Dr Teun Wolters discusses the MBA Module “Intercultural Communication”



Dr Teun Wolters, Lector, Wittenborg University of Applied Sciences

Intercultural Communication

Wittenborg’s lessons in Intercultural Communication (as part of its full-time MBA) target a deeper understanding of what it means to work with people of different cultural backgrounds.  We could experience that a multicultural audience which the students represent makes it possible to immediately test the relevance of a variety of theories.

There is one famous author who cannot and will not be missed when reading about intercultural issues, that is the Dutch scholar Geert Hofstede.  As part of a wider package, the students were asked to study one of his articles (‘Asian Management in the 21st Century’, which was published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Management in 2008). There, he stated that most of the popular management literature implicitly assumes that management problems change over time but that they are universal across the world: managing means the same thing anywhere, whether in North America, France, China or Russia. The odd consequence would be that if Western management principles do not work somewhere, this is not the fault of the principles but of the people.

In the same article, Hofstede tries to characterize Asian management with the help of a few of his cultural dimensions, in particular the dimension of Collectivism versus Individualism.  According to Hofstede, individualism stands for a society in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after him/ herself and his/her immediate family only. Collectivism stands for a society in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, which throughout their lifetime continue to protect them, in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.

This sounds interesting and relevant. However,  Hofstede has been under attack.  Other authors came to the conclusion that globalization has altered the scenery. Many people are influenced by different cultures and have adopted elements of different cultures.  Moreover, there are genuine modernization processes going in Asia and other regions (which should not necessary be the same as Western modernization processes). Are, therefore, Hofstede’s dimensions, in danger of missing the point?

Hofstede is adamant in asserting that his cultural dimensions are still valid in spite of international changes.  However, his dimensions address the national level only.  You cannot just apply them to groups or individuals. Discussion to be continued. …….

Dr Teun Wolters, November 2011