
people act upon nature => relationship with the
nature/ environment
Culture directs our actions
Culture as a “normal distribution”
Using extreme, exaggerated forms of behavior is
 It
is a very limited view of the average behavior in a
certain environment.
 People often equate something different with something
wrong. "Their way is clearly different from ours, so it
cannot be right."
Cultural Variation
Cultures vary in solutions to common problems and
What is the relationship of the individual to others?
(relational orientation)
 What is the temporal focus of human life? (time
 What is the form of human activity? (activity orientation)
 What is a human being's relation to nature? (man-nature
 What is the character of innate human nature (inner self)?
(human nature orientation)
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