Are theories of national culture valid?

Brendan McSweeney (2002) has heavily criticised Hofstede’s theory of national culture for a number of convincing reasons:

Narrow population

The primary data were extracted from a number of surveys carried out in 1967 and 1973 within IBM subsidiaries in 66 countries. Although there were a large number of respondents (117,000+), only the data from 40 countries were used, and in only six of those countries were there more than 1000 respondents in both surveys.

Hofstede speaks of ‘national samples’, but the surveys were actually limited to a narrow population within IBM, with those surveyed being similar in every respect apart from their nationality.

Three discrete components of culture

An assumption Hofstede makes is that there is only one IBM culture, and that there are no occupational cultures existing within the overall IBM culture. Similarly, he presumes that the combination of national culture and occupational culture has no bearing on the overall organisational culture of IBM, expecting every employee to share the same organisational and occupational culture, regardless of their nationality.

Homogeneous national culture

Hofstede relies on the idea of a shared national culture held by all individuals within a nation. It could be argued that it follows that national culture is homogeneous, but Hofstede goes on to recognise that some of the survey responses were radically different within countries, thus leading him to state there were only averages, or central tendencies.

Non-specific national culture

Presupposing that he can generalise about national culture from data specific to situations within IBM, Hofstede claims there is a single national culture, even though the data analysed were confined to certain categories of IBM employees, the questions were about workplace issues, the surveys were analysed within the workplace, and the surveys were not repeated outside the workplace.

What Hofstede identified was not national culture, but an averaging of opinions specific to situations. These averages were then extrapolated to define dimensions or aspects of national culture.

Hofstede acknowledges that there may be sub-cultures within nations, he is inconsistent by allowing them little influence. If sub-cultures exist within nations, then it follows that uniformity of culture across a nation cannot be assumed.

(Source: McSweeney, 2002, cited in B325, Organisational Collaboration).

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