Hofstede: Cultures and Organizations - Software of the Mind Culture as Mental Programming

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HOFSTEDE: Cultures And Organizations - Software of the Mind
Culture as mental programming

In Western languages 'culture' commonly means 'civilization' or 'refinement of the mind' and in particular the results of such refinement, like education, art, and literature. This is 'culture in the narrow sense; 'culture one' Culture as mental software, however, corresponds to a much broader use of the word which is common among social anthropologists: this is ‘culture two’.

In social anthropology, 'culture' is a catchword for all those patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting referred to in the previous paragraphs. Not only those activities supposed to refine the mind are included in 'culture two', but also the ordinary and menial things in life: greeting, eating, showing or not showing feelings, keeping a certain physical distance from others, making love, or maintaining body hygiene.

It is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another.

It is a collective phenomenon, because it is at least partly shared with people who live or lived within the same social environment, which is where it was learned.
Culture is learned, not inherited. It derives from one's social environment, not from one's genes. Culture should be distinguished from human nature on one side, and from an individual's personality on the other:


Cultural relativism
there are no scientific standards for considering one group as intrinsically superior or inferior to another. 'Cultural relativism affirms that one culture has no absolute criteria for judging the activities of another culture as "low" or "noble".

Symbols, heroes, rituals, and values
Cultural differences manifest themselves in several ways - symbols, heroes, rituals, and values.

The ‘onion diagram’:
Manifestations of culture at different
levels of depth

Symbols are words, gestures, pictures or objects that carry a particular meaning which is only recognized by those who share the culture. The words in a language or jargon belong to this category, as do dress, hairstyles, Coca-Cola, flags. New symbols are easily developed and old ones disappear. Heroes are persons, alive or dead, real or imaginary, who possess characteristics which are highly prized in a culture, and who thus serve as models for behavior. Snoopy in the USA, Asterix in France. Rituals are collective activities, technically superfluous in reaching desired ends, but which, within a culture, are considered as socially essential: they are therefore carried out for their own sake. Ways of greeting and paying respect to others, social and religious ceremonies are examples. Symbols, heroes, rituals can be subsumed under the term practices. The core of culture is formed by values. Values are broad tendencies to prefer certain states of affairs over others. Values are feelings with an arrow to it: they have a plus and a minus side. They deal with:

evil vs. good
dirty vs. clean
ugly vs. beautiful
unnatural vs. natural
abnormal vs. normal
paradoxical vs. logical
irrational vs. rational


Values are among the first things children learn - not consciously, but implicitly. Development psychologists believe that by the age of 10, most children have their basic value system firmly in place, and after that age, changes are difficult to make.

Because they were acquired so early in our lives, many values remain unconscious to those who hold them. Therefore they cannot be discussed, nor can they be directly observed by outsiders. They can only be inferred from the way people act under various circumstances.

Layers of culture
As almost everyone belongs to a number of different groups and categories of people at the same time, people unavoidably carry several layers of mental programming within themselves, corresponding to different levels of culture. For example:

• a national level according to one's country ( or countries for...
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