By Lygdenova Victoria
Institute of Philosophy and Law (Russian Academy of Science), Novosibirsk, Russia
On February 2005, I participated in the unique seminar that was organized in Norwegian town Roros as a part of the International Students’ Festival in Trondheim (ISFIT). Dialogue Groups consisted of participants from six conflict regions – U.S.A. and Iran, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Russia and Chechnya. Ten students of Psychological Faculty of Norwegian Scientific Technical University were coordinators of the seminar.
The purpose of the seminar was to create a dialogue between the youth from conflict regions and to make a peace building project. The project consisted of trainings for conflict situations resolution, studying culture of behavior and searching for similar values in different cultures. Different types of conflict behaviour were also considered there and we tried to solve them altogether. Firstly, we should note that the participants of the seminar were from 21 to 28 years old. Secondly, all the participants were selected as the most active people in their universities, most of them were actively involved into social life in their countries. Third, it was very important that every participant of the seminar was a representative of their cultural and national traditions.
The purpose of this article is analysis of the cultural categorizations’ theory by G. Hofstede where I would like to use the experience from my communication during the seminar. The analysis would be useful for the description of modern youth culture in different countries. G. Hofstede’s cultural categorization’s theory is one of the mental programs. Mental programs mean formation of perception, minds and behaviour in cultural anthropology. G. Hofstede describes the following cultural dimensions (1):
• Power Distance
• Uncertainty Avoidance
Power Distance means attitude to power relations between people in different cultures and how such approach varies there.
Power Distance degree depends on the type of hierarchical power structure in the state (horizontal and vertical). In cultures with low Power Distance degree the most important values are equality in relations and individual freedom, in hierarchical societies with high Power Distance degree the most important values are deep respect and obedience towards officials.
Power Distance is defined through the main values of society members that have power.
For individualistic and collectivistic societies differentiation there is a criterion which means the role of a person in a society that defines their behaviour.
Collectivistic type of culture suggests society interests’ domination over individuals’ interests, people live in families or in family clans. Such cultures are characterized by loyalty towards “We-group” and also in such societies there is no “personal opinion” because it is defined by a group’s opinion. In individualistic societies children often grow up in small families and quickly start perceiving their “I” separately from other people. That “I” defines personal identity and separates it from other “I”. Children leave their home early and start their life independently.
Such type of connection is interesting because it examines masculine and feminine types of culture. In masculine cultures the central place is given to work, power, independence, material success, openness, competition, and there is masculine and feminine roles’ differentiation there. In feminine cultures such features are not so important. Emotional relationships between people, care about others, a personality and their sense of existence are on the fist place. In masculine cultures ambitiousness, competition and ambition are encouraged. Work results are more valued since more attention is given to feelings of solidarity and modesty.
Feeling of uncertainty is usual for a person, but the approach to such feeling in various cultures is different as the ways for its overcoming.
In cultures with high level of uncertainty avoidance high level of aggressiveness is observed because such cultures are characterized by high individual stress. In cultures with high level of uncertainty avoidance there is a set of many rules and instructions that define a work day schedule. In such cultures permanent hurry is a normal phenomenon, and people do not tend to quick changes.
In cultures with low level of uncertainty avoidance people have more tendencies to risk in uncertain conditions, they are characterized by low level of stress in unknown situation. People with different behaviour and mentality are perceived in more positive way in such societies, clear opposition is observed for formalized rules therefore rules are established only in a case of high necessity.
Enumerated criteria for countries’ cultural specifics allow not only to compare cultural differentiation but also to use the method for different youth cultures research. Iranian, Chechen, Russian, American and Norwegian cultures are considered. Before we use our approach in Hofstede’s classification we should show a scale where the cultures are considered according to their traditional character and openness to changes.
Iran Chechnya Russia Norway U.S.A.
Traditional behaviour <———————————————-> Openness to changes
From all the cultures the most traditional are Iranian and Chechen because religious traditions are more stable in these countries comparing with others. Some girls from Iran and Chechen followed their religious traditions during the whole seminar period.
The most open to changes and innovations culture is American culture. In their society religion and traditions are not so important and priority is given to more familiar attitude to all traditional settings: in relations between men and women, freedom of speech and ideology of democracy values. In youth environment people are more open to each other and they easily break western traditions of communication.
Western European culture is close to American, however traditions influence on youth people relations when a man is given more active role than a woman. Russian society is on the periphery of the scale because a transition to democracy model of the society impacts on the change of values among youth. Chechen culture is closer to traditional way of life that Iranian is.
Power distance between youth people was slightly expressed because openness and respect to each other were seminars’ rules.
Individualism and collectivism were expressed in people’s behaviour in different situations. Individualism was more vividly expressed in American participants’ behaviour because they were more active during discussions in expression of their opinion and rather often their opinion contracted to other people’s opinions. However, their opinions and personal position cannot be individualistic behaviour feature. Collectivism is a value in Norwegian society because a contradiction “I-Group” were not presented in their behaviour. One of the Norwegian participants noted that “competition” is not the best way for self-improvement in Norway. Ambitiousness is also not a positive value for Norwegian students. As for Russia and the U.S.A. competition and ambitiousness are very important for person’s growth in their societies.
According to G. Hofstede low population societies are mostly characterized by collectivism such as Japan, Korea, Pakistan and Iran.
Probably competitiveness aversion in Norwegian society is connected with feminine character of the culture. It was noted that care about each other and attention to other people are important for Norwegians. In Russian society such features are not expressed so vividly. Ethics in relationships between people is more observed in Norwegian and Iranian cultures than in Russian and American cultures. Additionally the food was divided into vegetarian and meat food and all other such features were predicted.
During the Festival three hundred Norwegian families hospitably offered their houses for living to all seminar guests. Does it mean a priority of social needs for Norwegian people?
Individualism is more vividly expressed in Russia and the U.S.A. where personal interests dominate over social needs. “I do” quality is valued in American culture, and Russian youth people give a priority to such quality as independence. According to results of social survey made by Russian sociologist V. Karandyshev (2), independence is one of the main qualities for both American and Russian youth people. As for traditional societies where religion plays an important role collectivism is more typical for them. Youth people are more oriented to a leader during teamwork.
Masculinity of Russian and American societies are connected with importance of such values among youth people as competitiveness, firmness in decision making and authoritative way of management. Femininity of Norwegian society is expressed in emotional support of each other and in competitiveness aversion. It is also interesting that the majority of leadership positions are held by women in Norwegian society.
In our group femininity was also expressed by a fact that Norwegian men easily gave their initiative to women in decision making.
As for uncertainty avoidance category it was not clearly expressed in our group though it is possible to make characteristics according to general features. For instance, Norway will probably be related to a culture with high level of uncertainty avoidance because of a limit in territory and low number of inhabitants. As for other cultures it is quite difficult to evaluate the category of avoidance uncertainty in Russian, Chechen and Iranian societies. Because of openness to changes in American culture it should be characterized by low level of uncertainty avoidance.
After cultural analysis by G. Hofstede classification we come to a conclusion that cultures oriented to traditions and cultures that are open to changes have many similar features. As for instance, masculinity of Russian, Chechen, Iranian and American cultures is connected with authoritative style of management.
Collectivism of Iranian, Chechen and Norwegian cultures depends on history of these countries. It is obvious that in Russian society which was also characterized by collectivism in the past nowadays individualism is in the priority.
Such category as power distance is more vividly expressed in business organizations and in families. According to G. Hofstede the most traditional societies are defined as cultures with high power distance (Iran, Chechnya). In societies with low power distance traditions are not so important and children start living independently rather early and get married at late ages (the U.S.A., Norway). As far as in Russia early marriages are still in majority it means that Russian society is a culture with high power distance.
As a result it is necessary to summarize my notes about how traditions impact on people’s world view. Religion plays a very important part in life of Iranian and Chechen people. One participant from Iran observed all traditions and praying time. Once during my conversation one of the participants from Iran asked me what meaning such words as “spirituality” and “religion” mean for Russian youth people. As she explained to be a spiritual person is a very important quality for Iranian people. Though not all youth people observe external traditions (such as wearing a head scarf, long skirts, observance of a special diet and praying time) but internal rules are still preserved (women’s virginity before marriage, ethics in communication with men, some distance in communication).
As for communication it was obvious that free manners in conversation are more usual for American people though for European people communication ethics is rather important. There are different taboos in communication in American and European cultures though both of them seem to have many similar features. Such taboos are mostly connected with private life topics.
To sum up it is necessary to outline that in our dialogue group we nearly did not have any conflicts and it was very interesting and useful to communicate with each other during a seminar. Anyway there were difficulties that happened because of difficulties in food preferences that depended on cultural differences. Some participants used to have another type of meal. There were some cases when language barriers appear as far as a seminar was rather intensive and there was a lot of information to adopt.
Anyway all difficulties were successfully overcome thanks to well prepared organization of the seminar and participants’ high tolerant attitude to each other.
1. G. Hofstede Cultural differences in Teaching and Learning // International Journal of Intercultural Relations. 1986. # 10; 2.
2. Karandyshev V. Russian-American personal values: similarities and differences (with support to the youth people survey’s materials) // Russian-American Relations in Globalization conditions. Moscow, 2005.
Author: Lygdenova Victoria
Currently: Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Science