Culture and Business

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Culture and International
A Conceptual Approach

As mentioned in Chapter 1, anthropologists do more than simply accumulate and catalog information on the world’s exotic and not so exotic cultures. Like other scientists, they attempt to generate theories about culture that apply to all human populations. Because it is impossible for any individual to master every cultural fact about every culture in the world, a more theoretical approach can be instructive. That is, a number of general con- cepts about culture can be applied to a wide variety of cross-cultural situations, regardless of whether one is dealing with Nigerians, Peruvians, or Taiwanese. In this chapter we explore what is meant—and what is not meant—by the term culture. In addition to defining this central anthropological concept, we also examine six important generalizations concerning the concept of culture and their significance for the U.S. businessperson operating in the world marketplace. Being equipped with such general concepts can facilitate the adjustment to an unfamiliar cultural environment.


In everyday usage, the term culture refers to the finer things in life, such as the fine arts, literature, philosophy, and classical music. Under this very narrow definition of the term, the “cultured person” is one who prefers Handel to hard rock, can distinguish between the artistic styles of Monet and Manet, prefers pheasant under glass to grits and red-eye gravy and twelve-year-old scotch to beer, and spends his or her leisure time reading Kierkegaard rather than watching wrestling on television. For the anthropologist, however, the term culture has a much broader meaning that goes far beyond mere personal refinements. The only requirement for being cultured is to be human. Thus, all people have culture. The scantily clad Dani of New Guinea is as much a cultural animal as is Yo-Yo Ma. For the anthropologist, cooking pots, spears, and mud huts are as legitimate items of culture as symphonies, oil paintings, and great works of literature.



Culture and International Business

The term culture has been defined in a variety of ways. Even anthropologists, who claim culture as their guiding conceptual principle, have not agreed always on a single definition of the term. In fact, as early as 1952, A. L. Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn identified more than one hundred and sixty different definitions of culture. One of the earliest widely cited definitions, offered by Edward Tylor in the nineteenth century, defined culture as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society” (1871, 1). More recently, Clyde Kluckhohn and W. H. Kelly have referred to culture as “all the historically created designs for living, explicit and implicit, rational, irrational, and nonrational, which exist at any given time as potential guides for the behavior of men” (1945, 97). Culture has been described by M. J. Herskovits (1955, 305) as “the man made part of the environment,” by James Downs (1971, 35) as “a mental map which guides us in our relations to our surroundings and to other people,” and, perhaps most succinctly, by Elvin Hatch (1985, 178) as “the way of life of a people.” Running the risk of adding to the confusion, here is still another definition: Culture is everything that people have, think, and do as members of their society. The three verbs in this definition (have, think, and do) can help us identify the three major structural components of the concept of culture; that is, for a person to have something, some mate- rial object must be present. When people think, ideas, values, attitudes, and beliefs are present. When people do, they behave in certain socially prescribed ways. Thus, culture is made up of (1) material objects; (2) ideas, values, and attitudes; and (3) normative, or expected, patterns of...
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