Crossvergence: Questioning the Hofstede paradigm
One of the most well-known and popular methods of analyzing differences between cultures is that of Geert Hofstede’s framework, which conceptualizes different cultures as having fundamental, core values regarding power distance, masculine and feminine norms, individualism, uncertainty avoidance, and future orientation. However, Kelley, MacNab, & Worthley (2006) in their article “Crossvergence and cultural tendencies: A longitudinal test of the Hong Kong, Taiwan and United States banking sectors” criticize the Hofstede framework as overly rigid and static. Cultures are not enclosed entities, but rather are permeable structures. The authors apply the concept of crossvergence to the Hong Kong and Chinese banking sectors, comparing the cultural differences between Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the United States — the latter “an often assumed, dissimilar region” from these Asian nations — during the years 1985-2000 (Kelley, MacNab, & Worthley 2006: 68).
One of the problems with using Hofstede’s framework when analyzing Asia is that there has long been a tendency of Westerners to see Asia as a whole merely as more collectivist than itself, without sufficiently appreciating the nuances between different local environments. This is also addressed in a comparison of Hong Kong and China. “Asians are sometimes culturally, and arguably carelessly, lumped together in the treatment of management issues on the basis that they have a common value system (Fukuda and Wheeler, 1988). This similarity assumption is dangerous for researchers and practitioners alike, as several studies have demonstrated tendencies for cultural differences among various Asian groups and within Greater China” (Kelley, MacNab, & Worthley 2006: 69).
It should be noted that Hofstede does acknowledge that cultures can change. However, Hofstede believes that cultures tend to remain static when compared with one another — in other words, even if Japan may grow more individualistic given the shifts and changes in modern global society, it is still more collectivist than the United States. According to Hofstede: “countries could all have moved [to different levels on cultural dimensions] without changes in their mutual ranking” (Kelley, MacNab, & Worthley 2006: 70). However, the concept of the convergence — divergence — crossvergence (CDC) phenomena suggests a more dynamic synergy and greater pliability of cultural ideals. Cultures may converge (blend) or diverge), but they may also engage in crossvergence, changing due to different economic circumstances and cultural exposures to other nations and ideals. This can results in a fundamental shift in cultural orientation away from its original status on Hofstede’s measures. “The concept of crossvergence is vital to our position as it addresses the idea that as economies develop, interact and evolve, there will be an impact on culture, creating a unique type of identity. Altered blends of past standard cultural identity may evolve in order to meet new challenges and to respond more effectively to external pressures like global competition. For example, it may become less accurate to generally refer to Asians as highly collectivistic without clearly identifying the specific context or region” (Kelley, MacNab, & Worthley 2006: 71).
The author’s hypothesis was relatively simple: from 1985-2000 the cultural dimensions between the U.S., Hong Kong, and Taiwan would fundamentally change within the framework of indigenous banks in all three countries, thanks to the phenomenon of crossvergence. The degree of Hofstede’s indicators would not change consistently, reflecting internal dynamism that was not universally present in the global context. The specific subjects under scrutiny were middle managers at indigenous banks, to focus upon specific cultural differences of the Hofstede index with minimal impact of other variables. Nine Likert scale items were used, with particular focus on the constructs of collectivism, uncertainty avoidance, power distance (Kelley, MacNab, & Worthley 2006: 74). Despite the fact that there have been some changes to the Hofstede components since the 1980s when the study was first introduced, the original index of variables was not altered to ensure consistency over the longitudinal framework of the study (Hofstede 2011:15-16).
A comparison of the different attitudes put under scrutiny, according to the researchers, revealed significant crossvergence or deviation from the nation’s original starting-places. For example, “the largest shift in our longitudinal sample for the U.S. was in relation to a significant increase in power distance,” perhaps due to greater power stratification within the banking industry or the downsizing of the industry after a series of financial crises, leading to fewer intermediaries (Kelley, MacNab, & Worthley 2006: 78). This was matched in Hong Kong but not in Taiwan, indicating not a worldwide shift, but a specific change in culture not predicted by the Hofstede conception of stasis. There was also increased in uncertainty avoidance in Hong Kong (while Taiwan decreased in this measure), perhaps due to anxieties resulting from the 1997 transfer of power from the UK to China. Taiwan, in contrast, had not experienced such a wrenching change in its immediate political situation.
Even on measures of collectivism, supposedly the most significant difference between the U.S. And Asian nations as a whole, “the Taiwanese measure on collectivism decreased, conforming much closer to U.S. And Hong Kong measurements,” while the relative positions of U.S. And Taiwanese measures on this value scale remained unchanged (Kelley, MacNab, & Worthley 2006: 79). All of these findings indicated that positioning of nations in terms of cultural worldviews is extremely variable, and researchers must continually reevaluate the paradigms to which they apply to different nations, particularly Asian nations which have been often unfairly painted with a very broad theoretical brush.
Hofstede, G. 2011. Dimensionalizing cultures: The Hofstede Model in context. Online Readings in Psychology and culture, 2 (1): 1-26. Available:
http://scholarworks.gvsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1014&context=orpc [15 Jun 2013]
Kelley, L., MacNab, B. & Worthley, R. 2006. “Crossvergence and cultural tendencies: a longitudinal test of the Hong Kong, Taiwan and United States banking sectors.” Journal
of International Management, 12 (1): 67 — 84.
Mead, R and Andrews, T.M. 2009. International management: Culture and beyond (4th
(Ed.). Chichester, West Sussex, England: John Wiley and Sons Limited.
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