Geert Hofstede did several researches aimed at establishing the cultural differences among nations. Hofstede defines culture as the collective programming of the mind. Through his quantitative study across forty nations, Hofstede derived four dimensions of culture from his study of over 40 nations. He used the measure of individualism-collectivism to analyze a large multination database of employees’ work values in a multinational organization these nations. Among his four dimensions of cultural differences, Individualism-Collective dimension had the strongest impact on the cross-cultural research (Vijver and Matsumoto 2011, p. 159).
Hofstede’s other dimensions include the power of distance, masculinity versus femininity, and uncertainty avoidance. Using his Individualism versus collectivism dimension he found out that the modern developed nations such as Canada and the US scored higher than the developing countries. His work provided cross-cultural psychologists with an empirically derived cross-cultural difference in dependent variables. Although the insights given by Hofstede’s model are reasonable for not only understanding individual cultures but also for comparing cultures, it is considered having some limitations of the distinction between individualistic and collective cultures.
An over view of Individualism versus collectivism
According to Hofstede, collectivism implies the existence of a strong link between the individual’s self identity and that of a collective. Individualism on the other hand implies that the individual forms his own identity with minimal or no influence from the larger group/collective (Welch and Dowling 2008, p. 12). In collective cultures, individuals belong and are greatly influenced by the functioning of both the in-groups and the out-groups. Such groups may be one’s family or college and are sometimes regarded to be more important than the individual (Schimmack et al 2005, p. 28). The out groups are very distinct and may be treated with compassion, competition and hostility (Martin, Kim, and Shim 2008, p. 34).
As a member of either of the groups, an individual is expected remain loyal in his/her support and practice of the collective culture. According to Hofstede, during conflict situations, the in-group members use avoidance, intermediaries and other face saving techniques as a strategy to ensure that their loyalty remains (Martin et al 2008, p. 34). In a collective society the individuals are also influence by the out-groups. According to Hofstede, individualistic cultures practice universalism where set of standard value apply to all the members while collectivistic cultures have different value standards for in-group and out group members (Ess and Sudweeks, 2005 1). Hofstede identified moral as the model behind the employer employee relationship in collectivistic cultures. This is contrary to that in the individualistic culture in which the use of the calculative model prevails (Sprecher and Reise 2009, p. 235).
His study found out wealth and climate to be playing a major role in predicting whether individualism and collectivism will prevail. According to him, a country that is wealthy will tend to be individualistic while poor cultures tend to be more collectivistic. Hofstede also found out a strong link between colder climates and individualism and warmer climate and collectivism (Ess and Sudweeks, 2005 1). In certain cases he also considered the effect of the size of population.
Limitations of Hofstede Distinction of individualism and collectivism
Scholars have identified various problems related to the use of individualism as a valid and important dimension of cultural differences between various nations. It has specifically been problematic measuring both individualism and collectivism. The problems are of two types. First is the confusion that arises when Hoftede’s individualism scores are to be compared against the recent measurement of individualism and collectivism. The second problem is related to the changing nature of culture which Hofstede never took into account as he viewed culture as static. Some scholars have pointed out that the lack of convergent validity is due to the uncorrected ratings by Hofstede methods of data collection.
Recent comprehensive reviews of empirical studies on individualism and collectivism have challenged its importance as explanatory constructs. The opponents explain that cultural differences in individualism and collectivism were neither a large nor as systematic as often perceived. They see individualism and collectivism as problematic constructs because its use contravenes many conclusions in the literature. They thus propose the need for another way of studying culture which according to them should be narrower theories based on more specific constructs. To some scholars, such current limitations in the cultural studies may only be addressed through methodological improvements of work conducted within the individualism-collectivism paradigm. Others scholars, however sees the need to go beyond this noting that several flaws have plagued individualism-collectivism research.
This failure by individualism and collectivism to provide an explanation to the existing cross-cultural differences is therefore a dilemma to the psychologists. The failure of Hofstede’s approach and that of measuring individualism to produce convergent results is against the scientific rules. The rule requires convergence across different methods used in assessing the same construct. In contrary, there is no convergent validity of national differences in individualism collectivism. This shows that one or in some cases both of the measures is invalid (Schimmack et al 2005, p. 20).
Various reasons which points to the limitation of Hofstede’s work have been given to explain the lack of convergent validity between these two approaches. Some scholars have pointed to the possibility that Hofstede’s scores are outdated. This is because his scores are based on data that were collected in 1968 and 1972 while the other studies are more current. Secondly, Hofstede’s samples are different from the samples that have been used in the current studies (Schimmack et al 2005, p. 20). The scholars have pointed out that the biggest limitation of Hofstede’s study is in his use of different samples to represent each country. Thirdly, some scholars have noted that Hofstede’s measure had a low content validity. That Hofstede’s scale is based on work values that do not directly reflect core features of individualism such as independence and uniqueness. He used variables such as people’s preference for a job that leaves time for family.
Finally, this lack of convergent validity could be from the differences in the statistical analysis of across cultural data (Schimmack et al 2005, p. 20). Hofstede used within-subject standardization to control response styles. This method of standardization creates scores which have the same mean and standard deviation across a set of items for each individual. As a result, national differences on particular scales reflect the relative endorsement of one scale over another (Schimmack et al 2005, p. 20). Hofstede argument on this issue is that un standardized scores of his work value survey were biased by an acquiescence response style. This meant that he obtained a mean rating that is positively correlated with his power-distance scale for all his items. This correlation may be used as an indication of the possibility that the correspondents higher power-distance cultures are more likely to agree with all items irrespective of their independent content (Francis et al 2005, 189). The argument is that because individualism is negatively correlated with power distance, acquiescence would produce a strong bias in the measurement of individualism (Schimmack et al 2005, p. 21).
Another limitation emerges from Hofstede’s conceptualization of the individualism and collectivism as being inversely related (bipolar). This view point meant that the cultures in which the rights of an individual are highly valued de-emphasize obligations to group and subordination. This is opposite to the current studies’ findings that have shown no relation between the national differences in individualism and that in collectivism (Schimmack et al 2005, p. 28).
The second set of limitations of this dimension arises from its static nature irrespective of the changing culture. Ess and Sudaweeks analyzed the applicability of Hofstede’s framework in analysis involving cross cultural and inter-cultural communication in today’s Computer mediated Communication Environments. They pointed out his dichotomy may be to simple effectively analyze the real world complexities of culture (Jones 2006, p. 101). A central critic of Hofstede’s work is that it relies on interviews by IBM employees in the 1960s and 1970s. Concerns have therefore been raised over the accuracy of extending any Hofstede’s findings to national cultures. Most scholars have based their criticism on Hofstede’s assumption that culture is synonymous with national identities. Scholars have argued that this assumption ignores the existing internal ethnic and linguistic diversities. They point out that such diversities have been changing and shifting with the immigrations and globalization.
To the critics, see today’s identities as representing complex and shifting hybridizations of earlier cultural patterns ((Ess and Sudweeks, 2005 1). According to Eunson, the model will not work well with the increasingly use of the internet in today’s generation (Eunson 2008, p. 23). Internet is creating a new lifestyle especially among the youths leading to the increasing resistant against their dominant cultures. It may also not work in cases where the internet usage by a part of the country’s population is denied.
Noting that Hofstede’s items were limited to the work context, it calls for new items that can assess individualism in the broader cultural context. There is also the need to further assess individualism at the level of individuals. This will help to determine whether within-nation variability in individualism and collectivism is related to dependence variables. One may therefore be tempted to believe that Hofstede’s Individualism-Collectivism dimension lacks construct validity despite its proven reliability and predictive validity. However, the meaningful relations to other indicators of national differences such as wealth and conformity shows that it is an important dimension of cross-cultural differences. With certain improvements, Hofstede’s dimension will still remain relevant in a number of studies like in marketing.